“Mommy, I want to do ballet,” my 5-year-old son requested, “in an all boys class.” The ballet request was not unconventional for my sparkly middle child, but I was surprised that he requested an all-boys class. He often played with girls and shared many of their common interests, so what would the gender of his classmates matter? Then I took him to his first class and I understood.
That first evening — after circling the parking lot three times trying to find the studio, vulturing for a parking space, then herding three kids across a busy parking lot — we arrived at dance class a bit discombobulated. My son’s excitement was untarnished by the bumbling entry. He skipped into class with the other graceful young boys and focused every ounce of his attention on the instructor. He twirled and jumped and leapt. His enthusiastic grace was unmistakable; he was safe to be wholly and entirely himself without reservation.
He knew what I had not. He was among his people.
This delicately proportioned, unicorn-loving, mermaid-adoring, hairdressing-enthralled, aspiring figure skater knew that in an all-boys dance class he would be among other boys just like him. The same sparkly attributes that set him in the fray in the outside world placed him firmly within the realm of acceptance here. What society condemned was celebrated here.
A month later my son came to me after class, “Mommy I want to do real ballet.” He’d noticed that his current class was more movement focused than ballet centric. He’d also realized that one of the boys had moved to the Ballet I class. “You’re welcome to talk to your teacher about that,” I said, “but if this is something you want, you need to do it.” He asked me to come with him. I obliged.
As we walked down the hall towards the studio, I looked down at him in amazement. There was NO WAY I would’ve had a wherewithal to do this as a child! Young me would have rather been heartbroken and miss out than approach an adult with such a request. My child astounded me.
His slight palm hugged mine with the gentle firmness of determination, not the sweaty, gripping anxiety I would’ve expressed. At the end of the hallway, he released my hand, walked through the glass door, and strolled directly to his teacher. Moments later the teacher and my son exited the classroom and made their way to the director. After a brief chat, it was settled: he was moving to Pre-Ballet. My son was a disco ball of glittering light.
The next week we arrived at ballet not knowing if he’d be the only boy in class. He wasn’t. He was thrilled. He twirled. He pranced. He sparkled.
Not long after, it was the week of Halloween. All of the students wore their costumes to class. My son’s costume: rainbow flying unicorn, of course! Every time he wears one of his self-selected costumes we receive some sort of negative commentary, some sort of head tilt or side-eye, some sort of pushback of some degree. So I silently prepared myself for what we’ve been trained to see as the inevitable.
As I pinned the flowing rainbow wig in place, two older boys played in the lobby. “Cool wig!” one commented. A grandmother shuffled up the hallway lead by a pint-size “Elsa”. “I was told there’s a rainbow unicorn that I ‘just have to see.'” The grandmother said smiling. “He’s a rainbow flying unicorn, no less!” I replied, my chest gripping in preparatory fight-or-flight once I realized she might catch the gendered pronoun. “He’s lovely,” the grandmother cooed. And that was it. No cocked heads, no whispers, no stares, no judgment… his costume was finally just a costume!
I felt a massive weight of protection lift from my chest. I had not realized until it was gone what a heavy, ingrained, bruising burden it was. I realized in that moment how my sparkly son must feel here too.
And so my son had lead me to exactly where he needed to be. To the people who would appreciate him exactly as he was without reservation. To a place where his quirks could twinkle and his gifts could shine. To a place where he could sparkle.