Canadian photographer and mother Crystal Kells admits that it was the birth of her son, Cian, that changed her for the better. And with his infectious smile and uninhibited confidence, 5-year-old Cian is changing us all for the better now too, reminding us that happiness is genderless and stereotypes are made to be broken.
In her viral post on BoredPanda earlier this week, Kells shared that Cian loves superheroes and his cars, but also loves princesses and dresses. And in a gorgeous series of photos that followed, Kells showcased Cian being … well, Cian — wearing his favorite tutus and sundresses, blowing glitter, and twirling his way through the park.
According to his mom, Cian is a happy little boy who isn’t being held back by gender stereotypes or expectations. Partly because clothes are merely meant to cover our body and not define our gender, and partly because Cian’s parents have never told him “this is for girls and this is for boys.”
“And we never will,” writes Cian’s mom in her BoredPanda article. “Why should we? What difference does it ACTUALLY make? I don’t expect you to agree. What I DO expect is respect. What I DO expect is not to be treated like I’m abusing my son. What I DO expect is for people to see that my son is HAPPY and realize that is all that matters at the end of the day.”
Amen. I have three kids myself. I know the world will break their hearts, but I never want it to break their spirt or joy. It might seem cliché, but all I really want for my kids is happiness. No, my 6-year-old and twin 4-year-olds are not happy all of the time, but even with three unique personalities, I know what makes each of my children happy. If we let our kids lead the way, it’s not hard to see who they really are.
When one of my twins was 18 months old, he refused to wear what we normally put on him and his twin brother. He was very clear that he wanted to wear what his older sister was wearing: pink, purple, and dresses. Dressing a toddler and getting out of the house is hard enough, and we weren’t about to make it more difficult by forcing something on him he didn’t want to wear. He rocked skirts and sundresses all summer long and was happier for it.
Like Cian’s parents, we never put labels on our kids or told them what boys or girls should do or wear. But when Ryan labeled herself as girl a year after slipping on her first pair of purple tights, we took notice. We followed her lead and we watched her grow increasingly moody and sad when she was referred to as a boy by a friend or family member. She was not a boy who liked dresses; she was a girl who liked dresses.
She was also unhappy. Until we validated her, that is. When we switched pronouns and introduced our child as our daughter, we saw a new, happier, little girl appear. If we hadn’t let her put on a dress or let her be open and confident about who she is, she wouldn’t be the spunky kid she is today.
While Kells says she is not teaching her son gender stereotypes, she did say this: “My son is a boy. He knows he’s a boy. We are teaching him that girls have a vagina and boys have a penis. He has a penis, he is a boy.” Not all parents agree with this though, particularly parents who have a transgender child. What’s between your legs does not necessarily define your gender.
When I asked Kells for clarification on this note, she responded candidly:
“I won’t lie and say I’m versed in everything transgender and what is politically correct, but I’m working on it. I can totally see how what we are teaching him can seem stereotypical, but it’s what is working best for all of us at this stage of his understanding and development. There is no intent to offend anyone with it. It makes no difference to us on whether or not he discovers he is trans, gay, [or] straight. We’re going to love him regardless and support him the best way.
The main reason for my choices with the descriptions I chose to use in my blog post, is I’ve discovered we fall victim to stereotyping from the opposite side as well. Because he chooses to wear dresses, well then he must be gay or transgender. This is not the case and I wanted to make that clear in what I said.”
And that’s absolutely true — not all gender creative kids are transgender; some are, most are not. It doesn’t matter, though. All kids deserve to live in a world where their likes and dislikes and gender expression has nothing to do with their biological sex. And most importantly those kids deserve to be loved and supported without the being judged through the lens of ignorance and outdated ideas on what it means to be a boy or a girl.
Keep doing parenting right, Crystal — and twirl on, Cian. We need more of both of you in our world.