Recently, TJ and I enjoyed a very relaxing weekend at home when we had nothing planned except time together. It was really nice. After a few hectic weeks, including starting school and many 5th birthday celebrations, we needed the down time. On Saturday evening, I let the little man stay up late to watch Strictly Come Dancing with me. He goes to his own dance class once a week now. So I thought it may be nice to give him some context.

Grab the glitter ball

There’s been a lot of chat about how Strictly have their first same sex dancing couple on this year’s show. I did wonder what TJ would say as he watched various men and women pair up before it was Nicola Adams’ turn. He said nothing at all – he didn’t even bat an eyelid. It was great. It was completely and utterly normal – just the way it should be.

Strictly should be celebrated for normalising the normal in this way. Hopefully in years to come, it won’t need the accompanying fanfare or media coverage because it will barely be worth commenting on.

Normalising the normal

Gender stereotypes are arguably never more present than in the first few years of a child’s life. Pink for girls and blue for boys starts as soon as they come out of the womb and they don their first babygros. Or even before that with the atrocity which is gender reveal parties … don’t get me started.

Yes, times are changing – a bit. You can get dresses with dinosaurs on and no one throws stuff at you in the street when a boy is pushing his play pram (lucky for TJ and his doll, Charlotte). But it’s baby steps, really.

TJ’s interest in things which ‘aren’t for boys’ spans pretty far back. He was around two and a half years old when he repeatedly asked me to buy him a dress. So, I picked one up for him in Sainsbury’s and he absolutely beamed after I gave in to his demands to pop it on him as soon as we were in the car park.

His dad wasn’t quite so OK with it – that’s his prerogative. I didn’t really mind – I guess it’s this sort of difference of opinion which illustrates why co-parenting was always the right option for us.

Queer eye

More recently, when TJ asked about the Johnathan Van Ness autobiography on my bedside table, I explained how it’s fine for men to wear dresses if they would like to. In fact, we watched a couple of (pre-vetted) episodes of Queer Eye so he could see just how fine it is. Now, JVN occasionally comes up in our conversations and I love it. It’s great to know that it’s been cemented in his gorgeous mind and that normalises it.

Every day normal

The other day, TJ asked if I would buy him some nail varnish. I don’t really wear it so it’s not something which has come from copying mummy. I also much prefer wearing jeans than dresses on a normal Tuesday.

He also asked for a unicorn cake for his fifth birthday. It was one of the two which he requested for his Rule of Six birthday parties – the other one being a dinosaur cake. The cake was to match the unicorn slippers which he’s had a couple of pairs of since he was two-years-old, which I had to buy for him in the girls departments.

Times may change

I know that this may all change as TJ gets older. I am fine with that. It is all about TJ finding his own feet – adorned with unicorn slippers or not – and exploring all that life has to offer. Then, he can pick and choose what he likes from the rich tapestry which is out there for him. Strictly or otherwise.

I don’t think this has to be linked to sexuality, either. Really, it’s just about normalising the normal – whatever that may be. No one needs to stop and stare because a little boy is pushing a pram, a man is wearing a dress or two girls are dancing together on TV.

It’s about letting people to have the freedom to do, like and be who they want to be with no barriers.

Idealist

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. If only life was as simple as that. Yes, if only we all had the freedom of free will whenever we want it. Sadly, there will always be the people who want to push others back into their pigeon holes of what they think a person should be and what they deem to be acceptable behaviour. Ann Widdecombe, I am looking at you, after your comments about Strictly 2020.

I know a little of what that’s like – it’s about stigma. Not everyone will like what everyone else is doing. I struggled with this when I became a single mum and, now more than ever, there’s people who hate us. Marcus Rashford tries to do a good thing to support struggling families and the world comes out to criticise low-income households, which are often – but not always – the domain of a single parent. It’s ugly and far from OK.

Won’t keep us down

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all do what we want to do though. JVN didn’t listen to criticism and now he’s trailblazing. Taylor Swift had it right too in the song whose video JVN features in – people who criticise, you need to calm down.

I do hope some of the more gender neutral traits TJ is naturally picking up at the moment stick with him through life.

It’s possible. The world we live in today isn’t the world we inhabited when we were kids. The lines have been blurred in many of the right ways. Hopefully, this will help us all to be more accepting and less rigid in our views and approaches. Yes, we do have a long way to go – there’s no denying that. That’s why it is so important that shows like Strictly do their bit to normalise the normal. It’s the only way to remove any stigma associated with the acceptance of diversity.

Individuality

We should let everyone express whatever a true reflection of themselves is. Toxic masculinity is crippling. I don’t need to parrot off the facts about men’s mental health, suicide rates and the fallout from negative, restrictive and stifling male stereotypes. We sadly all know them already.

Acceptance of people from all walks of life starts at an early age. Or at least it should. That’s what I am trying to teach TJ. Authenticity shouldn’t be a lot to ask for really.

But, for some reason, it is.

Gender ‘norms’ should be a thing of the past. Gender neutrality should be the way forward. Normalising the normal all the way.

That’s the lesson which I hope my TJ learns. It’s a valuable life lesson which can also come from outside of the classroom. It’s a lesson which may just be learnt on a late night on the sofa with mummy watching Saturday night TV.