A dear friend wrote a touching piece about her son who currently dresses in skirts and flowery shirts. She makes several points we all intrinsically know:
- Girls are encouraged to dress like boys, not vice-versa.
- Boys who dress like girls are shamed, bullied, etc., which is intrinsically misogynistic.
- What a preschooler wears doesn’t mean anything about gender or sexuality or proclivities. It makes them happy. So who cares?
I venture to say anyone reading this blog accepts these points easily.
My friend’s piece took this conversation an illuminating step further by highlighting her pride in her son for emulating the dynamic women in his life. Why shouldn’t he celebrate women, right? Boys celebrate Spider-Man, Elsa, Curious George, Dora and Clifford; why not also surrounding girls and women?
Before my friend published her piece, we discussed her son’s interests and our worries about cultural context and self-expression.
And I was a little flummoxed.
I wanted to say, “It’s all good. Don’t stress it, just let him have fun and express himself and see where it takes him.”
But in reality, I was scarred by my own preschool excitement for dressing as Princess Leia, Daisy Duke and Teela (extra points to those children of the 80’s who can identify her without clicking the hyperlink.)
While I had a great time doing so in preschool and kindergarten (and received no judgment from playmates), it made life a kind of hell for the duration of elementary, junior high and high school.
I wasn’t physically bullied; “merely” teased a fair amount. But the emotional scarring was profound. Every single day I fought obsessively to dispel any assumptions about my sexuality from, well…1st grade through 12th. Those few kids who teased me for “wanting to be a girl in first grade” never let me forget it…for twelve years. (Admittedly, I wasn’t a tough triple athlete, was in the shows, and was more exuberant than most. But purses weren’t spraying out of my mouth, either.) Despite my relatively successful climb up the school’s popularity ladder, I lived in paralyzing paranoia of what others said about me behind my back.
So I don’t know what to say about boys dressing up as girls. Because being teased for something throughout elementary (with an accompanying stigma for the next six years) sucked sucked sucked.
We all have our challenges, they craft our character, suffering makes us stronger, it gets better, blah, blah, blah.
I don’t want my kids to suffer from the crippling paranoia I did. And I don’t really know how to avoid that if my kid chooses to wear dresses to school and if the surrounding kids chide him for it.
What I can do is thank my lucky stars that I live in New York City where transsexuals aren’t shocking and my son’s elementary school will foster his self-expression if he chooses to dress in cereal boxes every day. And yet, if he wanted to dress up in Cap’n Crunch boxes, I’d still worry. Because childhood is hard. Kids are mean.
(Who am I kidding? My kids won’t know about sugar cereals until college…the way I suffered, damn it!)
Fact is: I don’t know what the answer is for parents concerned about behavior that might attract bullying. But whatever that behavior might be, whether it’s dressing in dresses or shaving heads, or being a goth/hippy/wicken/plumber, I will support the hell out of my son and help him feel good about his choices.*
Frankly, my wonderful parents didn’t make me feel good about wanting to dress as Daisy Duke. They succumbed to social convention rather than constructive coping. They told me, “Pretty soon, kids aren’t going to be laughing with you, they’ll be laughing at you.” Ultimately, they were correct. But maybe I didn’t need to be shamed out of it. They might have said, “You be the best Daisy Duke out there, kiddo.” Perhaps that’s why I struggled with paranoia and shame for two decades? I love them, they were great parents, and they’re no longer here.
But I plan to foster the best Daisy Duke out there, if he so chooses. Because more important than my kid avoiding bullying, is that my kid stay true to himself.
I know that first-hand.
I’d rather be a 4-year-old dressing as Daisy Duke and feeling good about it than shamed out of my imaginative play by my parents.
And I expect you other parents to teach your kids about embracing everyone’s self-expression, too.
So the onus is on you.
That’ll make it way easier for me. So. Thanks.
Any stories of fostering self-expression y’all have to dole out?
* As long as he’s not hurting himself or anyone else. Duh.
I see too many littles dressed as Daisy Duke. It was scary enough when my ex daughter in law did it, but looking that hot as a little? no.not with all the creepers out there. And yes, had to look up Teela, I knew her, but it was so dim…..
I wish I had been a stronger advocate for my son. He got razzed almost every day because he spent most of his time reading, wore sweat pants much of his elm and jr hi school years (he was so skinny, jeans would not stay on!), and then played flute. I often let him fight his own battles, Because bullies in the 90’s were ignored. The ones bullied got classes and lessons on how to deal with the bully, but the bully? those were left alone. Later, he told me about some guys who were teasing him about playing flute and he finally asked them, ‘who ELSE plays flute? And who sits with them all hour and fixes their hair during concerts?’ After he graduated, he joined the Army and another story came about. He was in his HS in uniform and one of the bullies came toward him. My son knew he could now take him out, but not legally, and he said he was nervous. The kid came to him, grasped his hand and apologized profusely for his actions when my son was in school. My son was shocked and very much moved by the apology. There were so many things I should have done and didn’t, yet, I am sure, at this time in my life, that we did the best we could for what we knew.
Stand up for your kids, dad! (I know you will)
It’s taken me too long to respond (sorry about that) but thank you for sharing your story. Sounds like your son made out just fine. And imagine all the character-building he went through! And isn’t parenthood just all about guilt…no matter what. Argh! Still, I’m happy you shared your story. Thanks for reading!