So my son wore a dress for a month in France.
(Why we were in France for a month is explained, here.)
I anticipated my older son (he of the “anything-princess” persuasion) would want to don frocks the entire time. So I let him.
Some Americans might think of France as a bunch of WWII-losing philosophical wimps who eat cheese and are lax in the morality department (ergo they’re “kinda gay”). But in reality, theirs is a traditional, macho culture where men are men and women are objects of beauty.
In some ways, the French lag behind the US in terms of sexual equality and gender identity. Gay couples can marry, but only since 2013. They do have parenting rights, but surrogacy is absolutely interdit. And little boys in dresses? That’s something you see even less in France than in the US.
Further, it’s a land of conformity where people avoid bothering others. Don’t speak too loudly in restaurants, don’t touch anything in stores, don’t color outside social lines, and make sure you dress appropriately all the time; because if you don’t, you’re bothering other people.
At a reunion with some old friends, I wanted not to address the dress. I wanted to be above being defensive. But I couldn’t help myself. They are “salt of the earth” and more macho than philosophical. I couldn’t contain addressing the elephant in the room: “And he dressed up in a skirt for you, today!”
To my relief, they said, “And so he should! It’s a very nice skirt. And Gavin, that poses no problem for us!”
In cases where I refrained from addressing the dress, friends asked behind my back, “Is this normal? Wearing a dress?”
My close friend responded, “Sure. It’s normal for him.”
That was the equivalent of a French face slap. And case closed.
Of course he’s only 4 years old, so strangers probably didn’t notice. I’m sure there were many more stares than the few I noticed. But did it matter? My son was thrilled to twirl and fluff his dress.
On a few occasions, I convinced him that “shirt and shorts” were in order. I fully admit these were more so I could have a few pictures that weren’t in shabby hand-me-down dresses. Just in case there’s a day he doesn’t want to associate the entire getaway with being in dresses. OK, OK. I admit. And so that I can have some frame-able pictures of him in the cute shorts and shirts I’d packed and had gone completely un-touched. (Don’t worry. I’m not a monster. Plenty of dress pictures are already in frames around the apartment.)
But on those shorts days, the second we returned from our outing, back on went the dress. And while he hadn’t shown any anxiety in shorts, the second my son could twirl in a dress, again, he breathed more fully.
During one exchange with a cashier at a store, I happened to refer to both of my kids in the third-person masculine ils (they).
(I know. Your heads just exploded from the flash-back to 7th grade French, didn’t it? When referring to 99 women and 1 man, you still use the masculine ils and not feminine elles. Again: ancient linguistic macho rules.)
The store clerk then said, “Your son and daughter,” but then corrected herself saying, “Or is it sons?”
I smirked. “Actually, yes, it’s he. He knows who he is and what he wants.”
The lovely woman smiled and said, “Well good for him. And good for you.”
I arrived in France worrying what my friends might say about my son in a dress (and that I would gain fifty pounds eating my weight in bread, cheese and wine every single day.)
Ultimately, no one cared (and I gained weight.) So that was a great lesson.
During many discussions of his wardrobe choices, several times I heard, “Yes, but there’s society, Gavin.”
Yep. There’s society.
But when defending him, I’m quick to add: “What does it matter?””
What I know is that societal convention is bullshit compared with feeling comfortable in your skin and following your passions.
I know what’s most important is not to get hung up on society. That would be the worst thing of all. Self-repression and conformity do not breed happiness.
(Note to self.)
But it’s easy enough when my son’s only four and when he’s in another country. Someday (soon?) it’ll be different.
Or maybe not? Again: I’m making the issue, aren’t I? My son’s fine with it.
I don’t know the right way to go about letting him express his personal style in school. In France, he was anonymous. But we all know “boys-in-dresses” aren’t seen the same as “girls-as-tomboys”. At our neighborhood playgrounds, there are peers who won’t forget that he wore a dress last Thursday.
But, my partner and I are allowing him to do so. So I suppose we’re dipping our toes in this pool. And there’s been no fall-out.
Still, for now we’re saying no dresses at school.
I keep coming back to a very smart blog posting by a dear friend who wrote, “From Fear to Fuck It.” As far as supporting my son and creating the safe space for him to thrive, I know I need to live these words. Don’t be afraid. Fuck it…for his sake.
I can’t let my own fears about his social adjustment overshadow his passionate feelings and creativity.
Yes: there will (soon) come a time when social pressures will be hurtful.
Or not? It ain’t the Eisenhower years, anymore. Thank God. And we live in a pretty liberal neighborhood.
But perhaps he will be stronger than I ever would have been in letting criticism run off his back.
What I know for sure: he won’t feel confident if I’m not supportive.
As always: the social constraints are something I need to deal with.
Cuz my son’s perfectly fine with himself.
I need to be.