Nov 1, 2012
The other day, MPB reader Karen emailed me a personal story she thought I might share here, even suggesting the title, "A Boy's First Skirt."
Her two-and-a-half year old son wanted to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz for Halloween and she'd actually gone out and bought him a commercial Dorothy/Princess costume "with lots of frills and poofy sleeves."
States Karen: "He tried it on and loved it even though it was really scratchy with all that tulle and sparkle. Very confident and and matter-of-fact about it as if he were putting on jeans and a t-shirt."
But, she explains further: "After a lot of teasing by his sisters of all things, I decided to convert it to formalwear vest and kilt."
How cute is this outfit? (You can read Karen's Pattern Review post here.)
Needless to say, this topic is near and dear to my heart. Our culture seems to have an obsession with gender identity, especially when it comes to boys. In fact, I'd say almost exclusively with boys.
Remember the story from two years ago about the mother who blogged about her son dressing up as Daphne from Scooby-Doo and posted a photo that then went viral, along with the story?
The New York Times covered it in an article entitled "When Boys Dress Like Girls for Halloween."
And only last August, The New York Times published "What's So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?" in its Sunday magazine.
Most interesting of all are readers' comments: you really get a sense of how emotionally fraught an issue this still is -- and confusing.
What's a mother (or father) to do when her son wants to be Dorothy for Halloween? Is saying "He's only two, it doesn't mean anything" inherently homo- or trans-phobic? What we're really saying, after all, is that it doesn't mean he'll turn out gay (or transgender); i.e., something bad. (Then again, most parents don't wish for gay children; it can mean a harder life for the child and a lot of consciousness-raising for the parents.)
I don't remember ever wanting to dress up as a girl for Halloween (though I do recall as a small child wanting to be either a baker or a grandmother when I grew up). In sixth grade, however, some friends of mine and I made a short 8mm film version of Cinderella almost completely in drag (with school money) and I was Stepmama Cass. Classmate Lisa was the prince, while best friend Alan was Cinderella (decked out in blonde afro wig, tube top, and platform shoes; this was 1974). Our movie -- loosely based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein version broadcast annually back then -- was actually shown at a school assembly on the last day of class. I stayed home that day.
I'm not a parent, but I totally get that, while many parents want to support a child's choice of other-gendered Halloween costumes -- or everyday clothing -- they also want to protect the child from the kind of abuse which boys (and probably some girls too) heap on kids they deem different, particularly when it comes to masculinity/femininity. It's easy to say that the one who has the problem is the bullying abuser, but if you're the potential victim, it quickly becomes your problem too.
There's so much we still don't understand about gender identity, sexuality, nature vs. nuture, etc., but I think more people than ever before understand that however a person identifies -- as male, female, gender queer, transgender, etc. -- they're a person first and deserve our support and respect, at every age. Tolerance is a word I hate: I tolerate long lines at the supermarket, not someone's essential self.
As far as a two-year-old boy who wants to be Dorothy, I'd say he has excellent taste in movies and dress him however makes him happy. Kudos to mom Karen!
Readers, what do you make of all this? Do you agree that the issue of boys dressing as girls (or girl characters) seems like a greater source of cultural anxiety than girls dressing as boys? Think how often women say they were a tomboy growing up; do you ever hear a (straight) man admit he was a sissy?
In closing, if you had a son who wanted to dress as a girl for Halloween -- or any other time -- would you...
1) try to discourage him?
2) let him dress as he chooses at home but encourage "gender normal" dress in public?
3) let him decide for himself and deal with the consequences: he's gonna live in the real world eventually anyway?