Friday, May 18, 2012

Mama To A Dressy Boy

When Brother-Bug was born we were delighted to have a little son. He had mostly boyish clothes - largely because the hand-me-downs we got were from his older boy cousins and a couple other friends with boys. Had he been a girl the clothes would have been the same. We were poor and finishing college and relied on the hand-me-downs.

Fast forward a little less than two years and it was summer. He was hot and didn't want to wear his diaper, so we popped him into a pink striped sundress that we had in the hand-me-down box. I don't know about you, but Papa-Bug and I both find dresses much more comfortable on a really hot day. Brother-Bug loved his dress and begged for more.

Of course, we did dress him like a Faery-Baby at 10-months... It's NOT a dress! Those are shorts!

Since it didn't bother us, we gave him more dresses. The next summer, I made him a sundress with a bulldozer dress on it - instant favorite.

Fast forward to now. My son wears a variety of clothes that he finds comfortable. Sometimes that's a t-shirt and pants or shorts. Sometimes it's a skirt and t-shirt. Sometimes it's a dress. Once it was an old necktie as a belt, holding up a loincloth made of bubble wrap - he told me he was dressing as a pirate.

Our family is "traditional" in the sense that we have a Mama, a Papa & 2.38 kids. I stay home and Papa-Bug goes to work. Papa-Bug usually wears a tie and button-down to work. I wear an assortment of clothing (determined largely by what is clean). The kids have aunts and uncles, friends of both genders, adult friends who are queer in assorted ways... My point here is that Brother-Bug hasn't had a lot of exposure to boys in dresses, beyond our allowing (and even encouraging him) to wear dresses if they are comfortable to him. He came to his fashion desires of his own accord.

Mommy Man posted about his 2-year old's desire to wear a dress and I started thinking about this. What is my responsibility to my son's clothing preferences? Of course I don't want him to think that his preferences are wrong or shameful, and I don't want to expose him to teasing or shaming (from his peers or adults). But by suggesting to him that his favorite polka-dot skirt, striped tights, and pink converse might not be appropriate for a trip to the playground... What does that tell him? That he can be himself, but only in certain circumstances and specific places?

This is my 2-year old a dress.

True, that's part of culture. There are times and places for everything, and I'm into both Little-Bugs learning the difference between our private lives and the things we do at home versus our public lives and the things we do in the world around our homes. But clothing? I can wear a skirt and tights to the playground, so can Sister-Bug.

My responsiblity to his clothing is to make sure he is dressed appropriately for the weather we will encounter. My responsibility is to make sure he feels loved and supported if he encounters resistance or judgement regarding his clothing decisions - from wearing an un-cool t-shirt to wearing his favortie spinning dress.

There are times I guide his clothing choices to ensure his comfort - physical and social-emotional. But unless we will be going somewhere that I believe either he or his parents will be seriously discomfitted by our lovely boy in a skirt, I let him do what he wants. I do make him leave the bubble wrap at home - or at least put pants or a skirt under it. I'm sure that the world he lives in will spend plenty of time and energy trying to get him to "dress correctly" and I can help him with those decisions when they arise.

I've heard a few arguements against letting him wear dresses. They are, quite frankly, laugable.

The first - He will develop a sense of shame by wearing dresses. Wait. Let me think about that... If I allow him and support him in being the person that he wants to be (who or whatever that is) he will develop a sense of shame? That just doesn't even begin to make sense. We develop a sense of shame when we are taught that something we do is shameful.

The second - It is not normal for boys to wear dresses. Hmmmm...Shall we start pointing at cultures around the world where a dress, skirt, or other flowing garment is the usual garb for men and boys? Shall we traipse through history, back less than 120 years ago, when all children wore skirts into their early childhood? Today, in American culture it is not normal to see a boy in a dress. That has no actual bearing on what is or is not normal for boys.

The third - (this one comes mostly from the younger set - kids that see Brother-Bug in a dress) Boys don't wear dresses! Well, Brother-Bug is a boy and he wears dresses, so I guess boys do wear dresses. So there. Girls wear pants, right?

So much for the arguements.

Hot day. Breezy sundress. He's almost 4 here.

Sure, we gather some strange looks in public sometimes. People get thrown off by a boy in a dress. I have interesting conversations sometimes. But I am usually plesantly surprised by peoples' ability to accept my boy in a dress and often compliment him on how nice he looks. I was (and I still am) ready to fight for him and his right to his preferneces. But so far, he dresses in his dresses. He's happy. I'll close with his thoughts:

Mama-Bug: Why do you like to wear dresses?
Brother-Bug: Ummmm....I don't know. I just like to wear dresses because I like to wear dresses. And they are pretty.

And who can argue with that?


  1. I love this! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I'm so glad to read a reaction to my piece, and I love how you handle this topic with your son. It's so reassuring to hear what a positive experience dress-wearing is for him. Maybe I've been overly concerned about what other people might say to my kid if they saw him in a dress.

    I agree with you - there's nothing wrong with boys wearing dresses, and if they get any shame from it, it's because of closed-minded people who judge them for it, not because there's any inherent shame in the act.

    Great post!

  2. What are boys, anyway? The whole thing is crazy. :) I think he is great, naked, clothed, or anywhere in between.

  3. I agree with you there, Eric. We are much more than the sum of our chromosomes and resultant genitals. And (to quote Hawkeye from M*A*S*H) "Limits are so limiting!"

    Jerry - I'm glad you read it. And thanks for being the catalyst. This post has been poking at the back of my mind for a while and I never found a good starting place. I appreciate the inspiration!

  4. I am glad that there are people like you who both do what is right and also take the time to stop and examine the mechanisms behind their decisions. I really like your point about gently guiding his choices both to ensure physical AND emotional comfort. You are an inspiring mother...maybe it's good that I haven't had kids yet: all the more time to learn from you! :)

    1. It won't let me say who I am! It's me...Sisso!!!

    2. And pick up on my mistakes too, of course. I guessed it was you...writing styles and all...Love you.

  5. Thank you for this :) and reminding me to stay authentic and true to myself, my parenting, my families.
    Cheers to boys in dresses!

    1. We didn't get to choose who we get to have as our kids - we just get to support their beautiful selves! All we can do is try and stay true...

    2. And why would we choose?
      We've been given love and light in the form of these beings and we are being trusted with those precious gifts.

  6. I know a lot of people who are transgender and their stories all begin with cross dressing at an early age. I know that you are aware that transgender issues are very different and you will not know for a long time if your son is transgender. He may just be experimenting but either way you are handling this beautifully. Many of my friends have had excruciating and even life threatening experiences. You live in the best possible safe haven for all things alternative but I sound a note of caution. It is not always friendly world out there beyond Eugene and Seattle.

  7. Papa-Bug and I are very concious of this potential reality for our young one. Right now we are taking his choices one day, one outfit at a time. We are absolutely sure that other people will try to convince him he should not wear his lovlies, and that the larger world could be a really tough, and possibly dangerous, place for him.

    There is one person in our family who is not comfortable with our Dressy-Boy. Brother-Bug doesn't realize that this is happening because Papa-BUg and I are clear that our family will love Brother-Bug AND his clothing, or keep their thoughts to themselves. I also thinl that having a closer family member who is not fully accepting (unlike the rest of his family) is a good place to start talking about how some people are really judgy and mean about people who don't conform to gender norms. At least that's the silver lining, I hope.

    Sadly, I can't protect my darling boy from people who are scared of boys in dresses and non-gender-conforming people. But I CAN keep his home and his family a loving place and help him negotiate the world in an empowered and aware way, learning how to keep himself as safe as he can.