My boy asked for a dress. And guess what? I bought him one.


Tell me the above image isn't glorious.  I dare you.

What does it bring to mind?'

Do you think I'm a goddamned hippie mother trying to prove a point?  Do you think his father is a sissy?  Do you think he shouldn't be allowed to wear "girls" clothes?  Do you think I'm putting him in harm's way by subjecting him to public scrutiny?

Or do you think it's beautiful?  Innocent and miraculous.  A young boy experiencing the sensation of a full blown twirl?

I bet you can guess in which category I fall.

However, what you might not guess is that I struggled with this.  Much like the Crocs debacle, this dress thing pressed my buttons -- and big time. 

I've been open on this blog about my own sexuality and how I fall somewhere left of center (call me bisexual, if that makes you feel better), but apparently that doesn't predispose me to making this kind of thing easy.  Not even a little bit.

I have a very left-leaning attitude towards sexuality, gender, and how it's all expressed.  I've continuously avoided saying things like, "Do you like any girls?" instead asking simply, "Do you like any boys and/or girls?"  I do assume his gender matches his genitals, but we'll tackle that issue if ever arises later.  I think it's fair enough to be sex-neutral when talking about attraction without further complicating things with gender.

In any case, my point is: I'M A REALLY FREAKING OPEN-MINDED, HETERO-SENSITIVE, HOMO/WHATEVER-FRIENDLY MOTHER.  And still, buying my son a dress was hard.  Really freaking hard.

We were in Target with the purpose of getting him a garment.  He was in the cart, cute as all hell in his little boy ensemble and his short hair and there I was holding up dresses.  First a dark gray one.

"How do you like this, baby?"

"I like the pink one."

"Are you sure?  This grey one's really nice."

"NO.  I want the pink one."  And this "pink" was like fire-engine fuchsia.  I squirmed.  And then I squirmed at my squirming.  I said, "Ok," and tossed it into the cart.

"Are you sure you don't just want a tutu?"  Somehow I felt that less fabric would be easier on me.

"NO.  I want the pink dress."

I sighed and rounded the rack of clothes.  That's when we spotted the same dress in lavender.  I was strangely mollified when he said he'd rather have the purple.  I swapped out the dresses, tossed in a matching purple tutu for good measure and wheeled to the register.

I was fascinated at my own reaction to this transaction.  I was self-conscious as I discussed my son's dress color preference around the other shoppers.  They kept looking at me, I was certain, like I was crazy/stupid/weird.  But I pressed on.  If only not to shame my son's desire to try wearing a piece of clothing he sees his best friends at school wearing (who happen to be girls).

Seriously.  What's the big effing deal??  But wait - I don't want to get ahead of myself here.

We checked out with no incident.  Not like the time I bought him sparkly red ballet flats.  (And again, trust me, I tried my  hardest to get him to pick the silver or black versions, but he wasn't to be dissuaded.  UGH.  WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM IN ME??)

That afternoon the checker was a 50-something woman with raisin-like skin and a hairdo that looked more tired than she was.  She saw the shoes and saw the boy.  Then looked at both twice again each for good measure.  She looked at me questioningly, "Yeah, he's a boy." I answered her unspoken question.  "And why can't a boy want sparkly shoes?  It's not his fault they only cover girl shoes in glitter," I bit out before she could say another word.

She stammered and, I thought, recovered well enough to say, "Well, I guess you're right."  I continued to glare at her for good measure.

Ok, so now we're back to Christmas Day, the day Hawk gets to open his skirted treasures.  And guess what?  He LOVED THEM.

At first he was shy and only wanted me and Rooster to see him in his dress.  Then, the twirling began and he was begging PapaMimi to watch him.  He wore that stupid dress over his footed pajamas for 8 yours.  We practically had to peel it off of his little body.

Rooster and I talked about our feelings.  Turns out he was surprised at his own confusion over it.  He said he wished he wasn't so torn up about it, but refused to elaborate more on the subject.  My mom, on the other hand, was more vocal about her worries.

"Are you gonna let him wear that to school??"

"Yes.  Why wouldn't I?  There's a little boy there who wore a Spiderman costume every day for almost the entire year.  Why can't Hawk wear a dress?" (Clearly I think there's some sort of ranking for strange clothing for children.)

"Well," she pursed her lips, and let the sentence die on the vine.  I bet I could fill in the rest, "... what will the kids say to him??"

So I went ahead and just answered, "I'll help him navigate that when it comes.  I'd never send him to a situation without first telling him what he might expect from others.  And if it's awful for him, we'd talk about it and go from there.  But, really, [his school] is not going to be a place of judgement or ridicule."

And so there you have it: I defended his right to wear a dress all the while battling my own sense of discomfort with the whole thing; my confusion.  What the fuck??  What's the big effing deal that my boy wants to wear a dress??  It means nothing.  And it yet means everything, something.  It's a visual representation of my love and support of him as well as a slap in the face of what we think should be.  It's beautiful and weird and awesome and honest. 

And I swear to God I will always support this kid's desires no matter how they challenge my antiquated notions.  I swear.

Taking Mimi to bed.


  1. I have a daughter and a son. My son has always had access to dresses, because his big sister had them first. I can see, now, that this simplifies things for me considerably. When my son wants to put on a dress and twirl, he just needs to go to the dress-up bin, which is replete with them (as well as many other dress-up items). This is one of the big upsides of having a boy and a girl - they have access to a wide variety of playthings, gendered and not, and no one needs to give anyone the stink eye at the store to get them.

    It's totally a ridiculous double standard, now that I think about it. Like somehow it's OK for a little boy to wear a dress in play, as long as it wasn't purchased FOR him.

  2. Amber, I agree! I also didn't want to say, "Hey, he's only 4, who cares?" because maybe he'll want to wear a dress when he's 11 and what then? It's ok when you're little, but not when you're big? It's all the same to me, to us, to his little psyche, right?

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful input! xo

  3. I hope I can have the same strength and courage!

  4. I was going to say a similar thing along the lines of Amber– the daycare Jude goes to is more girls than boys, at the moment, and he's inundated with dress up, and dolls, and babies, and dresses. There are plenty of "boy" or non-gender oriented toys but I've always seen it is as a bonus that he has the opportunity to play with ALL the toys openly. Did I buy him a pink baby doll when he asked? Hell yeah! So sweet.

    His babysitter sent him home the other day after a messy craft in one of her daughter's old pair of jeans with embroidered pink flowers all up and down the legs. She apologized when I picked him up but he thought they were *so cool.* More power to you, kid. It may make me uncomfortable to take him to the grocery in them but that's my problem, not his.

    All this to say, I love you.

  5. I think it is wonderful! Thinking of him doing a twirl in that dress brings a smile to my face every time and makes me happy knowing that he is happy!

  6. That first photo looks like pure joy!

    I often catch myself thinking how nice it'll be to have a girl because she'll be able to wear anything in the kids department. Then I remind myself that I don't want to restrict a son either, so it doesn't matter. I don't know why I have a little mental block about that, but I wanted to thank you for writing about it. I've bookmarked this to come back to in the future because THIS: "I will always support this kid's desires no matter how they challenge my antiquated notions" is exactly the kind of parent/aunt/fairygodmother/teacher/etc. I want to be.

  7. I've been thinking about this topic lately. My first is a girl, and my husband and I have dressed her in some "boy" clothing, and tend to avoid dresses (because I find them impractical for play). Last week we found out our next is a boy and I've been thinking about clothes. On one hand I'm excited to buy new outfits because baby clothes are just cute, but on the other I think about all the perfectly good clothes we still have from my daughter. But, it's hard. I think I am very liberal and accepting of all the gender variations possible, but clothing is a tough one to let go of because it's just so visible. And while I'm willing to stand up for my children should they express a gender different from their biological sex, I'd rather not discuss that with just any random stranger because I dress my son in a pink, "girl's" outfit.

  8. I completely understand your confusion and discomfort. I've felt it all with my son - right down to feeling as though a tutu is somehow more acceptable! Our conundrum is amplified for me because we're a 2 mum family raising a single boy. I can't bare to think that people would be judging him or us because of our sexuality. Or that people would think we're trying to shape his gender/sexuality in some way.

    It's ridiculous, of course, because haters are always gonna hate and people's minds were made up about us long before our son ever asked for a dress!

  9. That is a most beautifully spectacular picture!

    Love this article and agree with all the points you make. I have a number of pics of my son dressed up in a pink tutu and heels. And his favorite color is: #1 Pink, #2 Red. And he likes to have his toenails painted. And I am not going to do/say anything to shame him about something he shows interest in. Because, as you said, big effing deal!

    Thanks for writing this!