My Son Wants to Buy a Dress

4 years ago

I told Zach that I had written a blog post about his friend who likes to wear dresses, and he asked me to read it to him, which I did. A couple of days ago, he said he’d like a dress too. I’ll be honest, a bunch of sphincters inside me noticeably tightened.

It’s one thing to be fiercely supportive of another kid’s choice to buck convention and defy people’s expectations. It’s another to be complicit in sending my own child on a journey through possible bullying, ridicule, and condemnation by both children and adults.

I’m struggling with a bunch of questions my friend Mara Migraineur and her husband probably did with their son. Is it okay to tell him he can wear a dress? Am I going to do him some harm by letting him do this? Is it more harmful not to let him? Is it okay to tell people he’s doing this?

I think of discussions I’ve had with Mara about how her son is a pioneer, and how much I admire her and her husband’s support and acceptance of him. I was quite content actually to let her son be the trailblazer while my family watched from the sidelines.

A bow on the dress photo from Shutterstock.

I hesitated when Zach asked if he could have a dress. Then I told him he could have one, and I’d take him shopping the next day. Honestly, after all we’ve been through with his friend’s family, how could I have answered any differently? I would have been a hypocrite, and I would have been opening his friend up to criticism and judgment.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to say, “no” anyway. I really don’t think there's anything wrong with kids wearing T-shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, vests, whether they’re a boy or a girl. Clothing "rules" are somewhat arbitrary as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather concern myself whether it's weather-appropriate than whether it's "appropriate" according to someone else's opinion.

The day we were supposed to go dress shopping, he said he didn’t want to go. We went home, and he explained that he wanted his friend with us, because “he could give me ideas!”

I admit I’m still hoping Zach might:

  • change his mind and not want to try on dresses
  • decide after trying on a dress that it’s not for him
  • be satisfied with wearing only one dress (I’m not looking forward to buying a whole new wardrobe for him)
  • only wear dresses at home

Whatever happens though, I know it’s going to be okay. I have an advantage Mara’s family did not. We already know a family with a boy who wears dresses. If anything, their family has grown stronger because of it. I think our larger community has grown stronger too.

So, next week I’m going to take Zach and his friend dress shopping. I’m trying to think of how to respond if any of the store employees or other customers make disparaging comments like, “dresses are for girls!” or “pink is a girl color!” without getting all aggressive, spitting in their faces, “You do NOT tell my son or his friend what they are allowed or not allowed to wear. It is none of your damn business!”

I’m hesitant even to show this blog post to Zach, but of course I have to. I have to show through my actions and my words that I approve of him and his choices whatever they may be. As long as there isn’t a safety issue, I want to encourage him to explore his environment and his identity. He is a great person, and it’s to everyone’s benefit for him to express how great he is however he chooses to.

How can I reply to people's comments and questions about my son wearing a dress without being defensive?

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