Photo by: Dawn Clafin

Real Boys Wear Dresses

by Dawn Clafin of "Dawn Clafin"
Photo by: Dawn Clafin

A picture hangs in our hallway of our son, then aged three, wearing work boots and heavy gloves; he grips a saw tightly in one hand.

He is also wearing a dress.

This was not a phase. This was not short-lived.

At our house, the short-lived phase is the one where Angus wore socks on his hands: to sleep, to eat french fries and ketchup, to take baths. But the dresses stayed with us for years.

Months earlier, we were at a wedding, and his big sister twirled and whirled to the music, her dress spinning around her like, well, like a dress. Angus cried until we were able to track down another parent – the mother of a girl – who had packed an extra skirt. How thoughtful of her.

“Aren’t you worried you’ll make him gay?” someone asked. Actually, someones, as in more than one person. As in, more than one time.

We don’t think this is what makes people gay, we thought. And, What is wrong with you? Also, He is three! But: “No,” we said.

When our first child, a daughter, was born, we worked hard to counteract the tide of stereotyping flooding her way. She got dolls from friends; she got tools from us. She got a Dora umbrella; she also got Cars sheets. Her drawers held dresses and jeans; her toy boxes brimmed with Barbie’s and Lego’s.

People often mistook her for a boy (her hair didn’t grow for years). Friends thought we were a bit militant.

But no one ever, ever, asked us if we thought she might become a lesbian.

History has given us much, both in the way of trouble and gifts. Yes, my daughter may someday earn less than a man for doing the same job. Yes, she may be vastly outnumbered if she chooses to go into engineering, or sports broadcasting. Yes, she is still waiting for a woman to become president. And yet: she can wear anything she wants to – short hair, pigtails; jeans, skirts; baseball uniforms, ballet tutus – without raising any eyebrows. Once, she even wore a dishtowel to school on her head, because she was playing “Jesus Dies”, pretending to be Mary, the mother of God, and she didn’t want to interrupt her game just because she had math to do.

My son, your sons, often don’t have this luxury. I am not being very scientific here, having no control group and an experimental group of exactly one boy. However, we did try very hard to afford my son the same experience my daughter had: he had his own baby doll, named Adda. He wore nail polish. His favorite movie was Barbie’s Princess and the Pauper.

Children teased him when he wore pink socks with hearts to school. Adults raised their eyebrows and thought thoughts.

I know, because some of these adults talked to me about it.

After a few years of school peer pressure, Angus did, in fact, go through a phase where he stopped wearing the pink socks. And we had to talk a few times about saying, “You throw like a girl.”

I am seeing signs of hope, now that my son has hit 4th grade. Just last week he wore his sister’s knee-high rainbow socks – thigh-high on him, really – to school. With shorts.

And, for a school assignment, he drew a picture of himself in work boots, with heavy gloves, holding a saw.

And wearing a dress.

Dawn Claflin writes and parents in the Seattle area, and has a closet full of weird clothes. Her writing for moms and kids has been accepted at Parent Map, Mothers Always Write, and Primary Treasure. You can visit her site, Dawn Clafin amd follow her on Facebook

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