Every morning my four-year-old daughter, Sydney, drags a chair into her closet and plucks a dress off of the rack. I try to lean her in other directions —“Why don’t we try shorts today?”—but Sydney’s stubborn. And I think she deserves the freedom to choose what she wants to wear.
My son, Asher, is 2. I grab shorts and a T-shirt out of the drawer and dress him, because he still has trouble dressing himself. But he figured out how to undress himself — and pretty often that means he’s ripping off his clothing and screaming “dress” over and over again. He climbs onto the chair in the closet and tugs at one of Sydney’s dresses —“This one.”
So most days my son is dressed like Sofia the First, or some Disney princess, or — my favorite — rocking a multi-colored Ralph Lauren spaghetti strap sundress. Taking all social mores out of it, he looks good in dresses. And on an 80 degree summer day in LA, it’s probably the most practical choice.
But Asher was stronger than ever that morning. He had a huge tantrum as I tried to force his legs into a pair of shorts. His nose was running into his mouth as he cried and protested and I suddenly realized I was fighting for something I didn’t even believe in. I was making my kid feel badly for something he shouldn’t be ashamed of. And I stopped. And I gave him a hug and I apologized. And then I put back on the purple princess dress with his sister’s sparkly Tom’s shoes.
Plenty of people are supportive. They’ll see my kids — Sydney with her long dirty blonde hair, and Asher with his short dark hair, and say, “I love your daughter’s pixie cut.” When I tell them he’s my son, they smile and say, “I love it.” They also apologize for confusing his gender, but I tell them, “Don’t apologize. He’s in a purple dress with sparkly shoes. How would you know?” I know there are parents who get worked up when you confuse their kids’ gender — but I’m not one of them.
I get home before my wife most nights, so I was taking the kids out to walk our dog. They were dressing up in different outfits — my daughter treating Asher like her doll, as she tried various dresses, shoes, and headbands on him. And then Sydney told me she wanted me to wear a dress, too — “Oh my god, it will be so funny.”
I said, “No.” But she kept begging. I said, “People will laugh at me.” She said, “If they do, I’ll tell them to go away.” And I couldn’t argue with that, as I squeezed myself into Carrie’s most flexible dress. We walked the dog on our block, and the pleasure my kids took in seeing their dad go out of his comfort zone, trumped the humiliation I felt.
Carrie pulled up to the house, and I saw her slack-jawed from the end of the street. She laughed. She took a picture. And she told me I better not rip her dress. And then we all went for a pizza.
(Article appeared in Huffington Post and xo Jane)