There are some things in life where, if you haven’t experienced it, no matter how supportive and empathetic you are, you just don’t know. You can have an idea. You can be loving, helpful, caring and supportive of someone going through it, but you can then walk away and go on about your daily life. I imagine my friends who are going through divorce and similar heartache may feel that way about myself. For me, there are days when, despite my friends, I need someone who can say, “I know.” Not to imply that I am over it, but it used to be about having experienced the death of a parent. Now, it tends to be about my gender fluid son. Just these past few weeks I have found a few families in my area – the mothers have gotten together and soon we will be getting our kids together. I found a local organization who is willing to come into my son’s school and help the staff understand ways in which they can create a safe and supportive climate for my son and others like him. I am grateful for these contacts and the support I am receiving from them. But I thought I had to go outside of my existing circle of friends to find this type of “I know” support – and add them to circle.
And then my friends came to my world. I received an email recently. It read as follows: “May I please borrow [your son] next Tuesday? [My son] would like to buy a dress, and he’d like [your son] there to ‘you know, give (him) ideas.’ I said I could give him ideas, but he said [your son] is the only boy he knows who wears dresses, so he wants him there.”
Thus began my shaking. Being so overcome with emotion that I am shaking isn’t exactly my norm. Days later, I still start shaking and get choked up with tears when I think about this. This, in my opinion, is huge. The other little boy is one of my son’s closest friends. He and his family have stood firmly by our side as we came out to our community. This isn’t to say that no one had any questions, there was a learning curve, similar to our own, but this boy readily accepted his mother’s explanation that my son was wearing a dress simply because he wanted to. [You can read her account of the story at Pretend You're Good At It.]
These two boys, and other kids like them, are changing our world. Personally, I fully support them and think that what they are doing is a good thing. My kid, just in being who he is – defying the gender stereotypes because they did not make sense to him – is changing those around him. I knew this was happening from the point of view that other kids are being exposed to him and learning to accept him. We have seen his friends stand up for his choices as well as explain to other children elsewhere that, yes, indeed, boys can wear dresses. I did not think that we would see other boys take the step that he has taken – or one that even resembles it. It simply did not occur to me.
I don’t care what comes of this shopping trip. I don’t care whether this boy actually buys a dress or whether he ever wears a dress. But the thought entered his head. And he wasn’t afraid to share it with his mother. Further, his mother wasn’t ashamed or shaming of her son (neither was his father). All of that is ginormous, as my son would say. Speaking of which, my son is SO psyched about this shopping trip!
My only counsel is this: follow your son’s lead. Don’t let our experience define yours. There is no need, today, to think about where he might or might not wear a dress, for example. Allow this to happen organically. If you are to take anything from this experience, recognize that you and your husband are clearly amazing parents. You have conveyed to your son that you love him and his choices and actions cannot call that love into question. He is confident in that love. So confident, in fact, that he felt safe enough to tell you that he’d like to wear a dress. This love is what has the power to change the world.