Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bloke in a dress

The future of Owen?  Fine by me
... minus the cigarette.

Last Thursday, Owen cried because he wanted to wear a dress to school.  I'll be honest, I really wasn't sure what to do.  Part of me worried that one aspect of being in society is understanding social norms.  Owen is too young to understand, should I be there to understand and make decisions for him?  Part of of me wanted to let my boy fly and be free, after all, wearing a dress is hardly harmful or hurtful behaviour.  And why should it be a social norm that boys can't wear dresses?  One hundred years ago, the idea of women striding about in trousers was shocking.  In fact, it wasn't until this year that France revoked a 200-year-old law banning women from wearing trousers in Paris.  Maybe in one hundred years, men will be wearing dresses and that great bully, Social Norm, the undisputed champion of mindless conformity, will not bat an eyelid.  What is currently labelled transvestism will simply be known as equal rights.  Maybe Owen is ahead of his time.  Or maybe Owen is just a little boy with a big sister he adores and wants to emulate.  Maybe he wants to be told that he is pretty all the time, just like his sister.  We don't often praise boys for their looks and I don't think they are any less susceptible to anxiety about their appearance than girls.  Or maybe Owen just likes dresses.

But it's one thing encouraging your child to be independent or eccentric, it's quite another to support them in breaking certain social codes and taboos.  And in France, it is definitely taboo for males to wear dresses (unless you're Jean-Paul Gaulthier - then it's ok).

Anyway, I had a chat to O's teacher, Cati.  After all, if I was potentially going to open the proverbial can of worms at school then I preferred to discuss this with those who would be crawling in the worms afterwards.  Cati is pretty open and liberal, recognises that the French generally are not, and said she was quite happy for Owen to come to school in a dress if he wanted to.  She did raise the question of gender identity.  I had two issues with this. Firstly, Owen knows he is a boy, like daddy, that he has a penis, that he cannot have babies in his tummy, which is currently a source of sore disappointment, but he does not want to be a girl.  He just wants to wear a dress.  Secondly, why is society so fixated on identity being defined by gender?  Because it's easier?  Because that's how it's always been?  Because it has a vested interest in maintaining the male-female dichotomy?  Because in fact for gender we should read sexuality?  Somebody cleverer than I will have to answer these questions.

For the moment I don't believe Owen's sartorial preferences are the result of anything other than the healthy childhood impulse to indulge in dressing up and make believe, and most importantly to be admired.  I am amazed by the number of parents that have told me their little boys also like wearing dresses, jewellery and make up but that they would never allow them to do these things outside the home.  If O's penchant for frocks does turn out to be more than dressing up then banning him from putting on a dress will only damage him.  My beloved Eddie Izzard (pictured above) says he realised he was a transvestite when he was four.  What is really at stake when people get their knickers in a twist about such innocent experiments is society's attitude to gender and sexuality.

So, did I send Owen to school in a dress?  Yes I did.  And the world did not rock on its axis.  I can't say that I am certain I did the right thing, but it felt right.  I've not talked to him too much about what society expects of males, or how others might react.  I've tried to focus on how it is important to be happy and confident with who you are.  I hope that this will allow him to cope with whatever others might throw at him without making him fearful or self-conscious.

Would you send your little boy to school in a dress?


  1. I've seen Eddie in nicer looking dresses ;-) xxx

    1. So as long as O wears nice dresses we have Uncle Ben's approval?? xxx

  2. Good post. Sent you an email.


Many thank yous if you're taking the time to leave a comment. You are most lovely in my sight.