“I saw a picture posted online of my son dressed in drag. Does this mean he may want to transition to female? I have always suspected that he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. Is this type of experimentation/expression just a step towards something greater?”

Question submitted Anonymously
Answered by Karen Thompson

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Karen Says:
Goodness. That’s a big question. My daughter Lucie did drag when she was a teenager. For her, it was a step in a process to something greater. I think of it now as her way of testing the water. She had always been feminine all through her life, so when she decided to do drag, it seemed like a natural next step. At that time, Lucie identified as a gay young man. Now I think it was an “acceptable” way for her to express her innate femininity. She was an entertainer like other great drag queens—people like RuPaul and Divine. I didn’t think anything about it. I think for most young people—men and women—who perform in drag shows, it’s just that: entertainment. It’s a chance to be someone else and to make people laugh or clap or smile. Personally, as a woman, I think it’s wonderful to see a young man venerate women this way. For so long, men acting like women were thought of as taking a step down. I think we still have a huge problem with that. I think it is part of the reason we have such a strong reaction to seeing young boys dress up in their mothers’ clothes, while we think little girls dressed up in their daddies’ clothes are cute. 
After a while, I noticed that Lucie dressed as a girl more and more, even when she wasn’t performing. She started going out in public dressed as a girl. That scared and confused me. I was afraid she would be physically hurt by someone and, on top of that, I just plain-old didn’t want her to want to be a girl. That made me sad. I didn’t know how to help and I didn’t know how to fix it. I just kept trying to talk her out of it. I had never met anyone who was transgender. I had watched one or two documentaries where the person transitioning always just ended up sad and alone at the end. 
Dressing in drag became very important to Lucie. She did her first drag show here in Little Rock with the help of two very good friends of mine, one of whom happened to be Miss Gay Arkansas. She bought a beautiful, colorful dress made of many different textures and colors, and she chose a perfect song to perform—“Fever” by Peggy Lee. I came to the venue to watch her perform. I had been to a drag show before, just not one involving my child. 
At this time during our lives, she dressed in girls’ clothes part of the time. It was like she was testing the water. But those shows! It became so important to her to perform in them. Watching her that first night, I felt proud and nervous and a little sad, all at the same time. She was so good at it, and I wanted her to be good. I also saw her becoming a grown-up right before my eyes. She was so naturally a girl. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen it before, but I knew then that there was no turning back, no telling myself that this was a phase. She was beautiful and so happy to relate to people as a girl—as she had always seen herself.
I think that performing in drag shows gave Lucie the chance to be seen by everyone else as the person she knew herself to be. That’s why I think it was important to her. It was the one way she could reveal herself to me as a young woman, not the gay young man I thought she was. She was beautiful and free. In this atmosphere, she was celebrated and accepted, not just tolerated. She could break through my wall of purposely not seeing the daughter who was there. She broke through my insistence on her remaining the boy I thought she was. I was okay with that. I could handle having a young gay son. I had good gay guy friends growing up. I didn’t think I could handle my son turning into my daughter. A boy who wanted to be a girl was so public, and viewed as a perversion.
It frightened me to see the intensity that she had for doing drag, and the discomfort she felt when she tried to be a boy for me. When I saw how proud and bright she was during these shows, I knew she had found who she was supposed to be. She was my beautiful girl, my beautiful daughter.
But that doesn’t mean your child will go through the same process, and dressing in drag may or may not mean your child wants to transition.
Normally the advice given to parents trying to figure out what’s going on in their kids’ heads is to ask and communicate. If your child is anything like mine, though, asking—even if it’s done for the purpose of making your son feel accepted—will do the opposite. It will shut everything down and make him pull the hand-knitted afghan from the couch and put it over his head. I pushed and pushed and encouraged and reassured Lucie that I was cool. I was ready to march in his parade. He just wanted me to butt out. Sometimes, if I was still and quiet enough and didn’t make too much eye contact, he would let me know he appreciated having a mom who accepted him (and drove him around and provided money and shelter and food, yada, yada.) It took some listening and some sideways communication, you know, like the kind you do in the car while you’re driving your kid somewhere. The problem with coming head-on at your son like a rainbow-colored freight train is that it could make him very defensive. He may be trying to figure out the whole gender thing and he doesn’t want to have to worry about your reaction on top of his own. Not that you do that, necessarily. That was me. 
At some point, he may want to talk to you and may want your reassurance, but I would wait on him for the cue that he’s ready for that. In the meantime, you may want to make sure you’re read up on the subject of gender transitioning and drag. Make sure you keep your comments about people doing drag or transitioning positive. That’s where he’s going to get his information. 

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Karen Thompson currently serves on the board of Lucie’s Place, an organization dealing with LGBT youth homelessness in Arkansas, and as Vice President of the Little Rock, AR chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Karen is also a member of the Center of Artistic Revolution, an LGBT youth-centered organization in Arkansas. Karen works in loving memory of her daughter, a force of nature, Lucille Marie Hamilton–the one who taught her everything (1988-2009).

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