“My 6-year-old son wants to be a princess this Halloween. I’m fine with it (he dresses up like a princess at home all the time!) but I’m a little worried about handling potential pushback from neighbors and friends at school. Do you have ideas on the best way to go about it?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Katie Hadjolian
What a joy to know that you and your son have fun with dress-up play! It’s unfortunate that many folks see fit to impose gender-based limits on the scope of the imagination, and on clothing in general. Congratulations to you on your desire to appropriately respond to any remarks these folks may make.
Since both you and your son already have positive feelings about him dressing up like a princess, your primary focus can be on maintaining—and effectively communicating—those positive feelings. Simply expressing your opinion of how your son makes a fantastic princess will cover a tremendous number of bases. When confronted with negativity, asking open-ended “What makes you think that?” or “Why not?” questions can either give you an escape route as they consider their answer and you move on, or make them consider why they have made the statement in the first place. If a little sarcasm seems called for, “Um, it’s a costume,” will probably do the trick (no pun intended).
If you think your son is unaware that people could react negatively to what he’s wearing, it may help to coach him through some responses both positive and negative in order to frame it as a social-skills exercise instead of a worst-case prep session.
Comment: “Hey, I love your princess dress!”
Response: “Thank you! I love it too!”
Comment: “Why are you wearing a dress? That looks silly.”
Response: “I like this and I think it looks great.”
My own son was several years older than yours when we first encountered resistance to his enjoyment of a found piece of “girl’s’” clothing. He has yet to share with me what anyone said, and I honestly don’t know if anyone said anything negative directly to him or not; I did, however, have what amounted to a silent staredown with a child care provider. It was not particularly pleasant for either one of us and if I had it to do again, I would have prepared as you are preparing now, including ensuring that my son was comfortable sticking up for himself.
Interestingly enough, when one thinks of kids and Halloween costumes, having folks try to figure out the identity of the costumed person is normally a significant part of a Halloween-themed event. So for those who simply cannot abide the thought of a boy dressing as a princess, pointing out to them that a costume is normally worn in order to make the person unrecognizable may be enough to have them stand down. There’s much behind that statement, of course, but there’s certainly no need to enlighten anyone in a single sidewalk or party-table encounter.
Remember that any negative reactions you may experience do not have to do personally with you or your son, but with others’ general discomfort with the idea of challenging gender norms. In fact, it’s very likely some of them may even be envious of your support of your son’s ability to dress up however he wants to. I have found to my pleasant surprise that with each passing year, people are generally more accepting and supportive than before. May that be the case for you and your son this year.
Finally, I recommend you pick up a copy of Laurin Mayeno’s (another writer here at My Kid Is Gay!) new children’s book One of a Kind Like Me/Único Como Yo, which tells the story of a little boy who likes to dress up as a princess, too!
Enjoy the holiday!
Katie Hadjolian is a mother of two from Lancaster County, PA. When not working in software support, she can be found cracking wise and goofing around with her sons. She enjoys the company of a diverse group of women writers and will read anything she can get her eyes on.