When I was young boy, I mean really young (three, four?), as far back as my mind will go, I would dress up in women’s clothes. My aunt’s to be precise. My parents were separated, moving onto divorced at this point, and my aunt had come to live with me and my dad.
I guess the question is why did I start wearing women’s clothes. Was it because I was transgender? Was I a boy who was born into the wrong body? Was I just playing dress up? Or was I just growing up to be a feminine gay boy who liked fashion? Was the separation of my parents a traumatic experience wherein I was role playing the figure of my mother? Alas, I am no Freudian, so I will leave that psychoanalysis for another day. I can say, I do not recall any gender dysphoria. Nor have my parents mentioned anything about that. I certainly did not see a psychiatrist when I was little.
I would walk (prance) up and down the street in my dress up clothes. In a way, I was pretending to be a girl, but to be honest I cannot recall at all what I was thinking. I used to watch Mr Dress Up a lot as a child. On the show, he had a magic tickle trunk, where he would discover costumes. This statement in no way refers to a women or womanhood as a costume. I am highlighting the fact the children are imaginative and are willing to explore different types of personas. I enjoyed exploring the feminine persona.
One Halloween, I was five I think, I was dressed as a fairy. Some older kids asked me what I was supposed to be, “a fairy,” I replied. “A boy fairy or a girl fairy?” they wanted to know. I responded confidently, “a girl fairy.” I was made fun of, somewhat, I had tears. I was comforted by my mom and my life carried on. I do not mean to downplay bullying; I have received my share. I am simply highlighting the fact that kids can be mean, feelings can be hurt, and this is a part of growing up. For both the bully and the victim. This is not the “good” in life. But it is apart of it.
My friends accepted me for who I was. I would play dress up with some of them. We even got our parents involved in fashion shows. I played with both typical male and typical female toys- Gi Joe and Barbie. I never found this strange. It was normal for me to explore both the masculine and feminine aspects of play. I watched all types of cartoons: He-Man and She-Ra. There was something unique about the girl themed toys and shows. I was attracted to the strong female characters. The female presence has always been profound to me and continues to be something I enjoy experiencing.
I was about ten, when I went to go put on my dress up clothes and they were missing. The conversation went something like this: “Dad, where are my dress up clothes?” “I threw them out.” “Oh.” But I knew. It was time to put the clothes away. Did I understand that my dad wanted to protect me from bullying? That there is a time to grow up from childhood imagination into adulthood? Was this some form of bullying by my father not accepting me for who I was?
I was bullied in high school. I was more feminine, a bit of a weakling. I was gay, but not out. I bullied others. I am not proud of myself for that; for the harm I caused. When I finished high school, came out, and found the gay community, I discovered drag. I painted my face for several years. From the beginning my family supported me. My dad even did a photo shoot for me. Just like he would when I was a kid. I haven’t done drag in years. And I do miss it, a bit. I appreciate some disdain the impersonation of women. Some of what the drag queens do is in poor taste. But some are artists of the highest calibre: exploring, creating, imagining. There is a danger though, when one reifies the imagination.
When I came out, my aunt asked me if her clothes made me gay. And I told her no. It was being gay that that I wanted to put on her dresses. But that’s not necessarily true. I’ve met all walks of gay men through my time in the community. Not all gay men dress up in women’s clothes. Either as a child or as an adult.
I was known as the little boy in girl clothes on my street, growing up. And that is okay. But I would like to thank my dad for taking away my dresses. The possibility that I may have been corralled into living as a girl, prescribed puberty blockers, receive sex reassignment, is unsettling. I tell this story not to scare parents or shame trans folks. I do so as a warning.
Children are children. And they deserve protection. But not at the cost of themselves. The idea that ‘trans’ kids must be medicalized, at the soonest possibility, may in fact be leading to a disastrous outcome for the lives of many. Accept you gender atypical child for who they are. And for any decisions to be made about altering their bodily chemistry or physical appearance, adulthood will come sooner than they think. Until then, let the child be a child, use your imagination, and explore reality to its fullest extent. But most of all, find love for yourself as you are; for those around you. And know that you are loved.