Jerry Mahoney knew the day would come that he would have to relent and allow his son to wear a dress out in public. When the day finally came, it was remarkably unremarkable.
This is a follow-up to my post, “My Son Wants to Wear a Dress” which can be found here.
As soon as I decided I was just going to let Bennett wear a dress, public reaction be damned, he stopped asking. Little did I know he was just waiting to raise the stakes.
The next time he asked, we were on vacation in upstate New York, visiting Drew’s family. This was the day we were going to the zoo. We’d been talking it up to the kids all week. Just as we were picking out clothes, Bennett made his intentions known.
“I want to wear a dress!” he chriped, his voice rising an octave on the key word.
As usual, Drew and I kind of stalled. We’d been hoping we could blur the gender lines quietly at home—at least initially. Letting him make his drag debut at the zoo might mean throwing him literally to the wolves.
His sister Sutton must have noticed my hesitation, because she stepped in to do the dirty work. “No, Bennett,” she said. “You can’t wear a dress. It’s not OK!”
“Come on, Bennett,” I said. “Let’s go pick one out.” I couldn’t control how the rest of the world reacted to my son’s attire, but I wasn’t going to let his own family shame him for wanting to express himself.
As I stripped him of his boy clothes, Bennett couldn’t stop smiling. “I’m going to wear a dress outside!” he cheered. “I’m going to wear a dress outside!”
Maybe the kid was more aware than I realized. So wearing the dress outside was the triumph? Maybe he wanted to see how strangers reacted. That’s awfully subversive for a not-quite-three-year-old.
We have a rule with Sutton. Whenever she wears a dress, she has to wear shorts or leggings underneath. Being the fuddy-duddy daddies we are, we refuse to contribute to the hoochie-fication of today’s toddlers. Our little girl wasn’t going to be some primped-up preschool strumpet.
And neither was our little boy. If he was going to wear a dress, he was going to put something on underneath it.
The problem was that none of Bennett’s shorts really went with the dress. Neither did his very boyish navy blue sneakers. He didn’t care. The dress was all that mattered to him—but not to me. I didn’t want people to think this was my idea of a flattering ensemble for my son.
He looked silly. At least I thought so. To be honest, I don’t think he even checked himself out. All he wanted to do was dance.
“Twirl! Twirl! Twirl!” he shouted, as he spun around again and again, watching the dress float up around him.
Suddenly, I wondered if he got the idea to wear a dress from Beauty & The Beast. The way Belle dances in the ballroom and the camera zooms in on her gown rising majestically around her — it was so magical.
For Bennett, the dress was a toy he could wear—part pants, part hula hoop.
It was nice to see him so happy, but there was one person who could derail that joy in an instant—and she was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase.
It was, after all, a vacation. We’d only packed two dresses. Sutton was wearing one, and now her brother was wearing the other one.
Her favorite dress.
I was terrified what she would say. I very cautiously brought Bennett to the top of the staircase.
“I’m wearing a dress!” he trilled, and his sister glanced up for a look.
All of us froze in that moment. Once again, it was like Beauty & The Beast, right after Belle has been dolled up by the coat rack and miscellaneous flatware. When the Beast sees her, he smiles, and you know everything is going to be OK.
“You look so pretty!” Sutton squealed. “Now we’re both princesses!”
Bennett scurried downstairs, and they danced together, twirling and twirling, until they both fell over, giggling.
Drew and I went to the zoo prepared to clock anyone who made a comment about Bennett’s dress, but nobody said a thing. We were the only ones who were the least bit uptight about it.
On the way home, we stopped for lunch. Our waitress leaned down to me and Drew. “You have such beautiful girls,” she said.
I wasn’t sure what she meant at first. Was she saying what she thought my son wanted to hear? “Such beautiful girls” – wink!
It didn’t seem right. He may have been wearing his sister’s clothes at the moment, but my son is very much a boy. He plays with trains, builds Lego towers, splashes in mud puddles. He even announced recently that when he grows up, he wants to marry a boy… just like both his dads. What’s more boyish than that?
When the waitress returned with our food, she made another comment. “You two fellas are so lucky to be here with such beautiful women!” I realized she was being totally sincere. She hadn’t noticed Bennett’s shorts or sneakers, hadn’t thought much about his short hair. Because he was wearing a dress, she assumed he was a girl.
“Thank you,” I said, “but this guy’s a boy. He just wanted to wear a dress today.”