Boys who like Dresses

Advice about gender identity and how to sensitively handle boys who like girls dresses.

dress

 

As a PSP member asks the group:

"I just need some opinions since it's my first time dealing with it. my son is 3.5 and during dress up period at school, he beelines for the princess outfit or wedding dress.  I hear it's normal and don't worry about it, he'll grow out of it. Is that so, even if he does it every time and goes for nothing else? We've encouraged other outfits when he was doing it last year in his 2's class but still he likes the sparkly and colors of the girl outfits.

In talking to him, he innocently just likes the outfits. the problems come really from even other kids' parents in the class who say " that's the kid who wears dresses" or " my husband would never let my son do that". My husband and I talk about it w/ each other and the teacher (who says its normal) and we just let him do whatever he wants. We remind him occasionally that boys for the most part don't wear dresses. But we basically try not to push it or make it an issue. I mean-what are we going to do? punish him?

Of course, i have and still do the soul searching about what problem I have with it and should I have a problem with it. I by all means consider myself to not be homophobic-
but gosh, is this where it could start with one's children? it's so complicated. I just want to do the right thing.

Opinions from all angles would be helpful. I don't want to offend anyone out there. I appreciate this forum for it gives new parents the ability to process their parenting skills, which I feel is important for a community. It does take a village."

 

See also the 2012 the New York Times article "Loving Pink for Boys, Hating It for Girls."

 

PSP member answers:

 

“Hi, just to preface this, I have a PhD in psychology and I have studied transgender identity, gender and sexuality, but I am also a mom of an almost 2 year old girl. For most children, exploring and testing gender roles and expressions is very normal. Children who prefer wearing the other gender's clothing, playing with toys considered appropriate for the other gender, even adopting a new name from the other gender is also seen with some children. It does not always mean that the child will grow up to be gay or trans. Often by the time the child is about 5-7, when they become very aware of gender roles and expectations for appropriate gender expression, they will hyper masculinize or feminize.
I wouldn't worry too much about it and let him enjoy his free expression that, at this age, is so much more acceptable than when they are older. Making him feel as if his behavior is wrong or unacceptable may hurt him and may cause him to repress certain feelings. If the teachers or other children say anything, which I would be surprized about considering we live in the Slope, I would just pull the teacher aside and let them know how you feel about the situation and model a more appropriate response.”

 

“My son went to a fairly progressive preschool and there was no gender distinction in any area of play... the dress up area contained boys and girls dress up clothes and often kids requested nail polish and /or colored hairspray as part of the dress up routine. It was never decreed that the nail polish and hairspray was for girls and to this day (my son is 5) my child has no idea that nailpolish is supposed to be for girls... i never polish my nails so he has no frame of reference for it... Most times all the kids - boys and girls
wanted nail polish and color in their hair.
As to the dress up - we did have one boy in class - when they were 3 (the class was for 3s & 4s) who opted to wear only the girls dresses at dress up... it was totally accepted and noone (to my knowledge) said anything to him about it. In the second year - he expanded his repetoire to include some of the boys items and by the 1/2 way point -
he stopped wearing the dresses altogether.
He's a very athletic - skiing, snowboarding, 2 wheel bike riding 5 year old now.”

 

“I doubt that his enjoyment of pretty dresses is an early sign of homosexuality. However, if this is "where it starts," then I would assume that it would be merely an early sign of something inborn. Having a different attitude towards his wearing dresses, trying
to discourage it, certainly wouldn't make him any more or less likely to be homosexual. But, being accepting of it would probably make him more comfortable discussing his feelings with you if he does turn out to be homosexual.
Personally, I believe that people who feel the need to change their gender identities are responding to a society that enforces artificial gender roles. So, in that respect, supporting his interest in behaviors and items that are typically favored by the other gender should, if anything, make him more comfortable developing his own unique identity independent of gender stereotypes, and thereby less likely to identify preferentially with the other gender later in life. It also helps break down the societal
gender-types, which, in my opinion, is always a good thing.
While I don't think what you have described qualifies your child as a cross dresser, an interesting article on a cross dressing young boy is here:
http://www.mothering.com/articles/growing_child/toddlers/blue_tutu.html
So, I applaud your acceptance of his preferences.”

 

“I don't obviously have an answer to address how you are feeling about this, but if he's happy then.... My daughter, who is 3 and 9 months only wears sweatpants or jeans, hand me down baseball jerseys or t-shirts with graphics from the boys' department. Her sneakers are grey and her baseball cap is blue. All of her underwear (Spiderman, Buzz or Star Wars) has a flap in the front. She hasn't touched anything pink or with flowers in years. (She had a moment this evening when I served her food in
a pink bowl by accident.) When the little girls in my building are playing dress up with the party dresses, she puts on her Buzz Lightyear costume or her Spiderman costume.
Despite her shoulder length curls she is always referred to as "he."
Makes me wonder... is it easier for a girl to be like this than your son?? I can't tell.. But my daughter is happy, and I hope your son is too.”

 

“When my son, who is now approaching twelve, was around 2 - 3 yrs. old we had some friends with daughters who were around 5 - 7 with amazing dress-up boxes. He and they loved dressing him up in fabulous dresses that were, of course, glittery and appealing. I was never particularly worried about it, but some of the dads were. My son has always been somewhat androgenous - long hair, sweet face, but actually seems quite hetero, not that it matters. I would think that it is totally natural to be attracted to shiny, fluffy, sparkly, and otherwise beautiful outfits for any child of either gender.
The external indoctrination of dresses being for girls will eventually get to him one way or another. I would imagine that it might be hurtful for him to experience worry, disapproval, or worse for his choices of dress-up. I would talk to him about how mixed up so many people are about gender stereotypes and that it's OK with you, and you can see why he likes the outfits he chooses, if you can pull that off. He'll understand this on some level and appreciate your support.”

 

“I have 4 year-old boy/girl twins and for their birthdays everyone gets my girl princessy things and barbies and my son gets spiderman and trucks. My daughter wants to play with my sons things and my son wants my daughters'.
When my daughter has nail polish on, my son wants some too. That was a little wierd at swim class, but we didn't have a problem with it. After that we told him that boys wear clear nail polish and thats what he wears when he wants polish. And by the way, he only wants the polish when my daughter has it on. It's not like he requests it out of the blue.
They've both been invited to "princess" birthday parties where everything is about dressing up and wearing jewelry.
I thought it was interesting when one of their little friends had a princess party when they were two, invited both of my kids and the mom made a comment to my babysitter that she thought my son may be gay because he liked playing with the girls' things. That was the whole point of this party so what was he supposed to play with?
Anyway, my main point is that girls have more colorful and sparkly clothes and accessories and it's just plain more fun.
Our sons will be what they will be, regardless of what they wear or
play with.
Just my two cents”  

 

“Hey, don't sweat it. I grew up with 3 brothers and 1 sis and we all used to dress up our brothers with dresses and they'd play with our dolls. They used to get a kick out of it. They turned out fine. It is just a way of expressing themselves-hey you never know he may be the next high fashion designer. When my younger brother was around 3, he used to throw tantrums standing in front of my closet, he wanted so badly to wear my dresses and party shoes. He also used to go up to satin dresses in department stores and lay his head on them and suck his thumb (and sometimes the dresses were actually slips that women were wearing in the fitting room!). That phase didn't last long and he moved on to tee-ball and soccer! I have a near-3 year old boy who loves dumptrucks, trains, monsters...and make-up. He loves to put on my heels and walk around giggling the whole time. For a time, his favorite color was pink-it has since changed to red, and then blue, but my point is: the beauty of children, is that they explore their environments with graceful innocence. At his old day-care, there were 5 boys and 7 girls, all of them played dress up, and all of them knew nothing of gender stereotypes. I think it's great that you are taking the approach and understanding you have shown and hope that you continue to so your child can grow up being a secure, mentally healthy individual. After all, that is what
we want, right?”

 

“My son is 3 and 1/2 and has been wearing dresses as his daily clothes on a regular basis since last winter. It started when his older sister became obsessed with wearing skirts and dresses, and I thought it was only going to be a short phase. Well, it's been a pretty long phase so far, with no signs of ending!
As far as how it affects my son -- well, I think that sexuality is really too integral to a person's psyche to be fundamentally altered by the clothes that a child chooses to wear or not wear as a 3 year old. He loves to feel pretty, and he thinks that dresses are the prettiest things out there. Other children are really sweet about it; he has never yet been teased or made to feel strange for what he wears. And he doesn't get yet how adults feel about it. That's really the only drag (ha!) to speak; adults, especially mothers, can be freaked out by a boy wearing a dress. So after living with a cross-dressing preschooler for the last year, I'd say that the downside is you have to expect the occasional adult disapproval over the way you are letting your child dress himself.”

 

“Not too long ago (I think, I have no concept of time) the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute had a great exhibit on men in skirts. It had lots of flash and rock stars. The show is gone but maybe there is information or photos from the show on the museum's web site. It might be good to have some context.”

 

“My two boys are well into cars and fire trucks and such. However, they are also fascinated by my glittery, flowery hair clips and insist on wearing them at every opportunity. They also like to run around with my silky scarves and shawls, and enjoy the nice smelling bath products I use. They love their soft toys, and spend quality time with a baby doll we have around. I think this is normal, and I really think, as some other people have said that it's not hard to understand the attraction of the colourful, shiny, soft, glittery, 'girly' dress up clothes over the way less texturally appealing 'boyish' costumes ( they might also be harder to put on).
The real problem, as you point out, is with the other parents who fell compelled to comment. It seems way too early in his life to be actively defending him against possible homophobia. Perhaps a standard comment like: 'well, my husband thinks he's ONLY THREE, and that's a little young to be worried about that kind of thing', will remind them that it's none of their business, and that he is in fact only 3, and will end the discussion. Or perhaps a pointed question about their husband's need to defend their masculinity so aggressively might change the conversation: "Really? It's interesting that he feels so strongly about it ."
As for the 'little boy who wears dresses' comments, maybe something like: "Oh, he must be channeling some kilt-wearing Celtic/Masai/Polynesian/Afghani ancestors" will end that discussion diplomatically.

 

“This whole thread has made me crawl out from under my normally just observant/non-participant way of being a part of this parkslopeparents group list.
And this isn't aimed at anyone in particular, just inspired by this email exchange.
I do have some questions:
First of all: Who cares what anyone thinks of your kid? And how dare they make dumb comments?
Second: What's wrong with wearing dresses?
Third: Most people who are gay don't wear dresses.
Fourth: What's wrong with being gay? All the reassurances of "don't worry, it'll be all right" are just weird. What does that mean?
Fifth: You never know how your kids are going to turn out: bankrobbers, racist pigs, Nobel laureats, mathematicians, street musicians, the president, in the air force, ravers. Who knows?
Sixth: Signing off, knowing that I have some control over how my kid turns out, but also knowing that it's up to them, life, circumstance and chance. And that's the beauty of it all.”

 

“I ditto those comments. Wearing dresses is not a big deal and it is time the stereotypes get put aside. I happen to love pink shirts on men so what is the big deal. Wht is the difference of girls beig called tom boys and liking sports better than Barbie. Jjust let the kids live.. experiment and test their independence.”

 

“This discussion brings to mind a song by Dar Williams called "When I was a Boy" from her album The Honesty Room. It is just wonderful and captures the essence of everything we're talking about here.I gave up playing that Dar Williams album in the car because THAT SONG makes me cry every blessed time I hear it, and I just can't be driving down the highway or around town wiping my eyes.
It brings back my own childhood ease with my body so vividly, and I always think of my brother.
Anyone know how to link to a song in an email?
http://dar-williams.lyrics-songs.com/lyrics/43492/