By: Amber Leventry
There seems to be a shift happening in peoples’ attitudes about gender and gender expression. The shift feels positive and attitudes appear to be accepting. Boy/girl labels were removed from Target’s shelves of children’s toys, a television show on a major network showcased a popular transgender teenager, and more books about children breaking gender stereotypes can be found in libraries and bookstores.
Sometimes boys like to wear dresses. Some think, but what does that mean? It means that sometimes boys like to wear dresses. Individual boys may have more specific reasons, however, and we should be open to hear them if they choose to tell us why wearing a dress makes them feel good. The boys in Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, 10,000 Dresses, and My Princess Boy wear what some consider to be meant for girls. Their journeys are unique, but all roads lead to acceptance.
Morris is a boy who loves the tangerine dress from the dress-up area at school. He likes the way is swishes. He likes the crinkling sound it makes when he sits down. He likes the clicking sound the accompanying fancy shoes make when he walks. The color of the dress reminds him of tigers and the color of his mother’s hair.
Morris has an imagination as big as the space safari he creates in his dreams, and sometimes he needs to use it to pretend he doesn’t hear the boys and girls at school making fun of him for wearing the tangerine dress. But eventually the teasing is too much for Morris and he stays home with a stomach ache. After a weekend at home surrounded by his mother’s love, his dress, and the other things that make him happy Morris finds the strength to go back to school.
When the boys at school see the fun Morris is having in his spaceship, they soon learn that adventure is fun no matter what you are wearing. Other kids see that imagination and personality are more important than clothes. The tangerine dress makes Morris happy, and his spirit shines through any shade thrown his way.
Bailey is a boy who dreams about dresses. Bailey envisions dresses made of crystals, flowers, and windows. Bailey is also a boy who doesn’t feel like a boy. Bailey envisions herself as a girl. Each morning she wakes up to tell her mom, dad, and then brother about the amazing dresses she wears in her dreams. Each family member tells her not to mention dresses ever again. “You are a boy. Boys don’t wear dresses.” When Bailey tries to explain that she doesn’t feel like a boy, they disregard her.
Bailey eventually meets an older girl who needs help designing dresses. The two of them create new dresses from the 10,000 ideas found in Bailey’s dreams. The older girl not only accepts Bailey’s help, but she accepts Bailey.
While it is heartbreaking to read Bailey’s family members dismiss her excitement and attempts to explain how she is feeling, 10,000 Dresses reminds us that not all children find acceptance at home. It also reminds us that all kids—not just our own—need our support to nurture and protect who they are trying to become. We want Bailey, and other transgender children, to find optimism when dreaming up their equivalent of 10,000 dresses.
My Princess Boy is a true story based on the unconditional love a mother and family give to a young boy who likes to wear frilly dresses and tiaras. The title of the book is the name her son gave himself at his birthday party. He wore a dress, jewelry, waved a wand and called himself a Princess Boy.
Princess Boy is four years old and has yet to learn too much about the negativity that the world can offer him. So he climbs trees in his crown, he chooses pretty things at the store, and twirls like a ballerina without hesitation. But every now and then someone laughs or tells him boys shouldn’t wear dresses.
That is when you can feel the author’s fierce determination and love for her child take over. She wills confidence to stay in her Princess Boy and urges us to love him for who he is. The book also feels like a reminder to herself and other parents that our children need us. They need us to support them and encourage them to be their true selves, even when someone disagrees or doesn’t understand.
Maybe I am noticing the shift in opinions on this topic because I am looking for a positive swing of attitudes and finding real life stories about Bailey, Morris, and Princess Boy. Maybe the acceptance has always been there but people are now more confident and courageous to voice their support in the face of those not accepting of diversity and gender nonconformity. Maybe I am just hopeful that our society is becoming a safer and better place for our kids to wear and be whatever makes them feel happy and whole.
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