You may have seen a link making its way around Facebook titled, “My Son is Gay,” by a mother whose 5-year-old son wanted to dress as Daphne from “Scooby Doo” for his school Halloween party. It’s a wonderful, inspirational story about a mother’s understanding of her son’s own gender identity and the repercussions of society on her allowing him to express himself freely.
I just read that post, and was suddenly reminded of my own experience with a similar situation.
I was in 8th grade. It was around Halloween and my school– a very conservative Catholic school— was holding its Halloween Party for the school kids. Keep in mind that at that time, 8th grade was considered part of the elementary school, so this party would be for grades 1-8.
The year was 1984– Michael Jackson and Madonna were hot costume ideas. But I decided that I wanted to something a little different, albeit a bit less current. I put on one of my mom’s old wigs, an old dress (or it might have been a caftan, I don’t remember exactly), and then put on makeup. I was no artist, but I did the best I could. I found a pair of nylons and a pair of her shoes. Then I found some of her “costume” jewelry and completed the look. I wanted to go as “Tootsie,” the 1981 Dustin Hoffman character.
I showed my mom what I had done. And do you know what she did?
She said, “I think it’d be fun!” I asked her, “Do you think the kids would make fun of me?” She replied, “It’s Halloween. You can go as whatever you want. It doesn’t mean anything… it’s just for fun.”
So then we showed my dad.
That didn’t go so well. Aside from his surprised reaction, and maybe a little bit of yelling, he didn’t have a massive tantrum (as I expected). He was definitely shocked by my appearance, but he was more gravely concerned about what would happen if I went to the party dressed this way. You see, only a few years prior, I had left my original grade school because of incessant teasing from the other kids. I don’t think the teasing was ever about my being gay (or the possibility thereof, as I certainly hadn’t come out yet); but because I had such a rough time at the first school, I think he was worried that this would set off a lot of problems for me at this school. Granted, I was in 8th grade and we were going to be graduating soon anyway– but I understood why he was so concerned.
He didn’t say that I COULDN’T dress as “Tootsie,” but he encouraged me to reconsider my choice– for my own sake.
So after some long talks about it, we decided that I would change courses and go as a greaser. (“The Outsiders” was also a popular movie and book at the time– so instead of going as a woman, I pretended I was Rob Lowe. Or Tom Cruise. Or Tommy Howell. Because I had a crush on each one of them.
In any case, I nearly became that kid in the recent blog post. I just didn’t have the guts to follow through with it. My choice had nothing to do with my sexuality, or even my gender identity. I have never considered myself feminine, and to this day I think I make one hell of an ugly drag queen! (Which is why I’ve only done it once.) I just was playing around with my mom’s stuff, came up with a funny costume, and thought it’d be fun to go as that character.
What touches me most, as I recall that day, is how bravely my parents dealt with it. There were no knock-down, drag-out fights like I expected. Just some serious discussions about whether or not it was best for me to do it. And I especially love my mom for encouraging me to do whatever I wanted. She never said no. And she still doesn’t to this day.