This is what Henry Hotdog feels I should wear when I take him to school.
He likes the feathers.
At least two mornings a week, while I stand draped in a towel flicking through clothes in my wardrobe, as if he’s never suggested it before, he’ll say “Why don’t you wear the feathers Mum? I think everyone would REALLY like it.”
Henry feels the feathers should be my “signature” piece on the daily school run. Can’t you just see me on the side of the basketball court? Or maybe sitting in the bleachers at swimming lessons. I could wear it while I loaded the groceries in to the back of the car after I’ve swished around the supermarket on a Tuesday morning.
From the moment Henry could walk, he found his way over to the dress up box and started putting things together. All four of the travelers have been big fans of the dress up box. Everyone, at some stage has donned a tutu. They’ve been Wiggles, cats, princesses, builders, and Masterchefs. Henry’s favourite for a long time was the rainbow fairy dress. I love that dress. I bought it for the first little traveler in Perth at the fairy shop in Freemantle. Watching the fourth little traveler wear it in the snow in Canada six years later, always made me a little melancholy. That dress had been a constant, packed in every suitcase, and when everything else seemed to be changing, the dress was still there.
For roughly two years Henry wore the dress constantly, which seemed to bring two types of reactions from friends and family. People either scooped him up and told him he looked fantastic or tried desperately to look like they were okay with it while they were obviously struggling. I had all sorts of hideous comments from “Do you think he’s gay?” to “Geez, I hope he grows out of it”.
Do you think he’s gay? Is not a cool question for anyone. Not a 5 year old, a 15 year old or a 50 year old, because no matter what, it’s really irrelevant. In a world where we struggle with the sexualization of children. Why would be discussing a child’s sexuality?
Do you think he’s gay? Pollutes a conversation with undertones and stereotypes. Bad stereotypes, old stereotypes.
Do you think he’s gay? Makes me want to ask you if you think your child will be in to nipple rings, ribbed vibrators and fetishes. Do you? Have you thought about your toddler having sex? Or who’ll they’ll have sex with? No? Me neither.
Henry rarely wears a dress anymore. The rainbow fairy dress now lives at the beach house, I watched Henry help one of his cousins put it on when were home last time and my heart melted a little bit. What made me sadder though was he didn’t grow out of it. He was pushed. Not by his own family, but by the stereotypes of others.
“Why’s your brother wearing a dress?” our little visitor asked. The third traveler shrugged it off “that’s what he always wears”. I saw Henry’s face change – in that instant I watched him register what was happening. His cheeks blushed, his eyes dropped to the ground. I did my usual speech about wearing whatever he wanted, that there were no rules, but I knew the damage was done.
When I filled out his introduction form for kindergarten this year he whispered to me at the table “tell them I like robots and cars – I don’t want them to know what I really like”. The words stung. I felt like I’d failed. How could he feel this way? When did this happen? I’d spent so many hours preaching about there being no such thing as girls stuff and boys stuff and why there were no girl’s colours and boy’s colours. “Mummy, everyone else calls it girl’s stuff, they say ‘Why are you playing with the girl’s stuff’ – that’s what they say”.
He is 5.
No. You don’t grow out of it. You just catch on. You hear the comments and assumptions and you conform because it’s easier.
I haven’t written about this before, mainly because others have and they’ve done it so beautifully that I didn’t want to appear to jumping on the bandwagon. This story is for Henry and for anyone you know that reminds you of Henry. Just let them be. Scoop them up, tell them they look fabulous, give them permission to be whoever they want.
Just don’t assume to know who they’re going to become.
How would you handle the situation?