a boy and his tutu

The first time my son put on a tutu, I watched my wife’s face go white.

As for me, I’m not totally blameless in the judgment department – I may have shot Lo a look like “ummmm….okay” but I don’t really think I was anywhere near panic.

Our boys could not be more different. Andrew, the older one, is so anti-girl things that he had a full meltdown at 2 years old when we tried to put a pink swimmy diaper on him. He even pulls the “pink” pages out of the holiday toy catalogs because that stuff is “for gurrrls”.  (This I almost consider more of an issue that needs addressing than liking tutus). And here’s his younger brother, gloriously sporting the tutu and fairy wings:

photo (3)
photo credit: H. Robinson

When Andrew first saw his little brother in this getup, he ran over and pulled the tutu down chiding Dylan for the “girl dress”. Dylan, unfazed, looked at his brother with defiance and pulled that tutu back up so quickly and fabulously, the adults watching cheered out loud.

The tutu thing didn’t go away. After the first dress up party, he found his cousin’s pink tutu in our house and wanted to wear it to bed every night. His little best friend is a girl and he loves donning the princess dresses, tiaras and glass slippers when he’s at her house. He’s also learning to accessorize with purses, wands, etc.

I still didn’t think much of it. But Lo was visibly squirming even more. “We should really get that tutu back to its rightful owner,” she’d say. I did ask a few friends for their 2 cents wondering if I should care more, the majority said “who cares, let him be” and some people who I really thought would give a different answer said “get rid of the tutu.”

Here we are, lesbian moms, worried about our boy (WHO IS ONLY 3!) loving dress up. For the record, he is just as content putting on his Hulk Hands, Superman cape, policeman shirt (okay, it’s a bib) and fireman outfit – not usually all at once, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. So, why the immediate “oh no” response from the moms? After ignoring Lo’s discomfort, I figured we should talk about it.

I asked her: “What’s the big deal? OMG He likes princess dresses and tutus, what does that mean? He wants to have his toenails painted, oh no…” I asked her why her immediate response seemed like panic.

“I know he’s so little. And I know it probably means nothing. And I know we will love him to the ends of the earth if he wants to wear tutus when he’s 40. But we know what it’s like to feel judged or different and I just have this little small pain in my heart that I don’t ever want him to face some hatred or horribleness that the outside world may level against him. Does that make sense?”

It does make sense and I get it. I don’t want my precious little boy to be at the receiving end of bullying, discrimination, violence, or just plain ignorance. Who does? But two things: (1) he’s flippin’ 3 years old. I’m not even going to dare project what trying on dresses at 3 would even mean when he’s 9, 19, 29 or whatever; and (2) why not let him be fabulous? I want him to keep that “what do I care what people think” outlook because we are so busy quashing that individuality in kids, they grow up to be adults who then spend all their time seeking out who they really are. If Dylan had his way, he would wear a Spider-Man mask as a hat, red rain boots, a sleeveless shirt with his policeman bib over it and plaid shorts with mommy’s belt. Add a pink tutu and he’d be over the moon. And he’d jump onto his quad and ride around like daredevil.

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Dylan with his policeman bib


Pure unrestrained individuality. I love this kid. Both of his mommies love him completely and unconditionally.

9 thoughts on “a boy and his tutu

  1. Holly, thanks for this…I feel like this is similar to a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It’s interesting, I remember a similar sense of “oh no!” the first time I saw my son pick up a little pink purse. He was following his other parent, a transgender woman who was something like halfway through her transition at the time, his older sister, and myself out the door, and we were all carrying purses, and there he was, with his own…seems only natural, right?. But I was shocked and dismayed about what to do, and I was in turn irritated about my own reaction, because I’ve always rejected gender norms for myself, but I’ve become much more nervous about the way people treat or I perceive them to treat my son, based on the fact that he has a mama and a mapi. In that sense everything both you and your wife have said in the above article about trying to protect him really ring true to me, and I still haven’t quite resolved my “what to do about it”. For me, it sometimes depends on where we are and where we’re going…my dad is pretty conservative and while I reject many of my dad’s views, I love him and want my son to have a relationship with him, without being subject to super-gendered comments every time we show up, so I will sometimes just say, hey, let’s leave the pink purse in the car and you can use it later. Not sure if that is the “right” or “wrong” way to do things but it’s just become how I do it.
    In terms of the above comments regarding transgender kids, research shows most trans kids recognize they were born in the wrong bodies as early as 3 years old. I don’t know many parents who would push their kids to be transgender, it is not an easy way to live. I think that by allowing them to visibly transition that early, they are allowing them to be free from the bullying that would ensue if they transitioned as an adolescent or at 18, when the transition is so much more apparent. But I think it should be the family’s decision, and is very different from what we are talking about here, which is just sort of going through phases with different colors, clothes choices, etc.

  2. Let him be himself, whatever that means. Yes, his life might be harder but he’s not the one who needs to change, it’s the adults who need to change their judgmental and hateful attitudes. I think it’s ridiculous that people assume that ANYTHING that kids do now is an indicator of what they’ll be as adults.

  3. We actually suspect that one of our children may be gay. Not based on playing dress up or anything of the sort. And this child is not 3. Call it a mother’s intuition. And I believe, based on questions and conversations, etc that this child (who does not yet quite know how to describe these feelings) is becoming more and more aware. Mike and I were surprised when our initial response was panic. After all, some of our very best friends in the world are gay. When it comes down to it, our fears have nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the fact that said child struggles with anxiety which gets in the way of self-advocacy, and has other physical differences/ is very vulnerable and an easy target for bullies already. If we suspected that one of our other, more self-assured children were gay, we wouldn’t even give it a second thought.

    1. And to reiterate..my statement has nothing to do with Dylan. Little kids play dress up. They explore and are just learning to express their creativity and this should be encouraged.

      My response was more to do with how surprised my husband and I were to our own reactions. But as I said, gay or straight, this is a very vulnerable child who we would worry about regardless, in terms of self advocacy. We love and support and listen and make sure there is counseling in school and provide positive role models, gay and straight, but we still worry.

  4. I totally hear you on worrying about the judgment and teasing that a kid who is different can attract. In general, we have tried to parent our son in a way that downplays the relevance of gender, all the while recognizing that society places great import and meaning around gender and gender expression.

    My son had a phase around 3-4 where he insisted that he wanted to be a girl. He loved painting his nails, pink was his favorite color, and he had very long hair. When this phase started, we tried to react as neutrally as possible, giving him room to decide what he thought and just hearing him out. When he started school, our fears of him getting bullied went away quickly. He was so confident in his choices that when kids questioned him about why he, a boy, liked pink or had long hair, his response was basically to assume that they were missing out on something great. Wishing he were a girl seemed to end as suddenly as it began with no real explanation. Then he stopped wanting his nails painted. Then around 7 he decided that he does not like pink anymore! That actually felt really sad for me because it was a fairly unique thing about him, and I loved watching how he handled other people’s questioning him about it. He still has long hair, and he openly rejects the idea that a toy can be for a girl or boy only, though he definitely sees girls as physically inferior and wouldn’t want to be one.

    Kids can be very fickle. What seems like a nearly obsessive interest one day can quickly fade the next. I think that it’s really important that we let them decide who they are. I think that it’s great to be supportive, but I am very concerned when I see parents in the media who have kids who have expressed gender non-conforming interests suddenly pushing the kid to becoming transgendered. In my opinion, that has to be a choice that is made after puberty. I even told my son when he said he wanted to become a girl that some men do make that choice, but that it’s something you do when you’re an adult.

    1. Pamela – I agree! I think we are embracing whatever little quirky things this kid does. And he’s got some quirky outfits.
      I also think that going full board on a gender change with a kid who is so young is not the right thing to do. I don’t want to judge parents for making the decisions they make but if my 6 year old boy wanted to live as a girl, I think I’d really wait for 18 to hit before being in favor of a “transition”.

  5. He’s so cute – I love the pics!

    Let him be fabulous and rock that tutu!!! I always say that people don’t care when girls do “tomboyish” things – when we see girls in preschool who are into Spiderman and things like that (my girl is one of them), people just say, “Oh, she’s just a tomboy.” Why should we care when boys like things that are stereotypically “girly?”

    My feeling is that kids don’t understand at this young age what is girly versus boyish – they just like the color, the texture, the sound, the design. Let them explore and play with it!

    (As an aside but related, I had an all-out argument with my FIL who objected to the fact that we had enrolled my son in ballet with his sister last spring. When it came down to it, ballet class was the only thing that fit into our schedules and it gave the kids something active to do. I finally said to him, “I would rather than my son be physically active than sitting at home watching train and car cartoons all weekend…”)

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