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JANUARY 11, 2011 8:30AM

Dress for success

Rate: 22 Flag




As early as the fall three years ago (we'd adopted midsummer), L was wearing dress-ups as often as he could. Sure, sometimes it would be a pirate or a magician, and we would take heart. More often than not though, it was a princess or fashion model. We kept hoping he'd grow out of it, that living in the women's dorm in the orphanage had swayed him, and that living with three brother's would swing the pendulum in the other direction.

At first I was pretty uptight. The twins' friends would come over and L would waltz by in a dress. "Not in front of others
!" I hissed, "Only family!"  Little did I realize L would take this to mean that when our extended family gathered he should put on a fashion show. Both at his grandparents' and at home, a holiday would come and he'd march up and down the stairs changing his outfits. Without any "girl" dress-ups in the house he'd always improvise, using clown make-up, say, in a pinch . He'd even dress up his seven year-old brother as a girl, who donned his outfits much more goofily. Sometimes I felt I had to expain on short notice to distant relatives his penchant for the feminine side.

Eventually, when he'd be overwhe
lmed with grief, missing China, or feeling rejected by his new siblings, I'd take him upstairs to my room and he'd try on my dresses. He'd strut and pose and be thrillled. The next day he'd ask to go upstairs again and I'd be full of chagrin. I'd hoped that it was an occasional diversion not a daily activity. Ever creative he began to hand sew sleeveless tops and skirts out of t-shirts.

Two different therapists had suggested limiting his choices or insisting on an even balance of traditionally male and female products. I found myself in ridiculous circumstances. At the book store he'd pick up a selection from a series of fairy books. "Get a boy book too!" I'd command crankily, squirming inside. It frankly, felt dumb. Moreover I was sure I was handling it poorly.

It was my aunt who prompted the first major shopping trip. When her check  for $100 came in celebration of his adoption I felt freed. I wasn't buying things for him, influencing his choices, he would. It was straight to the mall, specifically to the Disney store. He ran about excitedly picking out  princess items. In  the clothing section I held up a dress and raised my eyebrows. Wide-eyed he looked up at me uncertainly. He ended up picking a nightgown with Ariel printed on the front, plain on the back with long bell sleeves..

Back at home we hadn't decided, was this to be nightly wear? He put it on and asked tentatively, "Will Daddy mind?" "Why don't you go ask him," I suggested. He skipped down to the basement where Dad was practicing guitar. Dad agreed, despite his strong misgivings and so it was. Every night thereafter L wore that nightgown for months. Later that evening my husband confessed he'd had a visceral reaction. He literally wanted to vomit. Being a scientist with a liberal bent he understood L's penchant for girls' clothing as best he could intellectually. He couldn't explain why from the gut this all was anathema to him. His journey to acceptance ended up heartfelt and long, but that's another post.

The next step was wearing clothing outside, which felt like another hurdle altogether. Since we were still bonding as a family I wanted his brothers--especially his older brothers--to feel like they benefited from L's presence. In China birthdays are not a big deal, instead they all gained a year at Chinese New Year, that's when the big celebration happened. New clothes were the expected gift and three of the boys wanted Eagles football jerseys. L asked for the same version in pink. Ted, the youngest, and L's advocate, asked L, "Why don't you ask for a dress? That's what you want!" Well. I bought a 12 pack of panties and a dress.

L was so excited! At first we weren't sure he'd wear it out to our celebratory meal in Chinatown. Then, one of the twin brothers said, "Why can't he wear the dress, we're wearing our new football jerseys?" They continually amaze me. My husband was not thrilled when I suggested we use a female name/pronoun at least for the evening to keep him safe. So we stuck with L, but nobody noticed. In Chinatown while waiting for our meal, L and I kept on running outside. He'd twirl around on the sidewalk then skip back into the restaurant. His movements, expressions just looked more normal when he appeared as a girl. The dress had sparkles which kept falling off onto L's face; he was shining! 


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A difficult journey that you -- and your family -- handled so well. He was lucky to have been found by you.
This is so fascinating, and touching. Your family's love came through. Your son is lucky to be with you guys. Good luck to him as he continues his journey through life.
I wish I had people with brains and good hearts as parents... instead I had people with small close minds who never understood what I was and what the world was going to be for me and toward me. Tormenting my "diferences" were their way to get the "stupid" ideas out of my head...
Anyway.. I turned out to be a good man. I don´t dress up as a woman nor walk any diferent from a regular guy next door... but... deep inside... I know I will always be the little boy wanting my parents to aknowledge and share my heart´s desires...
God bless you all... thank you for looking at L and feel love for what he knows he is... thank you...
Alysa's sentiments are mine. God bless you and your wonderful son! I know it won't be/has not been easy.
I once heard the actor Leslie Jordan being interviewed on NPR. He told a story about how, when he was 3 years old, he had his heart set on getting a bride doll for Christmas. His dad didn't want to get it, but had a change of heart at the last minute, going out on Christmas Eve to scour the stores for a bride doll for his son. When Mr. Jordan's mother told him the story, years later, after his father had passed away, he said "Oh, why didn't you tell me this sooner! I could have saved myself 30 years of therapy!" Knowing that his dad loved him enough to get past whatever discomfort he felt-- that was HUGE. (It was the line about your husband wanting to vomit, but still giving his OK to the nightgown, that made me think of this. Good for him, for being so thoughtful and aware of his son's needs.)
Cool kid. Cool parents. This is what love looks like!
Love this! Good for you and your husband! When my older son wanted to wear my pink bridesmaid dress for a year, I let him go ahead. Human beings are magical when they are safe and happy, no matter what!
What a great post! L is lucky to have such a wonderfully embracing family. Have you heard the This American Life episode about transgender kids? Act II here--http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/374/somewhere-out-there
Hi all! Thanks for your comments. It can be frustrating when I have hundreds and sometimes over 1000 views and few ratings and comments. I'm hoping some just like but don't rate...

Anyway, thanks for the link. I've pretty much read and heard anything I can on transgender chldren.

Stay tuned! These stories go three years back, so there is more to come.
Your son is lucky to have found you! Every kid deserves to be accepted for who he or she is. No transgender kids here, but my 2- and 4-year-old "boy's boys" do wrestle and play floor hockey in their sister's dress-ups, complete with coordinating Disney princess heels. What a boring place the world would be if everyone was exactly the same!
I always love reading about your daughter. Her story is so inspiring. It's amazing how your family handles everything. I was especially touched by your sons' reactions to their sibling's wish to wear a dress. It'd be great if you could post more about their relationship, too.
Wishing you all the best for the future,

I have some posts lined up (I try once a week accept kitchen challenges), but love questions so I can write more entries.

Maybe the most interesting but most sensitive would be the sheer difficult my husband had and aspects that were VERY difficult on the adoption. I'm debating writing those.
I found that my son automatically became self-conscious as he aged and wouldn't think of wearing girl clothes in public or outside the home...even though he's comfortable inside to "dress up." The jury is still out as to who my youngest of six is. I see both male and female characteristics in him. He likes playing with barbie dolls and yet loves going outside to have air soft pellet gun fights with his older brother (of course, masked and protected.) He simply comes across as an extremely balanced child.