All Dressed Up

Kids are amazing creatures.  They lack the inhibition which can prove so burdensome for adults.  They live in the here and now and follow their guts with a vigor that seems to narrow with age.  Their innate acceptance of people and things that are different from themselves is a joy to watch.  No matter what their particular eccentricity may be, they embrace and go for it, with nary a care for what other people might think or say.  It seems that they are better at honoring what they know to be their reality, no matter how others might perceive them which is a good thing, right?

I know a girl who is now twelve.  For what had to have been at least a year, she wore tights on her head (to simulate long hair, I suspect?) every single day.  She was never apart from, and would only relinquish them for the duration of a wash/dry cycle which, if memory serves me correctly, was only sanctioned when she was asleep for the night.  She was in possession of a couple of pairs which were exclusively reserved for her head and which she rotated as she saw fit.  No matter the weather, the time of year or the occasion, she always had them on.  To her parents’ and teachers’ credit, they allowed (embraced, even) her fashion statement and let it run its course.  When the day finally came that she shed the tights, she actually looked strange to me.  I missed those tights which had become so integral to her very being (so much so that they ceased being noticed long before she shed them).  Every once in a while I will remind her of them. She gives only a sweet smile in return.

Another girl I know had a special affinity for a Spiderman costume.  She was seldom seen without it.  She was indiscriminate as to where she wore it, and behaved in precisely the same manner she would have had she been costume-less.  Like the girl with the tights, it became so much a part of her that the first time I saw her without it, I had to do a double take.  Her mother recently told me that when she was reminded of her proclivity for all things Spiderman she not only did not recall it, but wondered aloud why she would do something like that.  Her parents, too, allowed her to make that decision and she, like the tight-clad girl, came out on the other side unscathed.

Granted, a boy choosing to live as a girl is hardly the same thing…or is it?  These girls, with no compunction at all, lived their lives in a manner that felt comfortable and “right” to them.  The span of time was significant and each costume gave the girls a certain comfort that they required.  Both thrived and are normal, well-adjusted kids – donning neither tights on their heads nor Spiderman costumes on their backs.  They were as lucky as everyone keeps telling me that Jessie is: they had parents who respected their children enough to know that sometimes kids know what they need.  I’m not sure that is any different from what we are doing with our child.

People have gone after me for allowing a ten-year old to drive this train.  They have accused me of pushing my own agenda (whatever that means) and of having wanted a girl (something I certainly could have done more easily than this!), but fail to consider that I am only supporting a child who, like the girl with the tights, or the girl with the costume, is more comfortable in something that is less socially acceptable and understood, but no less powerful.  I knew both of these little girls from the time they were born, and have a new appreciation for the intensity of their need for their respective costumes.  They got funny looks.  Their parents got funny looks.  But, at the end of the day, they weren’t hurting anybody.  In fact, they were doing what most adults are too afraid to do: be themselves.

Jessie’s decision is far more controversial, far-reaching and life altering than the girls and their tights/Spiderman-dom.  Having heard from many transgender folks over the past several months, I have an even greater respect for her having the gumption to do what she needed to do.  She may well do as my tights-bearing and Spiderman donning friends did before her and take off her guise someday but if or when she does, it will be for the most authentic of reasons.  Given the level of comfort she has demonstrated thus far, I suspect hers will be a vigor that grows, rather than diminishes, with age.

37 thoughts on “All Dressed Up

  1. I’m part of the tights on head, Spiderman costume clan. My youngest son of 3 wore a Minnie Mouse dress for over a year, carried a princess backpack and still would if he weren’t so affected by other kids. See here: As parents, it’s our job to let our kids be who they want to be. If things change down the road, then so be it. But my now openly gay father lived a pretense for most of his life and I won’t let that happen to my kids, no matter what they wear, who they want to be, and what kind of orientation they choose. I love how you’re dealing with Jessie, she should be driving the train, and my 9 year old daughter and I often read your blog together and talk about how proud we are that you are all so strong and brave.

  2. You are such an inpiring mother.
    One could only hope to have such an understanding, supporting mother, and family.
    You’re doing a great job raising your girl! (and your son!)
    Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
    Jessie is not hurting anyone, not ever herself. She is being who she is supposed to be. We can only applaud her for that 🙂

  3. I completely agree with your post. I am actually now working on a project for school on how kids receive the World in such a beautiful light. I am interviewing my 4 year old niece about her views of the World and how it is so different yet intriguing how they view life.

    I love all of your post and agree with them. You are a strong women and I admire that.

  4. Dear Julie and Jessie,

    Do NOT Do NOT listen to the uneducated and the “haters” of how STRONG both Jessie AND YOU are !!! I WISH I would have been true to myself at that age. I decided to just keep it inside, I was way way too scared. Even in HS when I knew who I was I dare not. I DARE not tell anyone. I was so scared.

    YOU are doing everything right and dont let anyone ever tell you different. Jessie is also doing everything right and is so so brave I WISH I had the courage you both have right now when I was 10. or even 16.

    This blog, weather you realize it or not, has become very therapeutic to me. Thank You for writing this! 🙂


  5. When I was in 2nd grade I decided one day that I preferred to be called Mary. I told my teacher of my desire to change my name, and from that moment until I chose to go back to my given name, she called me “Mary”. Granted it was, like, 3 days, but still. I remember feeling so validated. That validation at such a young age must have really made an impact, considering that 30-something years later I still remember it like it was yesterday.

  6. As you know, I’m familiar with one of these girls (the tights one), and it’s true that she did what just felt right to her — felt right sartorially, and also physically and emotionally.

    Interestingly, one nursery school she went to was very perplexed by both the tights and our acceptance of the tights. For that and other reasons (a mismatch between child and school) we ultimately left that nursery school. It was a great relief, when I went to a second nursery school for a tour and ‘interview’, the director said to me, ‘Oh, my daughter wore a sweater on her head throughout childhood.’ And I knew she’d find a home there, and she did.

    My point is that two things are important to make individuality work: one, as you point out, the girl must have some sort of gumption and self-awareness, and two, there has to be a critical mass of acceptance. Not everyone in the world is accepting, but if enough people are, a person can be who they are. Hopefully over time the number of accepting communities will grow in size and prominence, for girls with tights on their heads or Spiderman costumes, for Jessie, for diversity of all kinds.

  7. Julie,
    I like this. Giving a child room to explore her or himself while still unaware (or even unconcerned) with conforming to the “norm” is not harmful, nor is it a “giving in” by the parents. I mean, we’re not talking about allowing a kid to play in the middle of a busy street or to take candy from strangers; things that could indeed, be harmful. Funny looks? For some kids, that may well be what they’re looking for. Or maybe it’s just acting out a fantasy, which is perfectly fine, as well. There is a much greater possibility of causing harm to the child by telling her that she’s wrong or an embarrassment, which can lay on a guilt trip that may last a lifetime.

    I would argue that, while the parenting technique of giving room to explore is a good one for any child, there is a difference between the need and expression of a transgender child and one who finds a pair of tights a reasonable substitute for long flowing hair. Even I, who have grappling with this for so many years, cannot really explain it. I just know that gender identity is different than a Spiderman identity (unless it really is Spiderman who has it). Now, if Spiderman were also a transgender person, would it be wrong to change that to “SpiderWoman”? Nope! But, if he/she were transSpiecies, thinking that he/she were really a spider, that may be cause for concern. 🙂

    Jessie’s gender identity may be considered to be as a transgender girl (more accurately, simply a girl), and she may or may not change her mind about it (As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t bet on her changing her mind). The reality is that only Jessie knows, and only Jessie can make that decision. Putting undue restriction on her ability to express herself as she sees herself to be would not allow for her to even make that decision.

    One thing you might consider changing is the first sentence of the fourth paragraph. It would be more accurate to say “a child who had been given the gender assignment of male, but who’s self identity is that of female, chooses to live life as a girl…” We transgender girls feel that we never really were boys at all, even if we were expected to be. You are correct, though, that the choice is whether we decide to live as girls or not – as long as we have been granted the freedom of that choice. This, you are doing, and I have only admiration for you for it.

  8. LOVE this post as it definitely states reasons why myself and thousands of others support you: be themselves. Our society, the many social ills, crime, addictions, suicide, abuse, bullying, and any other darkness stems from this suffocation of our true self. It leads to greater harm than good, not only to themselves, and thus, my big beaming smiles to you in demonstrating what every parent SHOULD do: let each child, be themselves.

    Hugs and loves!


  9. I just wanted to say that I just found your blog and I am already grateful for it. I am a mother of a 7-year old transgendered/gender creative girl. My son, now daughter, is transitioning to living completely as a girl. It helps tons to have insight and support from others going through similar circumstances. So, thank you!

  10. I cannot understand how having a child’s self image being crushed for the sake of the comfort of their parents can be seen as a good thing. Parents who are so consumed by what the neighbors think, than what is best for the child, have the wrong priorities.

    To those who disagree with the way Jessie is being raised:
    If you are embarrassed by a child who is “different”, maybe you need to take a look inside before you seek to impose your will on someone else.

    Best wishes,

  11. I just love your posts – for the reason that this post (if not your entire blog) so eloquently points: honoring our children enough to let them have a voice. Yes, as adults, I think so many of us shrink into what our families and society has asked us to be. Thank God to parents like you who respect their children enough to follow their lead. Who knows what the future brings, but I bless you in your journ—strike that—adventure, both good in bad, in letting Jessie figure it out.

  12. Hi Miss Julie! I am all recovered and back at work. Have been reading your blog every time there is a new entry but have not had much time
    to reply. Your writings are amazing in every way. They make me laugh; they make me cry; but most of all they make me think and reflect. I remember that beautiful little girl with the tights on her head and remember how lucky I felt when she moved up to my class. I have such fond memories of that year and of her. As a teacher I take my cues from the kids and let them be and let them do what they wish to do – as long they are safe. Children respond positively to those who treat them positively. They will always remember how you made them feel. That, my dear, is something you can’t put a price tag on! I know you know that …. because you and Jessie live that every day.

    • I have missed your beautiful and thoughtful responses. I am so glad that you are back doing what you were put on this earth to do…teach our children well!

      • Thank you for that very lovely reply. I feel so grateful to do what I do and love spending my day with preschoolers. They keep me real. Xo

  13. Last Friday afternoon I went to pick up my grandson to take him for the weekend, so that my daughter and her husband could take a much-needed break out of town. It is for my grandchildren (at their parents’ request) that the bulk of my cross dressing time (as a male, 15% of my life) is spent. They know nothing of my being a transgender woman. So, it is a fair assumption that I had no influence over my 6 year old grandson’s insistence that his mother paint his finger nails (blue and red, alternately) just before his visit with us. After dropping the little guy’s parents off at the ferry terminal, we went over to the beach (better he run off some of his high-power energy there than in our house). There was also a playground at the park, and finally, after his determined, yet unsuccessful attempt to catch a wild rabbit, we headed there. He continued to display typical little boy behavior on the monkey bars and the other apparatus. There were at least a dozen other kids at the playground, and I was wondering how long it would be before one of them might remark on his colorful nails. Finally, an older boy gave him the moniker, “Pink and Blue”. The only thing that was upsetting to my grandson about it was that it was red polish that he had chosen, and how could that dumb kid have thought it was pink!? By the end of the weekend he had managed to chip half of the polish off of his nails, playing in the dirt with his toy trucks. I asked him if he wanted a “touch up”, as he had packed the polish in his backpack, but he opted for cleaning off the polish along with the dirt from his nails (grandparents should always return kids to their parents clean, even if spoiled rotten). I still don’t know why he wanted to have painted nails, and I never asked. I did tell him that it looked cool, though.

    • When Harrison was about five or six, he loved to go with me to Bloomingdales and paint his nails each of the different colors available at the Chanel counter. That was the extent of his foray into girl behavior — be he loved it. You’re a good grandparent for taking over for a weekend. I personally didn’t care if my children came back clean or dirty as long as I had a little break!

      • When my daughters were young, they would often lament, “gimme a break.” I would almost as often respond by telling them to just wait until they were grown with children of their own – when they’d find out what “gimme a break” really is – from their own kids! 🙂

        BTW, this grandson also likes to play “dressup” in his mother’s clothes occasionaly. I see no signs of any gender confusion with him, however.

  14. Have you seen this one? Thought Jessie might approve. I love to here it from their mouth, mind. The put so bluntly and simply that how can anyone NOT understand?

  15. I just wanted to think you for doing this blog. After reading the Huffington post article my whole life literally flashed before me and I finally saw who I truly am. I now wish that I could have been as strong as Jessie is. After reading all the other entries Jessie is truly amazing.

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