If you see us on Halloween, you might be surprised or maybe you won’t be. In the internet world, or at least my online circle, boys wearing dresses and liking pink aren’t unheard of anymore. Viral stories championing transgender kids make their way through my newsfeed, and friends regularly share posts highlighting gender nonconformity with me. In my home, we don’t think anything of my son in his pink sequined shoes and sparkly rainbow t-shirt practicing his dance steps in his newly painted purple room. Sometimes I forget that much of the real world isn’t accustomed to this.
If you see us on Halloween, my son will be dressed as a Fairy Princess. He will be wearing a flowing, flowery dress, turquoise leggings, rainbow wings, a flower headpiece, and pink sparkly shoes. He will be flitting about with his butterfly fairy wand pretending to turn his friends into woodland animals or some other enchanted creature. He will be spinning around in circles every few steps because he likes the way the dress twirls when he does. He will be so excited to wear the costume he carefully assembled with my assistance, the costume he has put on regularly in the weeks leading up to Halloween, the costume he wears as he joyfully twirls.
If you see us on Halloween, my son will also be nervous. His stomach will be flip-flopping involuntarily as he assesses each new encounter. His anxiety will be fighting to squelch his joy. He will be bracing himself for the first comment someone makes. He will be terrified someone is going to ask, “why are you wearing a girl costume?” He will be prepared though. He will be ready to answer, “it’s just what I like.” And if someone says something more clearly disapproving, he will be prepared to say “Please don’t say that to me. It’s just what I like.”
You see, we’ve had to rehearse this, because on a daily basis my son walks a fine line between being entirely confident in saying “screw you” to everyone out there who doesn’t approve of his preferences and living in fear of comments. He chooses what he shares and with whom he shares it. We support him in deciding what risks he wants to take, because he knows that by wearing what he likes and being who he is, there is a big risk people won’t understand. He knows that not everyone understands that girls can like boy things and boys can like girl things. He knows that not everyone believes that maybe there should be a whole lot less of boy things versus girl things. He knows that some kids aren’t taught by their parents that colors are just colors for all the world to enjoy and that toys are just toys for all kids regardless of gender. He doesn’t understand why other parents don’t teach that but he knows that some don’t. He also knows that the media and companies selling things don’t teach the world this either.
He has been blessed so far by not knowing how bad bullying can be, but he has been hurt by the comments of friends, teachers, and other sometimes well-meaning adults who have said with teasing disgust, “but that’s for girls!” He knows that when people don’t understand, they can be unsupportive and sometimes mean. He also knows that he has a community of family and friends who love him, no matter what. He knows that it’s okay to like the things he likes, and he knows what he likes. He likes all things pink, purple, and sparkly. He likes to play dress-up whether as a queen riding a pink unicorn or a spooky vampire with a satiny black cape. He likes learning about nature and playing board games. He likes Taylor Swift and dance class. He likes adventuring out into the woods and helping out on the farm down the road. And he really likes his Halloween costume this year.
So if you see us on Halloween, I hope you will consider that my son is just a kid wearing a costume like any other. I hope you will tell your kids that he is just a kid wearing a costume like any other. I hope you will model what it looks like to accept a child’s creativity and interests in a positive way without snark or judgment. After all, as he will tell you, it’s just what he likes.