Dressed Down

Photo: Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash


He eyed her twirling in her tutu and his heart squeezed with longing.

He wanted to do that, too. It was not fair that it was not allowed.

That only girls could.

Be princesses.

Wear dresses.

Put on make up.

Play with dolls.

Paint their nails.

He’d tried, of course, but he could tell that even those who did not outright take things from him or forbid him or call him hurtful names, didn’t really feel comfortable with his choices. There was that look they gave, the forced smile, the way they inevitably ran out of patience and gave him “other suggestions” or directed him toward “trying other things.” He was given gifts that made it clear that what he’d asked for was not acceptable and therefore required others choose for him.

He could tell his parents were ashamed.

They loved him. He knew. But they didn’t quite love that part of him. The part that he loved in himself the most. The part that he hated. Sometimes.

It wasn’t even that he didn’t like sports, or climbing trees, or making mud pies. He did. It was just that those weren’t fun without adding a bit of dance, of looking for fairies amidst the branches, or pretending that the mud pies were part of a birthday bakery for princesses.

They kept saying how “wonderful it was to have such an imagination,” but their body language told him that they’d have much preferred if his imagination didn’t quite go where it wanted to. That they would have liked better an imagination of the kind they felt was more appropriate for boys.

“Do you want to be a girl?” his sister asked. They were in her room for a tea party. She was wearing one of her ballet-princess dresses and the full set of jewelry she’d gotten from Grandma just the other day. She let him wear the crown. They pretended this made him a princess, too, but they both knew she chose the crown because it would be easy for him to take down if someone walked in.

Or say he was a king.

Sometimes he envied her so much that it carved a hole into the center of his being. The ease and confidence with which she could prance around in rustling taffeta and glittery baubles, the smiles she got when she dressed up and smeared lipstick on her face … It hurt. It hurt. It hurt.

She let him into her world, but they both know that it was not his to live in. They both knew that when her friends came for a play-date he would be excluded. They both knew that even with no dress on, and with a crown fit for a king, at any moment someone might barge in, and frown, and find a reason to ‘redirect’ him.

Her question made him cry.

Because he didn’t want to be a girl.

He wanted to be a boy who liked playing with dolls and painting his nails and having tea parties and trying on dresses and decorating mud-pie cakes for princesses.

And yet … it would have been so easy. If he were a girl.

No frowns. No shaming. No overhearing adults talk of how he needed “toughening up” or was “too sensitive” or was “definitely gay-material” or “headed in the wrong direction.” Not having to know that Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa were kind of ashamed of him.

“I want to be me,” he sobbed, and fingered a dress his sister discarded and that he would give his heart to be allowed to put on without fear. “I just want to be me … and I don’t understand why it is wrong.”




For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: dress



26 thoughts on “Dressed Down

  1. A haunting story, Na’ama. When I was about five my best friend was a girl. We would play together and do all the fun stuff girls got to do. Of course, ridicule was rampant but lucky for me the other boys in the neighborhood weren’t suitable playmates (can you say reform school types) So Carolyn and I got to live our fantasy life until her parents and she moved away to a toney suburb. Yes, we saw each other frequently but never played princess, doll, tea party, or house together again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for this comment, John. I think it is all too sad that many boys are dissuaded from playing with ‘girly’ things (and that girls are dissuaded from playing with ‘boy’ things – though sometimes there is more flexibility in accepting that a girl might be a ‘tomboy’ or want to do the things that the ‘strong sex’ does, than in accepting that a boy may enjoy girly things. There is still shame attached to little boys who enjoy frills and pink and glitter and princesses. And their pigeon holed into all manner boxes that may or may not fit them (while some boys may have gender dysphoria, many don’t necessarily want to be girls or think they were born in the wrong body or hate other boys, or won’t be attracted to girls, or whatever – there is a lot more than the stereotypical dichotomy and it is very sad when it is applied in a way that clips children’s wings and self esteem). I’m glad you got to play with Carolyn. And I’m sorry it was cut short.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ironic to think time was when pink was considered too busy a colour for girls to wear. Girls had to wear blue. Around the same time, it was the norm for men to wear frill upon frill, far more ornate than their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. They wore high heels (to keep their feet from the mud) and makeup and *beauty spots* The elegant man around town was quite a dresser. So what happened that boys were no longer allowed it?
    Men were hospital nurses for centuries before women were allowed; men were typists, secretaries and all manner of office workers; men were… well, everything outside of the home. How times change.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is such a sad story, Na’ama and, ironically, the last sentence is so inclusive. It isn’t always dress or gender, but there is enormous pressure to not just be yourself. It is sad. This is a wonderful entry for this prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dan! You got exactly what I’d intended to point out – for this is just one example of the impossible (and unnecessary) pressures that we put onto children (and the adults they become). It is absolutely not only about dress or gender.

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  4. Fictional truth gives a poignant example of reality that makes me sad for the young boy and his sister and angry at the adults or really society for the pressure placed upon children these days. So many expectations are placed upon kids as some parents try to re-live their lives through their kids. Demanding an ideal of correctness that is really wrong. My friend and I say this almost daily to get through some things at work … “you do you”. Easier said than done but now past 50, it’s easier. I want to hug this little boy and show him acceptance. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks J! Yes, it is very much truth for all too many, and the suffering it creates is unnecessary and unjustified, IMO. While there are rules of socialization that one must follow (e.g. to be ethical, to not harm others, to be kind, to take other people’s needs into account), many other ‘rules’ are arbitrary and meant to control rather than support. “You do you” is a great way to let people be, even while expecting socialization (too many confuse a ‘you do you’ to mean not-caring about others or going roughshod over others, but it is not that at all).
      Yes, past 50 it does become easier to be ourselves, doesn’t it? Or … at least, it CAN become easier … I’ve met some who’d gotten even more rigid .. oy vey.
      I’d hug this little boy, too … I’ve known too many like him (and too many little girls who struggled with a different kind of limiting). Thanks for the comment, J!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully done, Na’ama. As Crispina said, it is funny how once upon a time, it was the men who wore the frills, makeup and heels…
    We have become such a judgmental society. I have a friend (blogger friend) in New Zealand who lets her children wear what they want. She has a girl and two boys and doesn’t give a fig if one or the other wants to wear tights, skirts, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good for her! Her kids will grow up better for it – not because boundaries don’t matter, but because what IS a boundary, matters … Kindness, empathy, integrity, fairness, justice, truth, compassion — those are boundaries that parents should instill, IMO. What one wears in their home, in their leisure time, with their friends, as they play – should not be even on the long list of things to enforce.
      Reminds me of my blog entry from quite some time ago:

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