Kaleidoscopic colours swam over the eager faces of the kids, as they danced to the song of their generation. They pumped passionate fists in the air, bellowing as one:
BOB the BUILDER! Can we fix it? BOB the BUILDER – YES WE CAN!!!
Every adult at the disco winced visibly. The teachers perhaps even more so than the parents.
I watched my five-year-old jumping up and down near the front of the school hall, dazzling in a green fairy dress with spiked up gold-glittered hair. Every move screamed joy, being drunk on the music, and showing off. My heart scudded with pride, protectiveness, and generous lashings of teenage disco flashback.
“Your daughter looks sooo cute with her hair like that!” exclaimed a passing mum, nodding at my child.
I was confused for a moment. My daughter was home with tonsillitis. Then, “Oh no – that's Jasper,” I corrected her breezily. “He wanted to dress up.”
“Oh… well! That’s ok isn’t it?” she faltered.
“Yep.” My toes curled in embarrassment. There was an awkward pause, then she smiled and moved on.
I thought back to the conversation in our lounge room an hour earlier.
Jasper twirling, resplendent in Tinkerbell-green faux satin, red jocks screaming through layers of ruffled skirt. “Jasper, you look amazing. But you know how some people think boys should wear boy clothes, and girls should wear girl clothes? Well… some kids might think that and be mean about it.”
He gave me a bold glance. “I don’t care.”
“OK, you can wear it.” Did I say that? Or did I first try and find some ‘more colourful disco’ (boy) clothes he might prefer? I’m afraid I did. But he was adamant – it was green fairy all the way.
OK. Deep breath. Don’t pour MY anxieties onto his five-year-old enthusiasm. Yes, I’m scared kids will tease him. Yes, I’m cringing that parents will think he’s in a dress because I’m a Lesbian Mum and am inflicting my anti-male, hippy views on my innocent offspring at his expense.
Or even that gay parents have gay kids. Yes, I’m remembering all the times at school I was mocked or shunned because I was different.
BUT (as we all struggle to remember every day) IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. It’s his night, his dance, his dress. I’m just the support crew.
And so I threw on a frock and we marched back to school, trailing glitter and pride. Within moments of arriving at the decked-out disco, Jasper was surrounded by mob of staring kids.
“Why are you wearing a dress?” one demanded.
Jasper’s response was to launch into a hooting but otherwise wordless fairy war dance. He tackled one of the boys in a half hug half wrestle. He hoisted up a girl like a circus strongman. Then, as though he’d made his point, he launched himself towards the stage where the bigger kids were dancing.
The other kids followed him, goggling at his fairy wings. Several older girls turned to gawk at him. He ignored them all and threw himself into the music.
I hovered nearby, nervous as hell, ready to leap in if…. if …what? The kids laughed at him or pushed him round? And what would I do, punch out a five-year-old? I was too shy to go to discos at school, I kept my love for girls a secret … and here I was at 40 freaking out at kinder kids policing gender norms….
Trying to chill out, I focused on Jasper. He was leaping up and down like a sparkling grasshopper, fists pumping, feet stomping, wings in constant motion. The kids around him were also dancing up a storm. No one was staring anymore.
This was Jasper’s moment. He was passing his test with flying green colours, and mine was to trust him and hold back. To let him go that little bit more. As if on cue the DJ rolled out the theme song from Frozen. I leaned against the stacked chairs and watched my bold and beautiful son dance his heart out, in a green fairy dress. How he shone. His courage, his school mates’ (eventual) acceptance, the triumph of being taken on his own terms… my eyes filled with proud tears as my outdated fears shivered and melted off me, a discarded armour on the floor.
An hour later the lights came on and the mini-ravers poured into the quiet courtyard. I hurried over to Jasper. He was bathed in sweat and glitter, stumbling on his feet.
“I’m really thirsty, Mum,” he muttered.
We headed for the nearest bubblers – the boys’ toilet. Jasper was drinking when two bigger lads wandered in.
“This is the BOYS’ toilets!” said one.
Jasper looked up, a weary ‘der’ expression on his glittery face.
“He IS a boy,” I said. “He’s just dressed up.”
The kids stared, then shrugged. “OK.” And off they went.
Jasper slipped his hand in mine as we headed out into the warm night. “That was awesome Mum!” And we skipped through the school gates together, light as fairies.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem