The other day, in the car, my gender nonconforming six-year-old brought up a family wedding that happened two years ago. “You made me wear a suit,” he said. “Why did you make me do that?”
The truth is, I didn’t want to make him wear a suit, to that wedding, or anything, ever. I’d done everything I could, given the situation. There had been serious late-night discussions, and later a lot of late-night tears. But, in front of our kid, we tried to sell it as a compromise. His sister got to wear a dress, but we got to dye his suit purple, which is his favorite color. Those compromises came at a cost: a little boy in a bright purple suit and a flower basket was not what anyone had been planning for. But in the end, the compromises weren’t enough. Wearing a suit he didn’t want to wear was painful enough that two years later (that’s a third of his life), he was still upset about it.
“You should have told them we wouldn’t go to the wedding if I couldn’t wear what made me comfortable. I never want to wear a suit again.”
He’s six. That (tragically) is old enough to know that the world doesn’t accept who he is. But it’s not old enough to understand all of the thought and negotiation that goes into keeping him safe, emotionally and physically. He doesn’t know, because as his parents, we try really hard to hide that from him, because the world is a terrible enough place for a gender nonconforming kid. So he didn’t know about the arguments over the suit, the same way that he didn’t know that I was trying to keep the macho Texan (who wanted to talk to the “cute little girl”) on the airport shuttle from finding out he was a boy before I was able to rush him off at our terminal. My job is to keep him feeling as safe as possible, with his relationships to adults as intact as possible, while still being able to be himself. It’s not always an easy task.
But I did make a promise to him: I would never make him wear a suit again, no matter how many fights I had to get into.
Dreaming Of Being a Flower Kid
I work in weddings, and while my kids don’t totally understand what that means, it does mean they are more familiar with tying the knot than the average kid. Which means that when family weddings happen, my oldest knows enough to ask to be flower girl… without anyone calling him a girl. He just wants a big beautiful dress like his sister’s, and for nobody to make him feel bad about it. And up until late last year, that had not been in the cards for him.
But then my longtime friend Gina got engaged. She asked me to be a bridesmaid, and I was overwhelmed and delighted. I didn’t expect her to ask my kids to be in the wedding, because while they’re almost family (her niece and nephew are my kids’ informal cousins), she had a lot of actual family under the age of six to account for.
But then, I got a text from Gina, where she asked not one, but both of my kids to be flower children. My six-year-old was over the moon. Turns out, Gina had always wanted to be a flower girl as a child but never had the chance. So, when it came to her own wedding, she wanted to have a group of flower children that included any kid who wanted to be one. And for once, that included my son.
Instead of endless fighting and negotiating about suits that might be acceptable to him, this time he got to pick from a bunch of dresses that made him happy. Instead of arguing over what kind of shoes he’d be willing to wear with a suit, he got to pick from a ton of sparkly shoes where each delighted him more than the last. And when the flower crowns got passed out, there was one for him, and you could see the pure joy that swept over him in that moment.
Gender And Weddings
We act like gender expression is optional at weddings. Like asking your gender nonconforming friend to wear a dress and be a bridesmaid is fine. But it’s not, really. They might suck it up and do it because they love you. But if you asked me to wear a masculine-cut suit to a wedding, I’d feel like I was crawling out of my skin the whole time. And that is the same for humans who don’t conform to prescribed gender norms.
Even kids. Especially kids.
But weddings are also big, public, family events. They’re not safe spaces, nor should we pretend that they are. And, as parents, part of our job is to try to keep our gender nonconforming kid as safe as we can. And that means sometimes wanting to shield him from family drama, or gossip, or other toxic adult stuff that’s going to make him feel like who he is is bad or wrong. But also? Making him wear a suit isn’t the answer, and it’s never going to happen again.
So I’m so grateful to Gina for creating just enough safe space at her wedding that my kid was finally able to live his dream of being flower child. Because all that worry and toxic mess aside? He fit right in with the other kids. And all you could see was the glow on his face—how damn happy he was to get to be his true self at the wedding.