“Declan, lift up your dress, you’ll slip on the tafetta.”
“Declan, stop fidgeting, the nail polish will smudge.”
As the mother of two boys, I thought that I’d never have to worry about Polly Pockets or learning how to French braid. But soon after my son Declan turned two, he ran up to me with a hopeful look on his face and said, “I want to dress up as a ballerina!”
It was inevitable; since we moved in with my sister, Declan’s constant playmates are his cousins Erika, six, and Hilary, four. They’re not just girls, they’re girly-girls: Cinderella-loving, skirt-wearing, icky-bug-hating princesses. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Declan has always been quirky. Soon after his younger brother was born, Declan hiked up his shirt and tried to breast-feed a baby doll. Just before he turned two, he started wearing socks on his hands; this evolved into a love of wearing gloves, which in turn became a love of wearing one glove (note to friends: enough with the Michael Jackson jokes). I don’t even get embarrassed any more when we have guests over and Declan runs through the house naked, shouting, “Look at my penis!” So when he wanted to be a ballerina, I figured it was just par for the course. That first night, Declan ended up in a white leotard and black tights, and he and his cousins put on a marvelous ballet. But then at some point girly outfits just became his regular clothes.
Declan’s certainly not the first little boy to find comfort in crinoline; it seems that everyone knows someone with a little boy who likes to play dress-up (mostly those with a big sis who likes to do the same). One friend introduced me to Tema, whose four-and-a-half-year-old When I showed Declan a shoe catalog that came in the mail, he picked out the white Mary Janes with giant purple flowers. son Adin began dressing up in his big sister’s princess outfits when he was three. She took it in stride. “[We] thought it was incredibly cute and funny and wonderful that he was being interactive with his big sister,” she says. “We think it’s a natural phase of childhood and do not feel the need to discourage it.” Adin’s dress-up interests changed as he grew up, and now he is as likely to dress as Scooby Doo or a Power Ranger as a princess.
Whether because of his closeness with his girly cousins or due to some inner aesthetic, Declan has always shown a preference for the pretty. When I showed Declan a shoe catalog that came in the mail, he picked out the white Mary Janes with giant purple flowers. When I took him to buy sheets for his big boy bed, he picked out a pink set. And there’s no place he’d rather be than by my side in the kitchen, helping decorate sugar cookies.
I’ve wondered if this means Declan is gay or will be a cross-dresser when he gets older, or if he will come out down the road as transgendered. But experts say probably not. “Some boys will be more interested than others in dressing up as feminine characters,” says Dr. Robert Lindeman, a pediatrician in Natick, Massachusetts, when I ask. “This does not mean that they suffer from gender confusion.”