Princess ZachShane Nickerson

My son likes to wear dresses.  It’s not surprising, since he is the 3-year-old brother of a very fancy 7-year-old sister who was, until quite recently, obsessed with the Disney princesses.  You know, just like every single other little girl on earth.  I’m not sure which dark magic Disney uses to enchant the minds of all the kids, but it is a powerful spell.  There is a toddler cult and it’s those goddamn princesses.  Anyway, as a devoted member of Cult Princess, my daughter was able to decrypt the hidden message (which I assume exists) within each of the Princess songs: the message to pass along the obsession to younger siblings.  Message received.  She successfully converted my son, dressing him up in gowns, tiaras and semi-heeled plastic shoes. Great work, daughter.  The other cult members are surely proud of your work.  Of course, it didn’t take much. He’s a natural in novelty glass slippers that light up when you walk.

Depending on his mood, he alternates between either the Belle, the Tiana or the classic Cinderella gown.  Each dress was around $30 at the Disney Store.  They are cheaply made costume dresses that rip easily and seem to attract spaghetti sauce, but to him they might as well be Versaces.  That’s a popular designer, right? How about Dolgiano Langustos.  Or Vertram Von Strigands.  I love making up fake designer names.  Cranston LaRoux.  Mort Bort.  Finky Stinkbiscuit.  I digress.

He loves wearing dresses, and that’s awesome.  I hope that goes without saying, but of course it doesn’t bother me in the least that my three year old son loves to dress up in his sister’s princess clothes (actually, the Tiana dress is one that he picked out).  I love that he has mastered walking in delicate shoes and has learned to pick up the front of his dress when he walks to avoid tripping. He once came to the dinner table and before he would eat, he insisted, “Daddy, wait! I have to get dressed.”  He left the room briefly, and returned proudly wearing his Belle dress.  I took a picture.  I have to say, he wears it well.

He wanted to wear the Cinderella dress to the supermarket the other day.

“Sure,” I told him.  “You want your magic wand, too?”

“YES!” he said, and he ran to his room to get ready.

We drove down the street to Ralph’s, listening to the soundtrack from Tangled on the way.  He waved his wand around in the back seat, oblivious to judgments and pointless labels in the world.  As we listened to Mandy Moore sing about when Rapunzel’s real life might begin, I forgot about how people say stupid things sometimes, not because they aren’t thinking or “didn’t mean to” but because they are ignorant and archaic.

We walked into Ralph’s, me with a few things on a list and him, a princess out on a journey.  He waved his wand and he cast his spells and he invented a world inside the world.  Most importantly, he clearly felt beautiful.

After getting our groceries, we waited in line at Self-Checkout.

“Looks like you’ve got a little hairdresser on your hands,” a voice said from too close behind me.

I turned around to make sure the voice was talking to me.

The man was in his mid fifties, wearing a half-buttoned tuxedo shirt and black slacks. “Caterer or bartender,” my brain whispered to me as I continued to process his words.

“What’s that?” I asked.  I heard him, but it actually took me several seconds to understand the implication of his statement.  I looked at my son to be certain I wasn’t misinterpreting this stranger’s comment.  Had he been playing with a brush, or fixing a doll’s hair, or doing anything else even closely resembling hairdressing , I would have smiled and politely agreed.  Zach was not doing any of those things.  He was waving his wand at anything that caught his eye and living in that 3-year-old world that most adults have stopped seeing.  Thankfully, he was also oblivious to our conversation.

He chuckled and dismissively waved off his own comment.  He turned towards my son.  In a too loud, and much too friendly voice, he told him, “Great dress, princess!” He chuckled loudly.

My son barely noticed.

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  1. i love everything you write. and i applaud you for letting your child be a child, i have a three year old who loves disney princess movies (who doesnt, right) and sings along to all their songs. hes still to play dress up though when i color my nails he comes over and gives me a finger at a time to color for him, and then proceeds to giving me his toe nails, his dads a little upset but i remind him hes a baby and that we dont live the dark ages, and to let our child do his thing, so he does. i grew up in a family where a boy gets away with everythign while the girls are expected to do as they were told, sadly that kept me from experiencing alot of small things which is why in turn i know i will never assume my son should do only certain things based on his gender nor a daughter if i ever have one.

  2. wow this gave me goosebumps!!! beautiful

  3. I love this story, you are a great role model to your son; it also reminds me of when my son (now 7) used to love to dress in my high heels and wear nail polish. He would pick out colors and either paint his nails himself or have me do it for him. Sometimes while we were out and about to beaches or parks I would get comments from adults or other children. I ignored them and always told my son that he could be whoever he wanted to be. Shame on the people that still hold tight to stereotypes!

  4. its terrible that the man would say something like that. i actually wish my younger cousin would let me do his hair… “aahh!! what are you trying to do!!!” :(

  5. It fills my heart with joy that you are such a wonderful dad :) Bravo! My parents never made me feel like I had to like or do anything b/c I was a girl and I think I am a better person for it. Sounds like you got some awesome kidlets!

  6. I wish I could make every person in the world read this. So inspiring and moving. Kids should be kids without having their intentions questioned. They don’t know gender roles or gay/straight at 3y/o. Maybe there is some part of them that knows gay/straight but their innocent intentions should never be judged by an outsider who just wishes he would have gotten a baby doll once for a gift.

    My little brother was teased by one of my aunts for being girly and now my brother is very homophobic. I blame the teasing. We were raised in the same house, same community, but that’s the difference. I wasn’t teased for being a tomboy or called butch, I was just the only girl who had to play with the boys or play alone.

  7. I recall reading a similar article which was also very good. Check this out: http://nerdyapplebottom.com/2010/11/02/my-son-is-gay/

    Kids should be able to play make believe without worrying about ignorant old folks. When I was a kid I played war and dressed up like an army soldier, I also dressed up like a cowboy and I played baseball. For Halloween I was a football player and my little sister was my cheerleader. That’s all it was, playing make believe.

  8. I took that photo and LOVE Zach’s choice to wear dresses and be a fine lady and doesn’t give a SH*t. May he always be oblivious to what people think. What a gift. thanks for telling a great tale.

  9. Oh and no one says anything when girls go through the tomboy phase!
    I mean i was a tomeboy from the age of 7-13 i totally rocked the lesbian cut (and my mom was kind enough to call it a pixie cut and say i looked like a young winona ryder!) I only wore my brother boardshorts and if there were no pervs in this world i would have probably ran around topless!
    Nowadays i paint my nails and love floral dresses.

  10. I can totally relate to this and i don’t even have children.
    My older brother at the age of 6 loved playing dress up with myself and my sisters, one of my early memories is of him crying to my dad for a barbie for christmas so he could play with his own (instead of using mine or my sisters.) He was very thrifty with making playful costumes (and that doesn’t make him a hair dresser!)
    That behaviour in no way made him homosexual or transgender (and if it did so what?) Needless to say as a teenager he was probably the most “jock” kid on the block playing all sorts of sports and he loves the ladies!
    He’s now turning 25 and he’s an extremely sensitive soul and loves the arts, and is extremely talented at his craft (he’s an actor) As human beings its in our nature to experiment on our path to finding ourselves. I hope that when I have children one day my relationship is open and honest!

  11. A gender therapist recently told my trans son that if he wants to pass as male he shouldn’t wear purple. What? He looks great in purple.
    I think you sound like a great parent, Shane. Loving our children unconditionally is the way it should be.

  12. This is silly. Epic father failure.

  13. It’s a nice article Shane, and I’m glad it’s going so well for you and your son. Sounds like you should raise up some smart kids.

    There’s a few things here that didn’t strike me as quite right, though. I not sure I understood the man’s ‘hairdresser’ comment (I’m guessing he was assuming the dress meant your son was a girl; and hairdressing is a stereotypical woman’s job), but I’m even less sure that you understand your reaction: turn and see the man, “Caterer or bartender,” your brain goes.

    You wanted to act indignant towards some random caterer or bartender who turns out to be less wordly than you; you pride yourself on just the thought alone of putting this ignorant man in his place. “I’m suddenly not in the mood for groceries!” To me, a sensible response would be, “This is my son, and he’ll be whatever he wants to be.” Insensible is scolding a random stranger to mind his own business when he made a friendly, albeit misguided, remark.

    It sounds like you may end up raising a drama queen (or two). It sounds like you may be one yourself. Maybe I’m just ign’ant, but I don’t think being a drama queen is a good thing.

    Anyway…
    ““Come on, Zachy,” I said a little too cheerily, as I grabbed his hand, “let’s go home and show mama how beautiful you look.” He picked up the front of his dress and followed me, blissfully unaware of stereotypes, blissfully unaware of gender, and blissfully unaware that someday, I will not be there to protect him from ignorance.” – well said.

    • I realize from the Fark thread mentioned above that I never even considered that the man thought your son was gay; I assumed the man thought your son was a girl. After all, short hair on a 3-year-old really isn’t solidly indicative of gender. Seeing the dress on your son (again, with my ign’ant self), I very well may have thought he was your daughter. Assuming the guy thought your son was gay is assuming the guy assumes sexuality in 3-year-old. I can’t see that; maybe you do. Maybe that’s actually what the guy meant. Doesn’t change the conclusion of my above post, though.

  14. And before I get relegated to the troll bin again, it’s not the boy wearing a dress that’s the problem. Kids will be kids. It’s taking him out in public, armed with a camera and an attitude, waiting for someone to say something – anything – that will allow you to indignantly and haughtily display your moral superiority to the poor working class stiffs who, poor souls, just don’t know any better and happened to notice the odd sight before them. Lecturing them about their ‘ignorant stereotypes’ because they noticed your son in a dress or your daughter in a hard hat and bullfighter outfit.

    • Seriously; do you know 3 year olds? There’s no intentionally making them wear a princess dress and taking them to do groceries. If the kid didn’t want to wear the dress, there’s no way Shane could have made him put it on to go do groceries. Plus, his son looks extremely happy and cheerful in the picture, which is probably why he took the picture.

      Anyway: Shane, you’re a great dad for supporting your son in his choices. And even if you did intentionally take him to do shopping in a dress (which I doubt), people still should mind their own business.

      And @Joshua: how does “that’s going to be a hairdresser” lead you to conclude he thought it was a girl instead of a boy? (I don’t mean to attack you, I just don’t understand).

      By the way; yes the remark could have been ment as friendly, but if it was; Shane would’ve heard that by the tone of voice the man used, don’t you think? And if it was meant friendly, it was very poorly phrased.

    • This made Fark? Cool!

  15. I’m not the only one Shane, most of Fark thinks you’re either an attention whore: “Why do I get the feeling that he took his son to the store in a dress for the sole purpose of writing this article? ‘Come see me express outrage over the comments of less enlightened people! Aren’t I wonderful?’ ” Or in the closet yourself and living vicariously through your son. Basically, on the page where tens of thousands of people go, you’re considered kind of creepy at BEST. Here, of course, you’re just wonderful. Go ahead and check it out, maybe you can enlighten us all.

    http://www.fark.com/comments/6327574/He-picked-up-front-of-his-dress-followed-me-blissfully-unaware-of-stereotypes-blissfully-unaware-of-gender-blissfully-unaware-that-someday-I-will-not-be-there-to-protect-him-from-ignorance

  16. I have to say I’m a little bit surprised that no 1 has gay bashed on this yet. I was half expecting this comment section to be full of hate but for this instance I am glad to be wrong

  17. Kudos to you!
    We make our own happiness and it is best not to let ugly people decide for us.

    Had you made a scene Zach would have been affected and by ignoring the comment he stayed as you so perfectly put it blissfully unaware.

    In my humble opinion until you are ready and it becomes unavoidable to let Zach in on lesser society’s fun crushing expectations your non-reaction is wonderful.

    Even if Zach had caught on the fifty year old bartender was making fun of him ~ learning to ignore those who try to rain on his parade and not allowing them to make him feel bad for being different is a philosophy anyone young and old can benefit from.

    A three year old does not need to hear he is not normal or should bend himself to the expectations of close minded people. No one needs that.

    Nor should anyone be denied such a simple harmless pleasure, in a world that is all too often ugly and not so enjoyable.

    I have the utmost respect for a parent who holds their head high while holding the hand of their son wearing a princess dress.

    Nee-Sayers beware or Zach might just use his magic wand to turn them into a toad.

  18. My six-year old son has a baby doll that he has loved since he was two. Over the years, there have been a few raised eyebrows but we see no reason to take away something he loves so much. His baby hasn’t made him any less of a little boy and everyone comments on his sweet nature. Kudos to you for supporting your son!

  19. You’re right Diana, the kid knows nothing about sexuality, but Shane certainly does. This time you put your kid in heels and lipstick and parade him around for writing material. What’s up next? Also, I would go so far as to say we need caterers and bartenders a hell of a lot more than we need asinine MTV shows about the wacky adventures of skateboarders. Class snobbery is only relevant if you’re actually a more useful individual than the person you’re sneering at.

  20. Many years ago (say 30) in Berkeley, a young woman was going through the grocery checkout with a two-ish year-old boy wearing a gay pride T-shirt. The man behind them asked, “Is he gay?” The mom said, “It’s too early to tell, but if he is, he’s gonna be proud.”
    Wonder where that kid is today!