Posted by Nancy S.
It’s the moment that makes every parent cringe when it happens to them. The moment when your son wants to dress up as a girl for Halloween. It’s not so much homophobia that makes you wince, but the fear of how to handle your response in a way that shows love, understanding and helps your child avoid total humiliation in the face of his peers. Because let’s face it, in elementary school, it’s rarely acceptable for boys to dress as girls, even on Halloween. Whatever the reason this moment makes you uncomfortable, the way it’s handled can be a life-changing experience, for your child and for you. We all want to handle this one well so that our kids will be least affected.
It happened recently to a friend of mine, who so generously shared her story and gave me permission to write about it. When she asked her son what he wanted to be for Halloween, he replied, “Princess Leah from Star Wars!” She immediately flashed back to Halloween 2008, when he dressed as Kirby, the quirky character in a hand-held Game Boy device. She worked tirelessly on his costume that year. Creatively, she fashioned a homemade outfit in which he could move seamlessly all day and portray the pink, fluffy character with authenticity. “Not bad,” she thought as she surveyed her work Halloween morning before he walked out the door to school. Apparently, it was really bad. All the kids in school made fun of him. They pointed and laughed at his pink fuzziness and tormented him so badly that he ripped off the costume and refused to wear it for trick-or-treating that night. He was so scarred emotionally from the drama of it all that it took days, if not weeks to get over it.
Fast forward to Halloween 2009. “Really, Princess Leah.” she said. “Are you sure that’s the one you want to be?” She thought carefully about how to address it in a way that would be sensitive and allow him to make the best choice for himself with her guidance. “Now, son, you can be Princess Leah, but I just want to remind you what happened last year with the Kirby costume. Remember how you were treated? How it made you feel? “
“I don’t care,” he said defiantly.
“This Princess Leah costume could bring the same type of reaction. Let’s talk about what you like about Princess Leah so much?”
He immediately replied, “Mom, she carries a gun! She’s so cool!”
“Ok,” my friend thought, “I can make this work. So, son, there are lots of really cool characters that carry guns in Star Wars. How about Hans Solo or Chewbacca?”
“No, I want to be Princess Leah.” He wasn’t budging.
At this point, she felt helpless. How could she knowingly put him in a position where he would be ostracized by his classmates? She consulted her husband. “Absolutely not,” was his response. That’s when she confided in me. I happened to agree with her husband. Why put him in harm’s way? Talking him through it afterwards wouldn’t be enough to heal his broken self-esteem. I suggested, “I know it won’t be homemade, but perhaps you can take him to one of those Halloween superstores with the millions of costumes and distract him with all the cool costumes there? Tell him he can pick out any costume (make sure to ask the clerk to hide Princess Leah or steer him in another direction first). He’ll be making the choice and it won’t scar him for life!”
The next day I received a call from my friend.
“Well, we went to one of those stores,” she said.
“And…” I was dying to know.
“I paid more for a costume than I have ever paid before. That was hard.”
“OK, but did he get Princess Leah?”
“No, he got the Scream face. You know the one that looks like the Grim Reaper and comes with a scary mask and a sickle?”
For a moment, there was complete silence and then we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter! In between giggles, she chuckled, “I’m really not sure that this is any better than Princess Leah. I know he’s going to be fighting his brother with the sickle.”
It turns out that five minutes into trick or treating, he turned to his mom and said, “This mask hurts, can you carry it the rest of the night so I can collect candy.”
And that was that.