“I’m a girl but I REALLY hate wearing dresses. They just make me feelsuper uncomfortable. On New Years Eve my mom said I had to wear a dress. I didn’twant to, I explained why and wore a button down, collared shirt and corduroy pants instead. My brother was wearing something very similar to me. My mom said that I didn’t look nice enough and said many terrible things that really hurt my feelings. When I wear something slightly boyish she tells me its not appropriate and makes me feel terrible. How do I deal with this?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
This sounds like a very painful experience and I am sorry that this happened to you. First and foremost, if you feel that you may be in an abusive situation or that your physical and/or emotional safety is at risk, please reach out to a trusted teacher, mentor,social worker, counselor, coach, health care provider, or other supportive adult. Your safety is of primary importance.
Having said this, parents often express unfavorable opinions about their children’sbehaviors, which may feel abusive but may not necessarily manifest in immediatedanger to anyone’s safety. All of us, including our parents, are socialized from the moment we come out of the womb to adopt social norms, many of which are rooted in harmful “-isms” and phobias. Your mother’s behavior is more a reflection of how she has been socialized into the norms of mainstream culture, rather than a reflection of your worth. As Will Smith once rapped, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” We often feel hurt when our parents disapprove of our partners, our identities, our careers, our clothing, our friends, our weight, etc. When it comes to self-care, the key is to understand that, while validation feels good, your mother’s lack of understanding is less about you and more about her own issues. She may come around one day. She may not. Either way, you have to know your own worth. You are valuable irrespective of her criticism.
You can participate in conversations and exercises to help educate her about style and gender and to discuss how her criticism makes you feel. Qwear has a great article that includes conversation starters, such as each of you talking about your favorite outfits and commenting on why these outfits make you feel empowered. Another helpful exercise recommended by Qwear is to have your mother make a list of stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act” and then identify the ways in which she doesn’t fit those stereotypes. You can point out that, like her, you do not fit all of the stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act,” with your clothing preferences being a non-stereotypical trait that makes you special. In your conversations, you can sit with her and explore empowering queer style sites like I Dream of Dapper, Qwear and dapperQ. Show her successful female-identified “menswear” models, like Elliot Sailors, who are changing the way we look at clothing. When you talk to her about the way her criticism makes you feel, you can also refer to anti-bullying projects, such as The Dapper Chicks of New York, which uses a common love of “menswear” to address cyber-bullying. If your mother would be open to therapy, you can always look for a professional therapist who specializes in sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to help facilitate conversations.
In the meantime, it is important to feel supported and I highly recommend building your own social networks that can provide you with a safe space. In addition to your local LGBTQ center and/or gay-straight alliance (if you have either of those nearby), here are some great places to start:
I hope you find these resources helpful in your journey. Remember, keep your head up and stay dapper. You are incredible no matter what you wear!
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