Haylee Bazen, left, with her son Zackary, who loves his Disney princesses. (Photo: Facebook)
After permitting her 3-year-old son to go to school in a Princess Elsa costume, a mom who was criticized by a stranger at a bus stop has fired back by posting a spirited defense of her boy on Facebook, inspiring more than 150,000 reactions and 24,000 shares.
“To the lady at the bus stop who felt the need to interrupt my conversation with my son. I am NOT sorry you didn’t like how he was dressed nor am I sorry that you didn’t like our discussion topic of who our favorite Disney Princess is (Snow White obviously),” wrote Haylee Bazen, of the UK, in her May 21 post. “Zackary is my 3-year-old son and he can be who he wants to be. Today he was a Disney princess and YES I did send him to school like that.”
The reasons Bazen did so, she explained, were simple. “Because that’s what he wanted to wear, because he wanted to show his teachers and friends his Elsa dress, because he wanted to sing ‘let it go’ for show-and-tell, because he doesn’t understand the gender stereotypes YOU think he should conform to, but most importantly because he is awesome!!” wrote the mom, who lives in London. “He plays with cars and dolls, princesses and pirates. He rides his scooter or pushes his pram. He wears zombie face painting or lipstick and if he chooses to wear a dress he can!!”
More and more, it’s Bazen’s perspective on the issue of non-conforming gender play that’s winning out — and the tsk-tsking of people like the lady at the bus stop that’s getting criticized.
The push-pull between both sides, of course, still goes on. Earlier this month, the father of a third grader in Michigan raised concerns when he learned his son’s class was reading the book Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, about a young boy who’s enamored with his orange frock, as a way to teach understanding about a gender-fluid boy at the school. While the father told a local news station that the lesson of acceptance was “against my beliefs as a Christian man,” the school superintendent stood by the teacher’s decision.
Social media posts about boys in dresses have intrigued and divided online readers around the world for years. In 2012, for example, a simple photo of a father in Germany wearing a red skirt in solidarity with his dress-wearing 5-year-old son went viral. As the loving father noted in his Tumblr, “I am… part of the minority that makes a fool of themselves from time to time. Out of conviction.”
In Halloween of 2015, another 3-year-old boy who dressed as Elsa, this one in Virginia, got major parental support when his father dressed as Elsa’s sister Anna, and the Facebook post about the awesome duo went viral. “It’s mind-blowing,” dad Paul Henson told Yahoo at the time about the mostly supportive response to his photo. “And to me it’s weird because I’m not doing anything that should warrant attention. It should be second nature to support your child. If my son wants to be Strawberry Shortcake, so be it. Let’s do it.”
Also last year, a New York City mom allowed her 8-year-old son to join the Gay Pride March by vogueing and dancing his way down Fifth Avenue in a rainbow tutu and sequined cap, firing back at the cavalcade of critics this inspired with a mama-bear Facebook post for the ages. “If you are offended, don’t look,” her lengthy post began.
Other parents have raised awareness and encouraged support by writing about gender-fluid children for other kids, in picture-book form — My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, and Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, for example, all of which join Morris Micklewhite as the most-recommended children’s books on the topic.
Several years ago, the New York Times Magazine featured the topic as its cover story, “What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?” It distinguished kids who push gender boundaries from those who identify as transgender.
“Many parents and clinicians now reject corrective therapy, making this the first generation to allow boys to openly play and dress (to varying degrees) in ways previously restricted to girls — to exist in what one psychologist called ‘that middle space’ between traditional boyhood and traditional girlhood,” noted the author, Ruth Padawer. “These parents have drawn courage from a burgeoning Internet community of like-minded folk whose sons identify as boys but wear tiaras and tote unicorn backpacks.”
Exactly how many parents choosing to embrace their gender-creative kids is unknown, she writes. “What is clear is that in the last few years, challenges to the conventional model have become increasingly common in the United States and Europe, in medical publications and among professionals and parents themselves,” the story noted, and then quoted Edgardo Menvielle, head of a program for gender-nonconforming youth at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “The climate has changed,” he said. “A lot of parents don’t even go to clinicians anymore. They go to Web sites and listservs, which influence how they think about gender.”
And this time around it was Facebook, where Bazen wrapped up the post in support of her son with this final bit of advice to that woman at the bus stop: “So next time you see us, dressed as a princess or cowboy, keep you disapproving stares to yourself, and unless you want to tell him how great he looks, keep your poisonous words to yourself, too.”