To kick off the week leading up to Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life — the highly anticipated revival of the quirky, poignant mother-daughter series that everyone, it seems, will be cozying up to on Thanksgiving night (12:01 a.m. on Nov. 25, to be precise) — we’ll be celebrating some cool moms we know and the parenting styles that are uniquely their own, through a weeklong essay series, #MyMomStyle.
When my now-11-year-old daughter was in pre-K, her teacher asked the students to bring in five photos that reflected their favorite family moments. So I sat down with her and clicked through 100 or so digital images before whittling down our picks and printing them out to bring to class. As the teacher taped them to the wall, she made an observation that struck me: “You both seem to be in costume in every single one of these!” She was right — although we hadn’t chosen those intentionally. But considering I’ve been calling myself a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body since high school, it was inevitable that I should pass down a love for that identity-defining style to my child.
Truth be told, I am a total fail when it comes to many traditional “mom” activities: I can’t cook or do crafts or even ride a bike, so those family bonding experiences were never open to us. I can, however, put together a fierce Easter Parade bonnet, Mermaid Parade gown, Comic Con costume, Halloween getup (though, really, that holiday is for amateurs), or random over-the-top ensemble for absolutely any occasion. I don’t even sew — everything is glued, taped, pinned, or, as a last resort, purchased. I think of all this dressing up as a form of drag, which isn’t necessarily about gender bending. It’s about having a fantasy of looking a certain way and then working to achieve that vision.
Of course, I originally had a very personal reason for dressing up. Although I am cisgender, as a child I never felt like a girl. To my eyes, my peers all seemed prettier, daintier, and much more feminine than I did. Even when I hit puberty early, instead of confirming my sex, it just made me seem even more disconnected from my fellow females. Then, in high school, I was befriended by a teenage drag queen who taught me how to “perform” my gender. He turned me on to wigs and corsets and false eyelashes and platform heels. At that point in my life, I only felt like a lady when I was done up.
But as I got older, my view of my gender changed. I realized there wasn’t just one way to “do” womanhood. Although I still proudly identified as a “female drag queen” for aesthetic and political purposes, when my daughter was born, I could no longer deny my biological gender. With or without my accessories, I was a chick.
While gender norms and definitions have, thankfully, greatly evolved over the years since I was a youth, my daughter doesn’t seem to have the same sort of emotional investment in dressing up as I did. To her, it’s just a lot of fun — a chance to be someone else, or an enhanced version of herself.
Because when I say dress up, I’m not talking about slipping on some discounted designer duds we picked up at the department store sale. Instead, we rummage through secondhand stores, scour fabric and trimming shops, and hit all the post-Halloween costume sales to fill our closets with pieces to pull together whenever we need them.
When my child was younger, I made most of the style decisions. But around age 5, she started weighing in on our outfits. Her main rule: Whatever we do, she wants to attract as much attention as Mom. And I totally get that. I’m fairly noticeable on a regular day, with strangers constantly asking where I got my glitter lipstick and skull-and-flower headband. And while my daughter takes that in stride, she pines for the spotlight too. When we dress up together, it’s special. We seem related beyond our DNA; we must be equals in exhibitionism.
Yet we still enjoy the competitive aspect of it with others. For the annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York, we always meet with the same group of folks, some of whom are involved in the fashion industry. We never discuss our bonnets beforehand; we just show up and discover who has outdone whom. (And if I’m being honest, my daughter and I have never “won” this unofficial contest, which isn’t surprising, as one of the guys is a milliner and another works at Barneys!) It’s tough to best the pros, but it’s exhilarating to try.
With my daughter now firmly in her tweens, a lot of the things we used to do together — visiting playgrounds, festivals, carousels — are falling by the wayside. Every day I feel her grow slightly more distant and defiant, which, frankly, is as it should be. But dressing up has no age limit, and I’m hopeful she’ll always remember that. Too many children “grow out” of costumes so early. Their beloved tiaras and cowboy hats get forgotten in the closet, along with their ability to imagine themselves differently. Even as a middle-aged mom, now completely at peace with my gender, throwing on an outrageous outfit continues to be as thrilling for me as it is for my kid. We love the attention. We love the escape from the humdrum grind. And we love inspiring smiles.
My daughter once remarked that she loves our Easter Parade gang because “they’re adults who still like kid stuff.” I hope she grows up to be like that too.