[Ed. – Shouldn’t we consider the possibility that we’re starting at the wrong end of things here? That focusing so much on gaining notoriety and sense of self from artificial presentation — dress, makeup, selfies, selfie-readiness — is distorting every perception we have of both self and fulfillment?]
Matt, who had a 20-year career as a police officer in Orange County, California, has been a vocal supporter of his son, though in their conservative region, his stance has been attacked. The Durons’ son, now 11, gave up dresses years ago, but he still loves makeup and wears his hair long. Classmates bully him, but he finds support from his family, and lately at Sephora in his local mall, where male employees demonstrate a different way to be grown men in the world.
The idea of Sephora as a haven for gender-creative suburban American boys is touching and wonderful in its way, but it’s bittersweet that alternate models of masculinity are so scarce and relatively unvaried. There are now quite a few books featuring boys who like dresses, but almost all of them follow the same arc: Boy dons dress among friends; boy gets shamed and bullied; boy becomes despondent and hides at home; then, finally, boy returns to friend group and they see his value and embrace him (usually after one last-ditch attempt to reform him through shame). Each time I pick up one of these to read to my son, I find myself wanting to change the narrative or skip the portions where rejection and suffering show up as inevitable.
“But little kids live in the real world,” Ian Hoffman argued when I questioned the trope. Hoffman co-authored the children’s book Jacob’s New Dress with his wife, Sarah. “Would it be nice to have a book with a boy in a dress with no conflict? Yes. Are we there? I don’t think so,” Hoffman told me.