Guest columnist D. Dina Friedman: Let them wear tutus


Published: 03-13-2023 8:33 PM

When I was 7 and my brother was 4, we were playing in my room. My ballerina tutu was on the floor, and my brother put it on. He pranced out to show my mother, a big grin on his face. “How do I look in a dress?”

My mother’s face went to red quicker than a Corvette gets from 0 to 60. “Take that off!” she screamed. “Take that off right now! Don’t you ever, ever, put on a dress!” And then to me, she scolded, “Don’t ever, ever let him wear your dresses!”

I felt the flush of shame in my cheeks, but I also remember feeling confused. Costumes and dress up were part of our routine. I’d dressed up as a cowboy, a pirate, Superman — all sorts of “male heroes.” What was so wrong about my little brother pretending to be a ballerina?

Perhaps this was my first dose of sexism — the subtle message that it was OK for women to aspire to be like powerful men, but inexcusable for a male to explore anything that might reveal their (less desirable) feminine side. And then, of course, there was the undiscussed elephant in the room — the implication that any boy who gravitated toward the feminine might be gay, a fate most parents dreaded for their children in the far more homophobic 1960s.

I was thinking about this as I set off last Saturday to participate in the Parasol Patrol, a national effort to shield children from hate speech by protesters objecting to drag queen story hours.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Shutesbury Elementary School principal leaving in June after 10 years
Three Amherst Regional Middle School counselors absolved of Title IX offenses
Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses inclusion, broad expertise
Jena Schwartz: Things I have not said
Next 5-story building cleared to rise in downtown Amherst
Residents seek to balance intersection upgrades with preservation of Sunderland character

In the nearly 60 years since my brother was shamed for putting on my tutu, I’d like to think we’ve made some progress on the LGBTQ front. And perhaps we have: gay marriage is legal, we have plenty of out LGBTQ celebrities, politicians, etc., and more relaxed societal mores that allow many more people to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity (which, happily, has enabled my mother to be supportive and accepting of my younger child’s queer identity and relationship).

Yet, despite this so-called progress, here I was in 2023 on a mission to protect children from hate speech — not in Florida, but in Amherst. I felt unnerved that protesters were really expected to show up in my little bubble of liberal paradise, but I immediately felt better when I joined around 50 colorfully dressed humans with rainbow-colored parasols, ranging in age from 5 to 80.

We spread out with our rainbow and butterfly banners, creating a grand entranceway to the library, while a few volunteers escorted families through the line. Meanwhile, about five protesters showed up, carrying signs and occasionally shouting hateful and untrue things about drag queens and gay people.

We ignored them, even when they stood next to us, drowning out their words by cheering the children and chanting “We love books!” It’s a hard slogan to disagree with, though I guess in these days of book banning, it could be.

Strangely enough, one of the signs carried by the protesters was also a hard slogan to disagree with: “Let kids be kids” (though underneath were the words “drag queens” within a circle and slash.) Again, I thought back to my brother at 4, who just wanted to be a kid and try on something sparkly and fun. And then I thought about the alarmingly high rates of suicide among transgender youth.

Yes, let kids be kids, and most importantly let kids be who they are and feel OK about who they are. What better way to do that than to expose them to all kinds of people in this world, amplifying the message that however you choose to present yourself is just fine?

I’m not sure my brother, now passed, remembered the tutu incident. Though straight, he was ostracized for most of his life due to his mental health and disability issues. In his later years, he liked to bait me with Fox news soundbites, because parroting the channel’s opinions made him feel like he was part of a pack. If he were still alive right now, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d denied what happened that day he was 4 and uttered some homophobic untruth about drag queens.

No matter what he would have said about this column, I’ll still stand up for any kid who wants to try on a tutu.

And, I’ll keep volunteering with the Parasol Patrol.

D. Dina Friedman is a writer and activist living in Hadley. Yes, let kids be kids, and most importantly let kids be who they are and feel OK about who they are.