A while back, I was facebook-friended by someone with whom I’d gone to elementary school, a woman I hadn’t seen in 15 years. In that same week, I was friended by another schoolmate, a man I hadn’t seen in 25 years. I’ll call these two people, who are not facebook friends with each other, Leia and Mork.
I was happy to be back in touch with Leia and Mork. Leia and I, and Mork and I, in separate sets of messages, chatted in the way that long-lost friends do, telling each other where we live, how many kids we have, what we do for work. We exchanged several messages, and, a few messages in, both Mork and Leia asked me what sort of writing I did. And so I told them, as simply as I could: I write, under a pen name, about my son, who likes to wear a dress.
And you know what? Both Leia and Mork never wrote back.
Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe the conversations just dropped off, in the way conversations eventually do, and it just happened to be after I dropped the pink-bomb on each of them. Maybe they both got busy, or sick, or their computers went on the fritz.
Or maybe they got freaked out.
Because people sometimes do. I notice that the tomboy in Sam’s grade who plays on the boys’ soccer team is cool and socially in demand, while Sam doesn’t get invited to many birthday parties. Sometimes people look at us strangely when we disclose that Sam, the long-haired kid they’ve taken for a girl, is a boy. Sam’s school administration can talk eloquently about diversity and acceptance up and down, except when it comes to gender, when they get all panicky and quiet.
I make it my business to talk to as many people as I can about Sam (while being careful of his privacy and his safety), to make gender nonconformity something that gets talked about, not something swept under the rug. Because when we hide something, we make it shameful. So I open my mouth, maybe even more than I should, and occasionally I lose an audience member or two, like Leia and Mork. But maybe the next time they hear about someone’s son who wears a dress, they’ll remember that the woman they kind of liked back in elementary school mentioned something about her son wearing a dress, and maybe that will make it a little bit more OK.