‘Which One Of You Will Wear The Dress?’ A First Conversation With Our Pre-Schooler About Gay Marriage
It was just a few weeks after gay marriage was sanctioned in the state of New York that my partner of 14 years, my four-year-old daughter, and I were sitting at our dinner table, and Daughter asked us, â€œIf you two get married, which one of you will wear a dress?â€
First response: â€œThatâ€™s a good question.â€ (Affirming the childâ€™s sense of curiosity and connecting a newsy event to gender expression through fashion.)
In sort-of-whispered asides, both my partner and I wondered if our daughter had seen a picture in the newspaper of a lesbian wedding where, we assumed, one wife wore a dress, and the other, a suit. Or if she had just picked up on a lot of background conversation in the last month about gay marriage becoming legal in our state. Daughter insisted that no, she hasnâ€™t been exposed to a lesbian wedding, she just wondered which of us would wear The Dress.
A moment of disturbance passed, as I remember the enormity of the cultural significance of a wedding dress, and how an only-four-year-old child already grasps this at some core level, even without living in a heterosexual married household. Sheâ€™s been to just one (heterosexual) wedding in her life, but she was a flower girl, and it apparently made an impact.
So my partner says, â€œWell, I think I would probably wear a dress.â€
And I add, after a few moments, â€œI think Iâ€™d probably wear a dress, too.â€ Although a really hot pantsuit would sorta be my style too, I admit, remembering fondly a white, narrowly tailored, very-low-cut white Stella McCartney suit Partner and I once glimpsed together in a window in the Meat Packing District.
Daughter says, â€œBut one of you has to wear a suit.â€ And we gently explain that if we were to get married, we could actually wear whatever we chose, and that neither of us would have to wear a white dress â€“ or any dress for that matter, even though we probably would, because, what better occasion for a fantastic dress?
This answer isnâ€™t satisfactory for our daughter. She asks, â€œIf two men get married, would one of them wear a dress?â€
My partner explains that thatâ€™s pretty unlikely, and that itâ€™s more common for women to wear menâ€™s clothing â€“ again, something that requires more complicated explanation, for an older child â€“ than the other way around, and that in fact, a lot of womenswear is inspired by menswear. My mental photo album flips to Le Smoking Jacket by Yves Saint Laurent from the 1960s. We donâ€™t in fact engage in a discussion of transvestism or drag performance â€“ maybe when sheâ€™s five.
That response seems to satisfy our daughterâ€™s line of questioning on this topic, for today at least. I havenâ€™t the heart to tell her yet that Iâ€™m still conflicted about the institution of marriage that has suddenly, finally become accessible to me. How can you explain Groucho Marx,Â Karl Marx, and Andrea Dworkin all at once to a four-year-old? But I can still fantasize about my wedding dress. It wonâ€™t be white, by the way. Iâ€™m an â€œautumn.â€
(Photo: Jeffrey Hamilton)