Childrearing

‘Which One Of You Will Wear The Dress?’ A First Conversation With Our Pre-Schooler About Gay Marriage

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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, “If you two get married, which one of you will wear a dress?”

First response: “That’s a good question.” (Affirming the child’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 hasn’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. She’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, “Well, I think I would probably wear a dress.”

And I add, after a few moments, “I think I’d probably wear a dress, too.” 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, “But one of you has to wear a suit.” 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 – or any dress for that matter, even though we probably would, because, what better occasion for a fantastic dress?

This answer isn’t satisfactory for our daughter. She asks, “If two men get married, would one of them wear a dress?”

My partner explains that that’s pretty unlikely, and that it’s more common for women to wear men’s clothing – again, something that requires more complicated explanation, for an older child – 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 don’t in fact engage in a discussion of transvestism or drag performance – maybe when she’s five.

That response seems to satisfy our daughter’s line of questioning on this topic, for today at least. I haven’t the heart to tell her yet that I’m still conflicted about the institution of marriage that has suddenly, finally become accessible to me. How can you explain Groucho Marx,  Karl Marx, and Andrea Dworkin all at once to a four-year-old? But I can still fantasize about my wedding dress. It won’t be white, by the way. I’m an “autumn.”

(Photo: Jeffrey Hamilton)