'My Daughter Is Not A Princess': An Essay From The 'Listen To Your Mother' Reading Series

The Real Reason I Worry About My Daughter Dressing Like A Boy

Women in 24 cities across the country will participate in the reading series Listen to Your Mother in celebration of Mother's Day (May 12) this year. The series features local writers reading their personal essays about motherhood in front of live audiences. The following is a piece by Vikki Reich, who will appear in Minneapolis at the Riverview Theater on May 9.

My daughter is not a princess.

She hates pink. She doesn’t like things that sparkle and has no interest in dresses or skirts, in flowers and lace.

She wears dark blue skinny jeans and a teal shirt emblazoned with a Tyrannasaurus Rex in sunglasses playing an electric guitar. She covers her messy, short, brown hair with a black and gray stocking cap and her favorite shoes are high tops that are a vibrant mix of black, blue, yellow and orange.

My daughter is a wannabe rock star and she is often mistaken for a boy.

She has always been deliberate in the way she dresses, has always chosen her own clothes and we have followed her many fashion whims but she didn’t always dress as she does now.

Shortly after she turned 5, we were invited to a formal cocktail party and she chose a white satin dress, the bottom of which was layered in tulle and embroidered with tiny pink flowers. She picked out a pink sweater and patent leather Mary Janes to complete the look.

But in the months following that party, her style slowly began to change.

She started pairing her skirts with T-shirts and her brother’s ties. There was a brief period during which she was fascinated with bow ties. Soon after that, she replaced her skirts with jeans and cargo shorts.

On the day of her kindergarten picture, she bounded down the stairs wearing her brother’s pink oxford dress shirt, his black and grey plaid vest and a pair of black velvet pants. Her smile exuded joy and confidence and I should have taken that as a sign that we were doing something right.

I should have felt proud.

But I didn’t.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to put her in a little pink dress and help her with her tights and buckle her patent leather shoes. I wanted to braid her hair or put in the colorful barrettes she used to love so much.

I wanted her to look like all the other little girls her age.

It would be easy for me to appear noble. I could tell you that I didn’t want her to have to deal with the experience of feeling different, that I didn’t want her to be teased.

But I would be lying.

The truth is that I worried what people would think about me.

We hear it constantly from the media and politicians: Children of queer parents will turn out to be queer themselves. Children without a mother and a father will become confused about gender.

This is the abstract context in which families like mine exist.

But it is not just abstraction.

A couple of months after school pictures were taken, the parents from my daughter’s class got together for a potluck. The class photo sat on a table and 28 kids stared out from that picture -– boys in jeans and T-shirts, girls in dresses or pastel-colored pants and our daughter in her black velvet pants and vest.

My partner and I were standing in the kitchen with several parents who were poring over the picture, and one of the mothers pointed to our daughter, laughed, and said to me, “Did you make her dress like that?!”

There was only one reason she would make that assumption.

I tried to breathe evenly and told myself to keep it light.

“No. I didn’t make her dress that way. You know I could never make her do anything.”

The truth is that, even if I could, I wouldn’t.

But people don’t know that. They don’t know me or my partner or our daughter and assumptions are easy to make.

Late at night, when the homework is done and the children have had their baths and they are tucked into bed and asleep at last, the house falls silent and I am alone with my doubts. In those moments, I am not the outspoken advocate for families like mine. I am not the feminist who defends her children’s rights to express themselves in any way they choose.

I am just a mother.

And I worry.

Will they be happy? Will they be loved? Will they be kind and compassionate? And the pulse that races beneath each of those questions is “Are we good parents?” and I can’t help but wonder by whose standards we will be judged.

I do not have the luxury of being simply a mother.

I am and will always be a lesbian mother.

The truth is that it was easier when my daughter twirled through the world in skirts, when her hair was long and held back from her face in pigtails or braids. It was easier because I could point to her and say to the world, “See? She is just like every other girl. She is not like me.”

But that is no longer true.

She is a lot like me and that is both beautiful and complicated and I want the same thing for both of us -– to be seen in all our complexity.

One evening, my daughter was talking about a girl at school and said, “She thinks she’s Rapunzel or Cinderella or something.” She said it like it was an indictment of the girl’s character and I thought she might want a character with whom she could identify so I suggested that she might be more like a prince. She rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, I am not a prince. Obviously, I would be the king.”

Those moments are the ones that matter, the moments that tell me everything I need to know about our endeavors as parents.

It is not easy to be a girl in this world.

It is not easy to be different and yet our daughter stubbornly remains true to herself.

My daughter is not a princess and believes that she can be anyone she wants to be. She is happy and loved and kind and compassionate.

That is more than enough.

To find out more about Listen To Your Mother events and find a show near you, visit the series' website.

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