Please tell me about crossdressing
December 27, 2014 10:33 PM   Subscribe

I think my son is into women's clothes. Should I be concerned? Should I say anything?

My son, D, is 21 and lives with his father and me and his younger sister in a suburb of a major city. He is studying at a local university. He is intelligent, considerate, and charming.

Over the last six months, he has let his hair grow to shoulder length. While this wouldn't be my first choice, it's his hair, and he can do whatever he likes with it.

D is into computer science and regularly travels into the nearby major city for Tech Meetups and such. Or at least that what he tells us.

A couple of months ago, I was helping him clean his closet because ADHD/trouble focusing on boring tasks. We came across a pair of women's shoes. He made some joke about a Halloween costume, and I gave it no further thought.

Last week, my husband was out Christmas shopping and called to ask if D has jumper cables in his car. D was asleep, and my husband wanted an answer promptly because he was in a place that sells cables, so he asked me to look in the trunk of D's car.

You can see where this is going.

The trunk was full of women's clothes. A purple jacket. High heels. Falsies. And that's just the stuff that was right on top. I could see a box that was likely to have jumper cables, so I checked it, established that he did indeed have them, and closed the trunk without looking further.

I'm not sure what to do with this information, if anything. D is a responsible young adult, and he's old enough to make his own decisions. As far as I can tell, there's no harm in crossdressing, is there?

My life is pretty vanilla, but I'm not totally naive. I have lived and worked in large cities, so I've been exposed to a lot, but crossdressing is something I just don't get.

So, I could say nothing, and leave it at that. Or I could tell D what happened. Mostly, I want him to know that we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is. He does not need to hide clothes in the trunk of his car.

This is completely outside my experience, so I'd appreciate some feedback from people who know more than I do. Am I missing anything? Any insight or advice, MeFites?

Throwaway email: MeFi001@spamex.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have lived and worked in large cities, so I've been exposed to a lot, but crossdressing is something I just don't get.

As a woman, do you ever enjoy dressing more masculine? Not all women do, but sometimes I really enjoy the different sense of power I get trying on traditional men's clothing.

If not, do you enjoy dressing up for events, spending time on maintenance and appearance rituals (nails, eyebrows, etc)? Is it so hard to imagine that a man would feel the same enjoyment?

If it's still completely alien, you might want to examine if you have any ingrained misogyny informing your view, if somehow you believe all acts of femininity are below a man and degrading to them.

As to whether to let him know you know, that really depends on your kid and your relationship. Maybe your kids would be relieved, maybe not. It doesn't hurt to just give your kid a blanket "we love you no matter what", you don't have to get into specifics.

I dated a crossdresser once. I don't get why anyone would make a big deal out of it. People can be super weird about their gender roles.
posted by Dynex at 10:51 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


Mostly, I want him to know that we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is. He does not need to hide clothes in the trunk of his car.

To me, this seems like a good way to start the conversation. You have a pretty specific goal of wanting your kid to know that you love them and accept their preferences, so focus on that. I wouldn't be concerned about anything beyond that if I were you. Come at it from a position of sincere curiosity and I think the talk will go well and not be terribly awkward.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:52 PM on December 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is.

This is the most important thing.

I think it would be fair to let him know you found the clothes while looking for jump cables, and that it's all OK with you as long as he's happy.

Let him tell you as much or as little as he wants to; it's a fine line between respecting someone's privacy and letting them know you're always willing to listen.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:58 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's hard to know the meaning of the women's clothes. He could be crossdressing (which is something done mostly by straight men, mostly as a sexual thing). He could be doing drag, which is more often done by gay men, and which often has a theatrical/performative component. He could be trans or genderqueer, in which case "he" might not be the right pronoun. I'm not sure, but I think the easiest thing to do might be to write him a note, that way he can get over the shock of you having found the stuff in private:

"Dear Son, the other day your dad called and wanted to know if your car had jumper cables. He was at the store and wanted a quick answer so I went and looked in your trunk. While I was there I saw some women's clothes, too. I know that having women's clothes could mean a lot of different things, and I just want you to know that I love and support you unconditionally and would love to talk with you about this or anything, whenever you want. I don't want you to feel that you have to keep stuff from us. Also, I apologize for breaching your privacy, it was a well-meant mistake. Love, Mom"
posted by feets at 10:59 PM on December 27, 2014 [120 favorites]


Mostly, I want him to know that we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is. He does not need to hide clothes in the trun.k of his car.

You sound like a great Mom!

I guess I wouldn't mention it if I were you. Not, of course, because there is anything shameful about cross-dressing, but because I think it is helpful for people to have their privacy respected--especially young adults who are still figuring out who they are. You don't know if this is something that your son would eventually like to be open about, or if this is something he would prefer not to discuss with you. Or if there is anything significant about the clothing in the first place.

You should, of course, continue to show your son unconditional love and support and make sure he knows he can come talk with you about anything, should he wish.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:04 PM on December 27, 2014 [12 favorites]


Come at it from a position of sincere curiosity and I think the talk will go well and not be terribly awkward.

Yeah, if you need to discuss it with him (and you do not have to, but you can if you feel you need to), it's not up to you to decide that his thing is "crossdressing". You don't know what those clothes mean to him.

You can tell him you found the not-traditionally-gender-conforming clothing in his car and that he isn't required to hide things in his car and you will stay out of his closet going forward to allow him his privacy, but that whatever that is for him is fine.

It's not actually your business, though, until he decides it is.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:04 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


(Obviously, do not tell him he's safe or it's fine in general if he's not or it is not. If you think his father or someone else close to the family is a risk to his life or health if he reveals anything other than a straight-cis gender presentation, do not tell him he's safe. But if he is safe with you, say so.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:10 PM on December 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


Just to clarify my earlier comment: there was (potentially) an inadvertent breach of your son's privacy when you found the clothing in the trunk, but it would be a further breach of privacy, I think, to bring this up to him. You would put him in a position where he might feel that he needs to explain things to you that aren't necessarily any of your business. There is the potential for him to feel exposed and out of control in a way that could be bad for him--or not, but it doesn't sound like you have enough information to make an educated guess about how he might respond.
posted by girl flaneur at 11:25 PM on December 27, 2014 [24 favorites]


Being in a similar situation as the son where my parents are not privy to everything in my life, my vote is for saying nothing about cross-dressing to him, specifically. If he brings it up, then sure, have that discussion, but I don't feel that prying into that bit of his life will necessarily be helpful or not awkward. Especially since all you have at this point is circumstantial evidence that that's what he's into. There could always be some other valid explanation for it, and I would personally feel my privacy was violated (because it was) if you brought it up and jumped to that conclusion. He has his reasons for keeping the clothes in his trunk, and they may or may not be because he feels the need to hide it from you.

That said, I'd say it's wonderful to make sure he understands that your love and support for him is unconditional, and that if he ever does want to talk with you about anything, you are always willing to bend your ear. Show him that he is not misplacing his trust if he places it with you.

Addressing the crossdressing concerns specifically, while it isn't something I myself am into, I do have friends who are into it, and they each have their own reasons, but it usually boils down to just feeling more comfortable with or better-looking in other-gendered clothes. It isn't something to be worried about, even if you yourself don't understand it.
posted by Aleyn at 11:38 PM on December 27, 2014 [12 favorites]


girl flaneur: "I guess I wouldn't mention it if I were you. Not, of course, because there is anything shameful about cross-dressing, but because I think it is helpful for people to have their privacy respected--especially young adults who are still figuring out who they are. You don't know if this is something that your son would eventually like to be open about, or if this is something he would prefer not to discuss with you. Or if there is anything significant about the clothing in the first place. "

This. I'd be more upset by the invasion of privacy (which this was in a pretty big way even if you didn't know looking in his truck would be an invasion at the time) than the discovery. Plus you can end up being that oh so cool parent who just brushes it off as no big deal and something you've suspected for a long time if/when he ever tells you.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


>> As far as I can tell, there's no harm in crossdressing, is there?

It's hard to know the meaning of the women's clothes. He could be crossdressing (which is something done mostly by straight men, mostly as a sexual thing). He could be doing drag, which is more often done by gay men, and which often has a theatrical/performative component. He could be trans or genderqueer, in which case "he" might not be the right pronoun.

It would probably be good to read a primer and further advice for supportive parents on these matters.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, take this opportunity to educate yourself about crossdressing and trans issues. That way if your child does ever bring this up with you, you can approach the conversation with a bit of a clue and not from your current position of "I don't get it". But definitely wait for your child to bring the issue to you, don't bring it up first. It might be that your child is trans* and going through a very confusing and tumultuous time as they figure out who they are. Mom should not be barging right into the middle of what could be a quite painful secret.
posted by mymbleth at 1:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


Something you can do just in general is to vocally express your clear positive opinion about other people who could be labeled with one of the various ones your kid might be pursuing. For example, did you know the US Justice Department is now going to treat the civil rights act as encompassing gender nonconformity? (Huffpo link) That's pretty fantastic, I think. You could bring it up in conversation and make sure your kid knows this makes you happy.

If he is going through a period of change about this, no matter how clearly accepting you are of others he might be convinced you'd judge him anyway. But if he can hear it enough, and if you act that way (try engaging in some queer media, supporting some queer and/or trans* charities) he'll know he can tell you once he works through it himself.
posted by Mizu at 2:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


Mostly, I want him to know that we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is. He does not need to hide clothes in the trunk of his car.

Awww. I didn't see this going in this direction. What a good mom.

Okay, the thing to do is nothing. When an adult is surreptitious about something it means they don't want to talk about it. I would find opportunities to indicate your comfort with the topic, mention how you think adults should be able to do as they like ("there's no harm in crossdressing") and develop some knowledge of the subject, which you're doing, and if he'd like to talk about it he can.

I wouldn't confront another adult with any surprise knowledge of their secret doings, regardless of my relationship with them, regardless of the 'secret', unless it was something damaging like if my husband had a secret gambling addiction or something.

I would, however, look for ways I could let that person know that they needn't hide such a thing from me if they didn't want to (there are always going to be things people choose not to share with their parents, which is part of growing up and becoming independent adults. "Because of shame/fear" is a separate category, but you can't know the degree of overlap here.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:55 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is your son's news to discuss with you. I know this sounds corny but maybe watching RuPaul's Drag Race together would facilitate his talking with you. Also, it may help you see how other young men have dealt with their families.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can tell him you love him, support him and accept him without telling him you found the clothes. He needs to feel very secure before he tells - and, bear in mind, if this is a sexy-time kink thing, it is very likely that he will never tell you. (And if it were - would you really want to know?)

But, if it is the kind of thing he'd ever tell his parents, you can make him feel secure and supported now -

"Honey, your hair looks great like that. What kind of conditioner are you using?"
"That's a nice shirt, it's a perfect color for you."
"We love you, have fun at your tech conference!"
"Did you see the thing about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt agreeing to call their girl child John? That's such a great example! What great parents! That's what I'd do!"
posted by mibo at 6:40 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I don't think you should bring it up. There is nothing to be gained from it. Obviously he is not ready to tell you, and if it's just a bedroom fetish, he never will. Imagine if he'd happened upon your vibrator collection - you certainly wouldn't want to talk about that.

If it's not a fetish and s/he is trans, let them come out to you in their own time. It's a huge decision. In the meantime you can make your child more comfortable by talking positively (but sincerely!) about trans topics. If you can naturally work it into conversation, casually comment on Laverne Cox making the cover of Time magazine, or Janet Mock's engagement, or the Justice Department affirming that trans people are covered under non-discrimination laws. Another good (and recent) example is Brad and Angelina's child, mentioned above. Throw in some support for same-sex marriage, too. Although crossdressing does not mean he's gay, support for gay civil rights shows that you are also likely to support transgender issues.

Finally, if you live in a city, there is almost certainly a PFLAG chapter, and they have specific support resources for parents and friends of transgender people. Even if you're not sure what's going on with your child, it can be extremely helpful to hear from other parents whose child has gone through a transition. If it turns out that your child is NOT trans, at least you have a better understanding of the challenges that other people face in life, and that's always a net good for society.
posted by desjardins at 6:57 AM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I just wouldn't say anything. It's possible he'll wind up being trans in which case it'd be lovely to have a whole big huggy moment where he realizes he's not alone and his parents support him, sure, but it's also possible he's just a crossdresser in which case it runs the risk of being supremely awkward to talk about this with his parents. In the former scenario it'll come out eventually and you can have a life-affirming thing then.

In your situation I think the best thing you can do is to be aware of how you talk about other gender nonconforming people in front of him, and if he wants to talk about it, he will.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think my son is into women's clothes. Should I be concerned? Should I say anything?

Nope. Nope.

Maybe he's trans and figuring it out. Maybe he's doing drag performances. Maybe he's crossdressing for sexual kicks. Maybe he's in a pantomime he hasn't told you about. Could be anything.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:03 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Don't say anything. You wouldn't poke or pry into other aspects of your son's sexual, romantic or bodily life - even if you knew he was sleeping with someone you would not ask what he did in bed; you would not ask for minute details of any dates; you would not press for non-urgent medical information if he saw the doctor. This is your son's personal life, for him to bring up with you or not as he sees fit.

I wouldn't do anything like watching a movie about drag together, frankly - if he initiated it, sure, but otherwise it could easily make him feel weird, like he has to reassure you or have a conversation he's not ready for, or like he can't respond honestly to anything stupid or stereotyping in the film.

No matter what is going on - drag, crossdressing, gender stuff, pantomime, etc - it's only going to be a Very Special Episode if you make it that way. Drag, cross-dressing and gender stuff are problems when other people make them problems, not because they are intrinsically bad or weird or dangerous or cause unhappiness.
posted by Frowner at 8:25 AM on December 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


I would probably say don't mention it, because he may get defensive or angry or embarrassed about it. But then again, I don't think he's been doing a great job of hiding this since the clothes were just sitting on top of the trunk like that. The kid needs to hide this better if he doesn't want anyone to see it -- I imagine he will realize you saw the women's clothes when you got the jumper cables.

I would keep it to yourself, but pay attention. Hopefully he either has a secret girlfriend (doubtful) or he is figuring out his own gender identity (possible). If that's all this is, it probably isn't anything to worry about. But look out for other behavior that could point to something else and let your son talk to you about this on his own.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2014


If at the age of 21 your son does not already know that you love him, support him, and accept him as he is then you are playing catch up. Assuming that you have been conveying this to him for his entire life, continue to do so.

I would not bring this up. I would not be more intrusive than you already have been (I understand there was no intent to snoop). Respect his privacy. Unless he indicates otherwise, assume that he does not need fixing or help.

Continue to be the loving, accepting, awesome parents that you have been. He will deal with this (assuming that there is a "this") in his way, and at some point that may include expressing himself to you.
posted by elf27 at 9:56 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Parents say a lot of things that their kids find embarrassing. Don't let embarrassment get in the way of communicating love and support. I like the open-ended sample note by feets.
posted by zennie at 10:46 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Does he have a girlfriend? What makes you think these are even his clothes? I mean, they certainly may be, for a variety of reasons which people have laid out, but can you imagine how it would go if you brought this up and it turned out they weren't even his?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:38 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


we love him, support him, and accept him just as he is.

I would be inclined to ignore the discovery but if I wanted to broach the topic while showing my support I would say that I noticed clothes while looking for the cables and that leaving clothes in the trunk may get oil stains on them and recommend a good drycleaner. Then I would never mention it again.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:43 PM on December 28, 2014


I would be inclined to ignore the discovery but if I wanted to broach the topic while showing my support I would say that I noticed clothes while looking for the cables and that leaving clothes in the trunk may get oil stains on them and recommend a good drycleaner. Then I would never mention it again.

If you're going to say anything, I'd suggest saying that your kid's welcome to wear those clothes around the house as well, rather than leaving that bit out.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:27 AM on December 29, 2014


I just want to say that it's always people inside clothes.
posted by nickggully at 4:51 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree that mentioning you found the clothes it could be uncomfortable and backfire, especially if he keeps them as a sexual thing (i.e. is a straight man who likes crossdressing for erotic purposes). But I just read this terribly sad article about a gay Christian teen who killed herself because she was afraid to come out to her parents, who say they would have given her a "wealth of love and acceptance," and considering the stress that so many gay/trans/gender non-conforming kids go through thinking they'll be rejected by their folks, I think it's better to let him know you saw and are OK with it in case he's gay/trans/gender non-conforming.

That is, to me it seems like the risk of telling him you found the clothes and are OK with it is that you embarrass him or make him feel intruded upon, and the possible benefit is that you could save his life.
posted by feets at 11:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


« Older Here comes the non-traditional bride...   |   Retail manager monkey wants out but needs money. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.