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‘My 15-year-old son wants to dress in girls’ clothing’

My son is convinced he’s genderfluid. He has told me that’s it’s not a passing phase

Dear Roe,

My son is 15 and is convinced he’s genderfluid. He has told me that’s it’s not a passing phase. He wants me to buy him pink girl’s underwear and adult princess dresses. This urge seems to come and go, sometimes he feels girly but says he predominately feels male. He insists he’s not gay and does like girls. He doesn’t want to be this way and gets very upset about it at times. Once I went to buy him the underwear and I burst into tears in the shop. I couldn’t do it. I’m really struggling to accept this but I love my son whatever his likes/dislikes.

We have a large family with young children who would not understand. He also talks to his older sister who encourages him. I’ve told my husband who is struggling with it, too. He says if our son wants to indulge this then he needs to do it privately as we can’t have him wearing dresses at home with small children in the house and that society is not ready for boys walking around in dresses, especially not where we live.

People who are genderfluid can alternate between feeling more male and female at certain times. They can go through prolonged periods of time feeling more connected with one gender over the other, or it can vary day-to-day.


Your son’s experiences are pretty typical for his age, as he is expressing himself by experimenting with more feminine clothes when he wants to – which, incidentally, is far from the only way that genderfluid people express or experience their gender. Women who identify as female (“cisgender” women) don’t automatically feel like men if they throw on a pair of guy’s jeans, because gender is more than tailoring – it’s how we experience the world. So while clothes are often the most visible signifier of a person’s gender, and are thus an important tool for self-expression, dresses are not the biggest issue here.

The issue is that your reaction to your son is telling him that you don’t understand him, or are ashamed of him. Your son is already aware of the bigotry that faces LGBTQ people (as a genderfluid person, he fits under the ‘Q’ umbrella). He’s scared of not being accepted, of being treated differently, of not being able to find love. This is why he gets upset, this is why he “doesn’t want to be this way”, this is why he only dresses in feminine clothes in private, at home.

By policing his behaviour in the one place he feels vaguely safe enough to express himself, you’re essentially telling him that you do not accept him, that you will treat him differently to his siblings, who can wear what they like and don’t need to be hidden.

You say that you’re making your son hide his feminine clothes to protect him and your other younger children, who wouldn’t understand. But like all new lessons in life – from learning maths to why you have to share your toys and why hitting people is bad – children understand new ideas because their parents and other adults explain them in an age appropriate way. They learn when they are allowed to ask questions, and they receive thoughtful answers; when they see their parents leading by example.

By insisting that your son hide from his siblings, you are missing out on three opportunities. You’re missing out on the opportunity to talk to your son about his gender, and to learn how to support him openly within your family. You’re missing out on the opportunity to teach his siblings how to show empathy, kindness and respect to everyone, including those who or don’t look or dress or live exactly as they do. And you’re missing out on the opportunity for you, your son, and his siblings to lead by example – to teach the people in your town that you are proud of your son, that LGBTQ people are welcome and supported in your community, and that their ignorance is their problem to unlearn.

Ask your son how he feels. Ask him how you can support him. Start reading and researching about genderfluid people, and reach out to other parents who have navigated this for advice – there are countless message-boards and informative groups online. Share what you learn with your husband and children.

If your son wants to wear feminine clothes at home, help him shop online. When he picks out a skirt he likes, tell him he looks good – as you would your daughter. If he wants to wear feminine clothes outside, walk with him or ask his older sister to, so he feels safe. Talk to your friends and neighbours so that they know you love and support your son, and that you expect them to treat him with the same kindness and respect they always have.

Talk to his teachers, and ask what they are doing to make LGBTQ students feel safe and supported in the school. If your son doesn’t want his teachers to know that he’s genderfluid, you don’t have to be specific, merely present yourself as a concerned parent who wants the school to feel safer for all children. If they don’t offer education on different gender identities as well as anti-bullying policies, you could campaign for both. Know that you’re also helping all the other LGBTQ kids crying at home because they’re scared.

Your son is genderfluid, and that is fine. It is not his responsibility to hide from the world, and his world starts with you and your family home. Make his world better, and let the larger world learn from you.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at