My daughter, Leigh, will be six at the end of June, and she has worn a dress or a skirt nearly every day since, well, I can’t remember when. All during the winter months she wore dresses and tights; I saw her in pants maybe twice this winter. She always matches everything, and many days has a theme, like “apple girl” or “stripes girl.” We have battles every Monday and Wednesday because on those days she has to wear sneakers to school and believes that it destroys her look. She cried very genuine tears two days ago when Lyn/Ezekiel and I told her she could no longer wear her favorite dress because it only comes down to her crotch.

Honestly, neither Lyn/Ezekiel nor I really know where she got all of this. Both of us have, until recently, simply worn whatever was in the drawer and didn’t have giant holes or stains. We only realized in the last year that we actually don’t like the same kinds of clothes at all; formerly we simply saw our wardrobes as somewhat interchangeable variations on dumpy. Recently we have both begun to pay more attention to our clothes and other aspects of physical appearance, but when our daughter first started dressing herself at around 3 or 4, we felt like an alien had come to live with us and we weren’t all all sure that we liked it.

Since I’ve been thinking about gender presentation, femininity, and masculinity lately, I decided to ask H about her appearance. Specifically, I asked her why she dresses in the way that she does. She basically told me that she likes the way dresses and skirts look, and she likes looking beautiful. I asked what she thought about the fact that boys don’t wear dresses and skirts very much, and she said that she thought maybe they sometimes would want to, but she wasn’t sure. Basically, she told me that she has a clear idea in her head of how she wants to look, and that she dresses and presents herself in a way that reflects that image in her mind. She didn’t use exactly those words, but that’s what I got out of it.

I told her that I’ve been thinking about how I want to look, and that I’d love to do what she does, to have an idea of how I want to look and then make that happen. She said she’d be happy to help me since, in her words, “you usually don’t do that.” Based on a couple of things she said, I still think she believes that I probably want to look as fancy and beautiful as she does, and she was all set to give me something of a makeover, starting with an inventory of all the dresses I own. So I had to remind her that my idea of how I want to look might not match up with her idea of how she wants to look. Still, it was a simple but kind-of inspiring conversation for me!