Saturday, 18 June 2011

Boys in Girls Dresses

We lived in Hong Kong from when I was aged 5 to 7.  One day my Dad, who liked taking photos, asked the three of us boys to pose for photos in front of the electric fire.  Stephen (eldest) dressed in his scout uniform. Alan (middle) dressed in his cub uniform.  Peter (me, the ikkle one) wasn't in either of those organisations.  I was 6 years old. And I wanted to wear a dress.

Hong Kong - back then
So I did. Christ knows where I found the thing, but I wore it. The design of the dress could probably attract a pretty solid case of crimes against humanity at the Hague nowadays.  I wore it with a doily on my head.  It is perhaps the most embarrassing picture in the history of mankind (or was - more later).  My dad took my photo nonetheless, and into one of our photo albums it later went.

Evil Big Bros

My brothers, quite naturally, took the piss out of me mercilessly. My dad was in the army. He was not an educated man: he had been placed first into foster care aged 8, then when he ran away, into the "Cottage Homes" orphanage near Portsmouth. The orphanage was later the subject of all sorts of child cruelty claims through this period (see here).  He left school at 15 with no qualifications at all and literally no where to go.  He did a motor apprenticeship and joined the army - there he served 23 years, fought in three armed conflicts, and made the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Mutti and Dad
My father was however a very intelligent and kind man. "Don't be so silly" were pretty much the words I think he used to my big brothers, as they tried to mock me in my dress.  "Some grown men dress up as women and make money out of it. One is called Danny La Rue.  There's nothing wrong with it at all." This was 1977.  Silence followed.  My brothers shut up.

ME! On holiday in Camargue, aged 7

What my Dad did that day, was in my opinion nothing short of amazing.  I firmly believe nothing can influence your child's sexuality.  I happen to be gay: I realised it when I was about 13 or 14.  Whatever the cause, to me personally it's as natural as being right or left handed - we are simply that way - fight or suppress it as much as you like.

I wasn't "girly" as a child; I was happy and balanced, had really good (both male and female) friends and was enormously comfortable in my skin.  I was never picked on: I was the popular golden haired boy at school and outside. I was known as the Cheshire Cat I smiled so much.

In a similar vein to your sexuality, for whatever reason some guys (straight and gay) obviously like to cross-dress. Personally, I can't say I have ever felt a pressing need to wear women's clothes again since this time.  If people do, good luck to them.  I do wish that a few more parents could have been as wonderful as my dad was if their children wish to dress up as many do.  He showed sensitivity and inclusion, made me feel loved, and tried to reinforce to both me and my brothers that it was okay to be different.
Is my lack of transvestism because of Dad? I'm no child psychologist, but I totally doubt it.  I think I would have done it, or not done it, regardless.  What I do know is that by behaving differently he could have turned a happy child into a miserable one for no reason whatsoever.  Dad died in March 2000 suddenly of a heart attack whilst training for the London marathon, aged 60.  I love him for many reasons, but this episode sticks so clearly in my mind.

Society has the problem

If you get the chance, watch "Ma Vie en Rose" - a French DVD about a little cross-dressing boy.  You rapidly realise he does not have the problem - society and more specifically his family does.  His parents come close to wrecking a young life for fear of what others think.  The movie is actually superb; and without spoiling the end, very redeeming and uplifting.

Oh and the famous photo? I stole it out of the album and ripped it up at 15.  I was worried it revealed early gay inclinations (totally confusing sexual orientation with transvestism, obv).  What a shame, I could have posted it now and had a laugh with all you guys.  It really WAS awful!


  1. What a lovely piece of writing and what a fab sounding childhood. When I think of how my dad went off on one after he found out I'd had an ear pierced! I was in my late teens and had left school. It wasn't even teenage rebellion on my part done to provoke a response. I just thought I looked cool. It was far from unusual for people in my age group at the time. I did eventually progress to the occasional dangly earring - though I never let him see that.

    We never did form a close bond me and my dad though he was always around whenever I needed a lift somewhere or, later, when I needed help decorating my house. He died suddenly a couple of years ago. Our conversations never went deeper than commenting on the local football team's (lack of) progress. I did try to delve deeper occasionally but never really got anywhere. He was clearly uncomfortable so I didn't push it.

    Now I can't and he won't ever reach a point where he feels he can. I suppose I was waiting for that.

    The father hero figure worship so often portrayed in Amercian films never happened for me. I've become my own man and I'm very happy with the man I've become. I'll just never know what my dad thought.

    Happily, it sounds like you knew exactly what your dad thought.

  2. A moving post, your love and admiration for you dad shines through it. Your dad sounds like a top guy.

    I am ever so disappointed that the photo is gone forever. The doily must have been a great finishing touch.

  3. What a lovely post. Your dad was clearly a wonderful man and you really show this here. Shame about the photo though...

  4. This just made me smile. You were a ridiculously cute child and your father sounds amazing. I lost my own father too young. I often wonder what he'd make of the grown up me.