When I related this conversation to my friends at work, they said, "but he was wearing make up!" I replied, "So what? David Bowie wore make up? What difference does it make?" For more background on why this didn't faze me, I am married to an audio engineer. When we met, he was a sound man for a very popular rock band in an Illinois college town. He has worked with dozens of bands, as a sound man and then as an independent recording producer. So, to see a man wearing make up was not that uncommon in my life. Having said that, my son was a junior in high school and we lived in a small, conservative town. Kids can be very cruel, so the only thing I was worried about was how my son would be received by his peers.
Not long after I noticed the make up, two of my son's friends were at our house and they sat me down and told me that not only was my son wearing make up but he was trying to look feminine. I had noticed that he was wearing his hair in funny ways -- multiple ponytails or one big ponytail on top of his head, but as far as I was concerned, it fit the two criteria I had about hair; it was clean and it was out of his eyes. I had told him that I didn't care if he dyed it purple, grew it down to his ass, or wore a mohawk (this was in the days before the "fauwhawk"). All I cared about was that it was clean and that when I talked to him I could make eye contact. But his friends also told me that he had bought make up kits and -- wait for it -- nail polish!
So, I asked my son about it. He admitted to purchasing the make up and nail polish, so what? I really didn't have an answer for that. He was a good student; he didn't do drugs and he didn't get into trouble. So what? I agreed with him.
Not long after that, he started buying the most god awful clothes from Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Again, if that was going to be his form of rebellion, it really didn't bother me, except his sense of taste was atrocious. He later admitted to me that he did it on purpose to annoy people.
I did notice, however, that he was buying women's clothing -- pantsuits, sweaters, etc. Then one day he showed me what he was going to wear to school the next day. They were having "skirt day" at school so he had on a long black skirt and a turtle neck sweater. He borrowed the skirt from his girl friend. I joked around with him about his nice ass and he accused me of sexual harassment. I said, "Well, if you are going to dress like a woman, get used to it."
All the while, I was updating my friends on the evolution that was my son's looks. They grew increasingly alarmed and astonished that I would put up with it. "What am I going to do? Tell him he can't wear make up and women's clothes? All he would do is hide it from me. Don't you remember what it was like to be a teenager?" were my standard replies.
I was still concerned about how he would deal with the backlash at school, but he was one test shy of becoming a black belt in Tai Kwon Do so I wasn't that worried. He obviously had the mental steel to stand up to it as well. He told me, "I am comfortable with my own sexuality; I want those homophobes to be uncomfortable with theirs." Did that mean he was gay? I never came out and asked him. His girlfriend was at our house all of the time and they seemed sincere. I called my sister to ask her about it. She also happens to be a lesbian, so of course she was the subject matter expert to whom I would turn. She told me that many men who cross dress are heterosexual. But it really didn't matter to me if he was gay. My only worry was that our society was still very hard on gays and lesbians -- that and I only had one other child from whom I could get grandchildren.
One day he went to school wearing a skirt, a striped polo shirt and black sneakers. I told him, "Those shoes do NOT go with that outfit, but I have some sandals that might fit you." If you can't beat "em, join "em, right? Luckily, my feet are so big (women's 10 1/2) that he and I could actually share shoes, at that point in time anyway. He declined my offer and went to school as he was. Another day, and unfortunately I didn't see it for myself, he came home from school wearing a black mini-skirt and fishnet stockings (imagine his black leg hairs sticking out of the fishnet!). My husband works at home and when he saw my son walk in the door, he said, "What the F*CK are you wearing!" Up until that point, he was silent on the whole matter. He quickly said, "Never mind", and that was that.
So on it went. At one point he told me, "By the end of next year I want to be a fully blown transvestite." Okay"..I still kept my composure. I loved my son and would accept him for who he his no matter what that would turn out to be. My friends at work were another matter. They couldn't understand how I could be so calm about it. I have to admit that on the inside I was a little nervous, but he was just following the non-conformist attitudes I had brought him up with, to the extreme perhaps, but that was of my own doing.
The climax of all of this happened months and months after this whole transformation began. One day he was wearing pink parachute pants that he borrowed from his girlfriend and some shirt that didn't match. My husband commented that his nail polish didn't go with his outfit. I chimed in that I had some that might go with it, would he like to try it? He declined and I said, "Well, if you want to dress like a girl, you should learn to coordinate your outfits", or something to that affect. He replied that he did not want to dress like a girl. That did it. I said, "You told me that by the end of next year, you wanted to be a fully blown transvestite!" He yelled back, "I was just trying to freak you out and it didn't work!" Ha! Yes! Imagine me clenching my fist and pulling in my elbow.
Not that I was glad, per se, that he wasn't a transvestite. I was just glad that I kept my cool while he tried my patience. I really think that the key to dealing with rebellious teenagers is to not sweat the small stuff. That is why I had the hair rule. That is why I didn't care about the make up and the clothes. I guess everyone has to draw their own line to define "small". I am obviously more liberal than some of my friends.
The epilogue to my story is that on graduation day, he was sent home to change because they had a rule against wearing shorts underneath his robes. I told him that he should have changed into a skirt because they didn't have a rule about that!
So, thank you David Bowie. You have no idea how you helped me deal with the trials of teenagers.