"When I was 12, my dad bragged that, when he was a kid, boys that wore dresses were sissies, and sissies got beat up.
At the time, I was sitting in the passenger seat of his car outside my friend Mary’s Halloween party, wearing a black dress I borrowed from my stepmother and a long wig I bought at the Walmart down the street. My palms got sweaty and I tried to rub them dry on the dress, but it was some sort of polyester blend that resisted my efforts.
“If you’re so nervous going to this damn party dressed like a girl then why’d you do it?” my dad said. “I just don’t get you sometimes, but it’s your life.”
As he spoke, I imagined him in a dress – a pink one even – his nails glittery and his wig long and blond, in platform shoes and walking like a runway model.
“Son, are you listening to me?” he barked, interrupting my daze, and I looked at him in his golfing clothes, boring in his masculinity. I nodded.
“Then get the hell out.”
I reached for the door handle, closed my eyes and stepped out into the world as a girl. “Thanks for the ride, Dad.”
I watched his car disappear into the evening and wondered if he thought I looked pretty.
Inside Mary’s garage, other teenage bodies moved awkwardly to music as various parents stood around, partly to judge the costume contest and partly to make sure we kept our dancing age-appropriate. But the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was how good I looked – how I made such a pretty girl. No one was rude or hateful about me being in drag, no one threatened to beat me for being “a sissy” – instead, my friends seemed enamored with how attractive I turned out.
And for the first time, I felt attractive.
As the night progressed, I found myself moving differently through the party – more feminine, hips swaying. I’d spent so long trying to copy how men were “supposed” to walk, but, for the first time, I was unashamed of my movements’ lack of masculinity. I felt more connected to my body than ever before – and a little bit like what I looked like matched how I sometimes felt.
And then, as I reached for a slice of pizza, I felt a hand go up the back up my leg, and I froze. The fingers slowly moved up my leg, under my dress and slithered towards my inner thigh. As they neared my crotch, I snapped out of it and turned to confront which ever classmate was fucking with me – but instead I saw one of the dads.
“You’re not a girl,” he blurted out, a Budweiser in his hand.
I said nothing as my insides pulsed with anger. I wasn’t even sure what to be the most mad about: that man sticking his nasty hand up my dress, the fact that he stopped once he realized that I wasn’t what he expected, or that I suddenly no longer felt pretty.
The dad walked away while I tried to decide, drunkenly laughing to himself.
I walked up to a friend as Mary’s mom shut off the music to announce the winner of the costume contest and said, “Some dude just tried to go up my dress. He thought I was a girl.” He began laughing hysterically, and I just stared. Whether I was a pretty girl, an ugly boy, or something in between, there was one thing I knew for certain in that moment: There was nothing funny about a man going up my dress.
“Our winner for the boys is Zach and his dress!” Mary’s mom yelled, and the room cheered.
I wanted to go home.
My cell phone buzzed inside the right pocket of the shorts as if on cue: my dad was outside, early, waiting to drive me home. I hugged my friends goodbye, and they all made their last “you’re so pretty” comments. They landed on me like leaves falling from the trees that I couldn’t dodge and couldn’t pick off, and I headed down the driveway to my father.
“Have fun tonight?” my dad asked as he pulled away.
I thought for a moment about telling him that everyone thought I was pretty, about the fingers that had crawled up my leg and about winning for best costume, but I didn’t. It was all too connected to the dress, a dress my father didn’t want me to wear. Everything good and everything bad about the night felt like my fault for being the “sissy” my own father thought I was.
I said, “I don’t like wearing dresses”, and a smile spread across his face"
|Zach Stafford in drag|