I still remember the first time my son Colin told me he wanted to wear the Elsa costume. I still remember the discomfort I felt.
I’d grown up in country Queensland in a highly traditional masculine way. I was the school rugby captain and wanted to play professionally. As a teenager, anything that wasn’t within that rigid definition of country masculinity – which is probably a bit more hardcore – would make me uncomfortable.
That conditioning was pretty strong, too. When my dad first visited me down here in Melbourne, he nudged me as we were sitting on a tram to point out a man who was wearing an earring. He was like, “Scott, will you check out that guy!”
My son, Colin, was about three years old when Frozen came out. He hadn’t even seen the movie, but he completely fell in love with Elsa. I don’t know what it was, probably just her ice magical powers and the fact that she’s shiny and awesome. And my wife and I were totally fine with that. But that first time Colin said he wanted to wear the Elsa dress, I was uncomfortable.
It would’ve been really easy in that moment to just say, “No, you’re not allowed to wear that” and move on and immediately shut down that entire part of Colin’s life. But I basically decided, look, I’m feeling discomfort about this but he doesn’t need to feel that. I grew up in shame and judgment, my son doesn’t have to as well – let’s just see what happens here for a day. If it all become too uncomfortable I can always say no later.
So I let Colin wear this Elsa dress and there was just this immediate transformation in him. He put it on and you could just see this level of joy explode from him that hadn’t been there before. He was just so happy. Seeing that as a dad you go, “Well what’s more important here? Is it my comfort levels or my son’s happiness?” I definitely chose the latter.
It’s been an imperfect journey, I’ve definitely had other times where I have felt discomfort along the way. There was the first time that Colin wanted to wear the dress walking down the street. Suddenly it was like we were letting the entire world in and inviting other people’s opinions and judgments. But again, I had to ask myself, “What’s more important – my discomfort or his happiness?” I always choose his happiness.
Sometimes we did get negativity and it often came from other parents . There was a moment where we were in New Zealand when Colin was wearing his Princess Anna dress and one of my friends came up to me and he said, “Oh, he’s wearing a dress? You shouldn’t be letting him.”
And I turned to him and just said, “Well mate, I am. Have you got a problem with that?”
The man just burst into tears. He said, “I just wish that I had been given that level of acceptance as a child.”
Around the time of the Frozen 2 premier, Colin was six. He really wanted to wear his Elsa dress to the cinema, but was afraid somebody might laugh at him, because by this stage he’d already gone through some negative experiences. I really wanted to support him. I wanted to do that because one of the things that we are always trying to teach Colin is that confidence means being true to yourself even in the face of discomfort or disapproval. We want Colin to always be himself.
So I went on Amazon and bought the biggest sized Elsa dress that I could find. Then my wife and I and Colin all dressed up as Elsa and went to the Melbourne IMAX. I wasn’t totally comfortable with it.
At the cinema, everybody was just so positive, from the people at the candy bar gushing over Colin to all the ticket holders. It was a beautifully positive experience – not without a couple of interesting moments – but it was absolutely fantastic. One guy came over and said, “Oh, man, that is just so cool I wish I had the guts to do that.”
But we do get negative responses too. I’ve had a death threat… It’s really interesting how threatening seeing a young boy living his true life can be to grown men. But if a man is threatened by a young boy wanting to dress up like a princess how insecure can you be about your own masculinity?
My mum actually had a lot of initial struggles with it. But she was coming from a place of love, worrying that Colin might get bullied or that it might confuse his gender. We had a massive falling out at one stage, but she’s now completely accepting. She even goes out and buys Colin new Elsa dresses.
The person I was most afraid to tell about Colin’s love of Elsa dresses was my dad. Because he’s a country boy who grew up on a sheep station and even thinks that men wearing earrings is something to talk about.
I remember walking into my dad’s house up in Queensland and Colin was wearing one of his Elsa dresses. I was terrified. I thought, “This is not going to end well.” We walked in there and my dad just looks over at Colin and says, “Oh, hey buddy, nice dress.” That’s all he’s ever said about it.”
Scott Stuart is the author of the children’s book, My Shadow Is Pink, about a young boy who gravitates towards princesses, fairies and “things traditionally not for boys”. Go to www.MyShadowisPink.com to buy the book and find out more
All images via Instagram: @scottcreates