To skirt, or not to skirt… That is (today’s) question.
As the flutter of little ballerinas swarmed the waiting area a few days ago my daughter briskly shoved a note in my hand then floated back to her friends who are always more focused on their arabesque or plie than their parents asking for them to put on their street shoes and skedaddle. The day seemed like any other. Don’t forget the case for her shoes. Did we bring a jacket? The usual.
Once we got home the kids hopped on their bikes and scurried out of the garage, eager to play with their friends in our close little neighborhood. My social butterflies, I love it. It wasn’t until I looked down at the reminder from the ballet studio that I realized that our typical day going to ballet would most likely be our last of its kind. Things were about to come to a screeching halt.
“No skirts allowed” leapt off the page and slapped me across the face. How would this ever work for us? My daughter is absolutely glued to that sheer ballet skirt for obvious reasons. My mind went full throttle for a moment imagining her ostracized from her beloved group either by taking off or leaving on the skirt. Imagining her pain when she learns that she would no longer enjoy the class as effortlessly as we have in the past. Imagining the confrontation I must have with the studio who knows nothing about my daughter’s gender diversity. The thoughts kept popping up like unwanted ads on your favorite website and then I simply took a deep breath aaaaaannnnndddd I slowed myself down enough to ask what is happening here?
Mid-way through a session and they choose to come up with a new rule about uniforms now? That seems odd, especially when they’ve allowed kids of all ages to wear pretty much whatever style of ballet outfit. My daughter’s outfit came from the most expensive ballet specialty store in the city so we felt that we were right in line with the expectations of any studio, seeing as though the folks at the Joffrey shopped there as well. Why the big change all of a sudden?
Immediately my mind zoned in on one particular mom who has a daughter in Hope’s ballet class. I think she’s aware of my daughter living stealth. I can’t be sure, but her actions speak volumes. One day we were having play dates (even though the kids went to separate schools after Kindergarten ended) and being very friendly chatting while the kids were in class and the next week she could not bring herself to look at me. She abruptly shunned my greetings and whisked her daughter away from my child as Hope said hello. She seems visibly spooked in my presence and Hope’s dad agreed that this mom went from very warm to freezing cold overnight. This was about five months ago.
One of the moms from Kindergarten class was aware of Hope’s gender identity, and as it seems she probably told people after we left the school. Coincidentally the informant is the mother of the child who tormented and bullied Hope for a solid year and when I complained to the school the mother threatened to out my daughter to whole school. Nice.
Still, when the ballet mom started avoiding us like the plague I didn’t get crazy or pull Hope out of the class. I just observed and remained open for anyone to say anything to me. Then about three weeks ago this mom, huddled together with Hope’s ballet teacher, jumped sky-high covering her mouth when she saw me walk down the back hall. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the international signal for “I was just talking about you!” Their conversation ended as I approached. They both stared at me as if I was carrying several dismembered human heads with me and began to whisper when the restroom door slowly closed behind me. Even then I thought, “If anyone wants to say something to me they are welcome to,” and I went about my merry way like normal.
Then the note. Is it a coincidence that the studio wants to rip all the skirts off little girls when this has never been their policy? Are they suddenly taking “the uniform very seriously? Why? Are we prepping girls for Juilliard here? Not even close. Still, it’s possible, right? Probable, no. So I did a little research about what other ballet teachers and studios expect. All of them agree they want to see the lines of the body so they require sheer skirts if any.
Okay, sheer skirts are completely doable in the ballet world, yet the studio is demanding no skirts whatsoever. Why? As I wait for the owner to return my call my mind wanders… Is this a thoughtless decree to make their studio look more “serious” in the dance community? Is this in response to teachers saying that kids are wearing pretty much any old thing to class and it’s distracting from the work they are doing? Or is this the quick fix so they don’t have to listen to angry, fearful parents complaining about having a transgender child in their midst? If they require all kids to come in a leotard alone (exposing what everyone is so focused on – genitals) gender diverse kids would never feel comfortable and therefore, not come to class. Problem solved for them.
So what is the reality? Will I ever truly know the answer even if I’m given one?
What I do know is that we aren’t going down without a fight. We’re not going into hiding because of this. At first it will be friendly fact-finding mission, of course. I’ll ask about their policy, see if they will amend their rules to include a sheer skirt for body sensitive children like mine. I’ll go the high road, for sure.
Perhaps they will tell me a reason for the rule that I’ve never thought of. Okay, I’m open to that. Just maybe they’ll confess that this mother complained and they need to “handle” it in some way. In that case I can use the opportunity to educate and hopefully we’ll come to a common ground where all parties are better for it. These kids deserve to go to class just like everyone else. Let’s make that happen.
Whatever happens, an answer or a smokescreen, I will speak my truth, stand up for my child’s right to participate and still feel comfortable in the class and hopefully plant a seed of awareness.
On the flip side, this is another chance for Hope to learn how to handle challenges around her gender diversity that will come up now and again in her life. Clothes, particularly uniforms, kids and even sometimes even parents will be a problem. Life includes some modifications for all of us, and that’s okay. At least she sees her parents protecting her, standing up for what they believe in and working to create change for everyone’s sake.
It’s a life lesson for me, too. At first I slipped into my old reactive pattern of panic, and then I realized what I was doing and changed my mind. This situation is what I make it, what I bring to it. This journey can be about truth or it can be about fear. Only I make that choice.