Four-year-old Harry walked out the front door barefoot, wearing a pink chambray skirt paired with a signature tie-dye t-shirt. “Can you fix this, Momma?” he asked, handing me a decapitated Barbie doll.
It was summer 1994. I was sitting on the porch of our home on Milwaukee’s East Side with my brother John, who was visiting from San Diego, and our older cousin Sam who’d stopped by for a Sunday chat.
“I’m not sure. Let me see.”
I gently twisted the soft rubber head back onto its body. Barbie’s neck looked shorter now, but at least she was whole again. “Be careful, honey. It’s back on, but not completely fixed.”
“Okay,” Harry said, slowly examining Barbie’s wobbly head and new neck. Then he smoothed her blond hair and skipped his way back inside.
Sam chomped on his pipe. John scratched his head. “Yep, that’s my nephew.”
My brother, who had taught Harry how to shave with a plastic razor, didn’t understand a boy’s fascination with Barbies or dress up.
“What can I say?” I asked. “My son wears a skirt. Maybe I’ll write a book about it.”
“Oh, yes, that’s a wonderful idea,” Sam said, engulfing the three of us in a thick billow of smoke and sarcasm. “Harry will be sure to thank you for that when he’s older.”
My brother laughed. Sam couldn’t keep a straight face either. I smiled too, and felt the apples of my cheeks ripen. I wasn’t serious about writing a book. It was a quip in support of Harry, but also in defense of me as his mom. I dismissed the idea as quickly as it had popped into my head. Fourteen years passed before writing a book about Harry again appeared on my radar.
My friends Mike and Hector were over for dinner at the beginning of 2009. There was a “For Sale” sign in front of my house. And the two of them were talking about a move to Chicago, where Hector commuted as an associate professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Harry was away at college for the first time.
I told about them about The Harry Chronicles, the homemade book I’d given Harry on his eighteenth birthday. And I confessed some of the private stories I’d left out. The ones I hadn’t shared yet with Harry, like the time he was two and asked me how I knew he was a boy.
“Maybe you need to write a real book,” Hector told me.
Are you kidding? Expose my fears and anxieties of parenting a boy who grew up wearing heels?
“But I made so many mistakes!”
“I think sharing your vulnerabilities could help a lot of parents of LGBT youth. And your stories are endearing.”
I looked at Mike. He nodded agreement. I gulped.
The three of us met up in Chicago for my birthday at the end of December, nearly five years after the inception dinner for my book-in-progress. We toasted the upcoming publication of Hector’s psychotherapy text, Building a Better Man. There were cheers for the success of Mike’s new business. And I thanked them for encouraging me to write My Son Wears Heels.
My brother, who still lives in San Diego, now attempts to understand drag. My cousin Sam in Milwaukee “Likes” the posts on the My Son Wears Heels Facebook page. And while Harry gave me permission to write my book, he has yet to read one word of the manuscript. He does, however, have a long blond wig decorated with Barbie heads.