It was 1983. I liked red. Ah-yeh visited from Hong Kong and brought a red bicycle with him, for me. I couldn’t ride it without training wheels but I loved it. I had seen a movie with a zombie alien flying a bicycle in front of the moon and was certain if I pedalled fast enough I too could fly in front of the moon. I asked my mother how the alien did it and she told me that the bicycle had a special button for flight. I couldn’t find that button on my bicycle. I still looked for it though. While cycling. Perhaps it appeared when in motion, after a certain threshold speed… I never found it.
My favourite item of clothing in 1983 was a red taffeta dress, that I would wear along with my favourite underwear. Sometimes Mum would indulge me and fashion a scarf to match. Life was glorious. Then one day I couldn’t find my red dress. It was gone. Mum said it was time I didn’t wear it any more. Nobody asked my opinion. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Why was it gone? It was too old. No it wasn’t. It was in good condition. It wasn’t broken. I either overheard or was told the real reason: Boys don’t wear dresses. You’ll get teased if you wear it. I felt sad. How could I play with my Lego if I didn’t have my red dress to put on first? My routine was disrupted. Dress. Pretend hair clip. Lego. Square green base. Wall. House.
Thirty-two years later Target has finally removed gender-based signage it toy aisles and it’s got people talking. At age 4 I didn’t particularly care whether other people thought my red dress was a girl’s or a boy’s item of clothing. It was mine, and I loved it (who in the 1980s didn’t love taffeta!?). It matched my bicycle! I haven’t grown up to become an action transvestite or transgendered person, but even if I had, what is so insulting and wrong about being a woman? The irony of telling a 4-year-old boy to avoid being mistaken for a girl is that he starts to consider being female as inferior. Because that’s all it’s about, isn’t it?
I adapted. What I wanted didn’t change but how I behaved did. I learned to become aware of what was sociably acceptable and expected and conceal what was not. Taking my red dress from me didn’t stop me wanting it. It was red. If Frozen was released the same decade as E.T. I would’ve understood what Indina Menzel was singing about. And I would’ve just pretended that I wore an imaginary red ice dress while frozen red fractals burst from my not-actually-flying-but-in-my-imagination-flying red bicycle.
Thank you, Target.