My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass

By Dan Clendenin

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Julie Tarney, My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), 213pp.

It was very early on that Julie Tarney and her husband Ken knew that their Harry was a very girly boy. When he was only two, he stunned them with a zinger of a question: “How do you know I’m a boy?” After catching her breath, Julie responded, “That’s an interesting question, Harry, what made you think of it?” To which the toddler responded, “Well, inside my head I’m a girl.”

Then came the trips to the toy store, where Harry chose the Barbie dolls instead of trucks and soldiers, the wigs and dresses for his Halloween costumes, and smearing on lip stick. When he was three, a cousin asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, to which he responded, “a girl.” When he turned five, he wanted to dress like a girl to go to school. As the years rolled by, there were other dots to connect with stories from an uncle, the baby sitter, and a pre-school teacher.

At first Julie was “desperate” to believe that Harry’s extroverted femininity was “pretend play” that he would eventually outgrow. Aggravating this was what she describes as a very negative relationship with her own domineering mother. Could it be, in the now discredited view of things, that she herself, an admitted control freak and overprotective mother, along with an absentee father, was “causing” Harry to be gay?

To her great credit, Julie Tarney paid close attention, asked the hard questions, kept an open mind, and stayed very much in the game. A first grade teacher was a huge help, as was a school principal who suspended four boys for bullying Harry. Although she separated from her husband Ken, they were civil and jointly committed to Harry’s well-being and unconditional love. This inspiring story, unlike so many, ends well for mother and son alike, mainly because Julie did what every parent of any child needs to do — love our children for who they really are, rather than force them to become who we think they should be.

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