A Man In A Dress

Can you imagine an article of clothing being the reason your career is in jeopardy? How about a claim that you’re a bad influence on children for contradicting gendered stereotypes of clothing? “Sesame Street” and one of their guests on an episode soon-to-be aired, Billy Porter, might.

While “Sesame Street” won’t likely be discontinued for showing a man in a dress, it’s undeniable that they’ve got backlash and will lose viewers for it. Billy Porter, who wore a stunning gown to the Oscars in 2019 will be featured on the children's show in that gown. That’s right, children will be exposed to breaking fashion and gender norms! Now, in the past we’ve seen Jaden Smith in skirts and Scotts in cultural kilts, but this piece is undeniably a gown which draws more attention and more controversy. We should give major props to “Sesame Street” for being leaders and showing that clothes don’t belong to a gender. They’re proving that these ideas are alright, good even, considering they are an educational channel, to show children. But remember that for doing this, they’re considered brave, or on the opposite side, they’re thought to be doing something wrong. Do you know why? Let’s discuss.

Ellen DeGeneres has become a household name. Whether it be her television show comedy or acts of generosity seen there, she’s got one of the most recognizable names. Despite this fame and ability to reach high ratings with guests such as music stars or Michelle Obama, Ellen doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy beginning to her success story. Her first show, a sitcom called “Ellen,” was taken off the air after both the character and Ellen herself came out. The show was canceled officially because of low traffic. But from companies pulling their ads, accusations of Ellen being “too gay” from the media and ABC putting an adult content warning before every episode after the character and Ellen came out, we can gather people were uncomfortable with her sexuality. It could be argued that Ellen focused her shows (her stand up and sitcom) around someone queer and that’s why they failed. So, “Sesame Street” doing one episode doesn’t run that same risk, but that’s just it. Ellen’s shows were like any other and the main character or host’s sexuality was only one part of them, second to the comedy theme. Billy’s choice to wear a gown shouldn’t impact the show’s success, seeing as they’re not centering the episode aroundt it, but what the viewers choose to focus on and how they perceive characters cause an effect no matter the show’s intent.

Let’s be clear, the dress doesn’t indicate Billy’s sexuality or gender identity, but by breaking norms, it proposes a similar risk. Anyone is taking a risk when they openly display something their audience doesn’t want to see. As the guest and subject, you may lose respect and leave yourself vulnerable to prejudice. But taking the risk reflects on those who support you too. In this case, it’s “Sesame Street” supporting Billy Porter. While it’s not likely that “Sesame Street” will be taken off the air, Ellen provides proof from the past that it could happen. They know what they’re up against. Times are a changin’, yes, and there are shows like “Steven Universe” and “Adventure Time” now which have LGBT+ characters and weren’t canceled for them. The thing is, while one might argue those are shows for kids, realistically their audiences include ages 11-22, meaning “Sesame Street” is one of few shows truly for children ages 10 and under that will be breaking norms. They are taking this risk.

All in all, it’s becoming more common for gender and fashion norms to be broken and it’s important for children to see it happen. Shows like “Daniel Tiger” and “Julie’s Greenroom” encourage boys to be sensitive and pursue music, but I’ve yet to find a show where a boy wears a dress. So, “Sesame Street” will make a bold move that I for one am excited to see.