Letting Life Lead
“I hope he doesn’t get called a girl too often…I can see why it would bother him.”
The text hit my gut. On my baby’s first day of Kindergarten, the last thing I expected to worry about was gender confusion by adults. It’s not that most people are being rude. Gender is a big priority because of the English language’s pronoun dichotomy. Once we know how to address a person, all the he and she, ma’am and sirs fall into place. Hey, I get mixed up, too. I try not to presume when someone’s gender is ambiguous. I wait for names, cues, and clues and avoid pronouns. I slip sometimes, true.
The problem is the reminder that in our current culture climate, being a girl is a pervasive insult. Even though in my younger years I was mistaken for a boy and my daughter has been in the past, it somehow is worse to be mistaken for a girl? There is still so much surprise under the social surface that my daughter is a natural at sports.
My confident girl was sad one day because she was wearing a baseball cap and someone said she looked like a boy. Why must people say such a thing if for nothing else but to shame someone? Is all there is to being a boy a baseball cap? Is girldom only defined by an affinity for sparkles and flowers? As I told a friend one day (when I was fed up when people would gasp in shock and awe that I wore a skirt from time to time and say that I finally looked like a girl), “The skirt didn’t come with the vagina.”
My son has gorgeous curly, corkscrew hair. The kind of locks women spend a fortune trying to replicate. This alone marks him as a girl even if he is dressed head to toe as stereotypical Little Boy Blue. Sometimes he wants to cut his hair not because he doesn’t like it, but because he’s annoyed with people. Even if we were to buzz cut his hair (which would leave him bald for the next three years) his fairer hair, sweet cheeks, and long lashes would still peg him as a girl in some eyes.
He looks like me. Based on my experience with being called a boy in my youth (partially fueled by my invisible eyebrows and lack of luscious lashes), it should make sense that there would be no confusion surrounding his appearance. No such luck.
There is no winning.
I shouldn’t have to worry about how his hair grows naturally or what people might say because he wanted his nails painted or if he puts on pink flip-flops or likes Wonder Woman. Why can’t he like those things? He can like glitter but not wear it? He can like female superheroes only if he doesn’t want to dress up like one? He can like cars but not ponies? Why was it okay for me to dress as Casper the Ghost and my daughter to channel Kylo Ren, but the idea of any boy wanting to dress as Leia detrimental to their identity?
For those whose sex doesn’t match their assigned gender, I can’t fathom the extra bull piled on top of the leaning tower of absurdity.
What can I tell my kids? I’ve covered, “Toys are for everyone; it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl,” “You can like whatever you like and it doesn’t matter what other people think,” and “People come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Some grow tall and some grow small.”
But, how do I address this Girl-As-Insult issue?
“The word tomboy is meaningless, you are an athletic person. You’re strong. I love your muscles, don’t you?” I’ll say to my daughter.
“I know it’s frustrating, but you know who you are. Correct them if you want to. Remember, girls and boys are both cool. Let’s think of all the girls we admire,” I’ll say to my son.
I can’t get the knot of anxiety to loosen. What t’s have I not crossed? Am I doing enough? Saying the right thing?
Instead of playing gender dodge ball, maybe I’ve had the answer all along.
“You look like me, kid. We have the same eyes! I got called a boy all the time; isn’t that silly?”
The simple truth. That’s a start.
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