Editor’s Note…I am thrilled to feature my first guest writer, Jacqueline Friedman Shepherd, a mom from Alaska who has captured brilliantly an all too common occurrence that I am sure many, if not all, parents like us can relate to. Her story is funny, poignant and full of the type of unconditional love and acceptance that I wish for all gender variant children. Enjoy!
It is always the same. I am in the grocery store and I run into Someone I Knew In High School. As we chat and catch up, my three children get antsy and begin to play tag or hide-and-seek or something else loud and inappropriate for the setting. After my third or fourth “friendly” warning, my voice gets low and I say something like, “If you don’t stop I will string the three of you up by your toenails and let those vampire kids from Twilight eat you for lunch.”
As my kids sulk beside me, Someone I Knew In High School says, “Oh, are these your boys?”
I say, “Yes, these are my kids,” and as I pat each one on the head I say their names, “Solomon, Lucille and Abraham.”
Someone I Knew In High School gets a bit flustered, realizing that they have made a drastic mistake in calling Lucille a boy. Then Someone leans forward, looks Lucy square in the face and says, “Oh, yes, I can see you are a girl. Of course you are! Look at those pretty eyes and that nice skin.” As Lucy shrinks down and draws her hands into the sleeves of her extra large shirt, Someone I Knew In High School stands up and laughingly says to me, “I had a cousin that was a tomboy. She dressed like a boy and played with the boys until she was fifteen. Then she suddenly blossomed and now she is the most beautiful, fashionable woman you’d ever meet. Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.”
My reply is always the same, too. I smile and shrug and change the subject.
But I want to answer with a litany of questions. Not defensive questions, just curious questions. Did your cousin wear boxers or briefs? Did she change her name to Ryan when she was three years old? When her mother began to potty train her, did your cousin hysterically scream, loud enough for the neighborhood to hear, “I’m not wiping! BOYS DON’T WIPE!”? When it came time to write a wish list for her fifth birthday did your cousin the tomboy ask for a flat screen TV, an English bulldog and a penis? At seven years old would your cousin have wet her pants in Barnes and Noble because her mom wouldn’t let her use the men’s bathroom? When your cousin was deciding whom to invite to her birthday party, was she torn about whether or not to invite her cousins because she didn’t want them to tell her friends that she was actually a girl? And the question I am most curious about: When your family doctor asked your cousin the tomboy if she was a boy or a girl, did your cousin stare back for a moment before saying, “I don’t know?”
My daughter is not a tomboy. She is not interested in playing army or being tough. She likes watching romantic comedies and she likes small dogs. She has friends that are girls and she plays Barbies with them. She also has friends that are boys who she wrestles and plays tag with. She isn’t into sports; she takes hip-hop dance lessons. She is incredibly picky about fashion and wants to look like one of the Disney boys from “Wizards of Waverly Place.” She has buzzed short hair with bangs that she gels straight up in the mornings. She goes skiing with her dad, but is a total momma’s boy. Honestly, my closest guess is that she is a gay man trapped in the body of a seven-year-old girl.
I cannot tell you what gender my seven year old will grow up to be. Some days I am absolutely sure that she is a boy and other days I am not sure what to think. It is hard to sort through what behaviors stem from who she is and what behaviors stem from how society treats boys and girls differently. She is definitely a strange child that doesn’t fit well into either box, but that is probably because she has the unique experience of living as both at the same time. At home she is surrounded by a large extended family that knows she is a girl and remembers her long blond pigtails. At school, everyone knows she is a girl, but no one has ever known her to look or act like one, so she gets treated more like a boy. Out in public, strangers tousle her hair and call her “buddy,” “little fella’” and “son.” I have to be honest, I really wish she could just stay exactly as she is right now because a person who navigates life based on what they like and not what society conditions them to like is a rare find.
Maybe someday when Someone I Knew In High School says, “My cousin was a tomboy. Don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it,” I will have the perfect concise response. It will convey that I am not worried about the way my daughter dresses. It might mention that she is really good at math and art and skiing. It will also convey that I have my own long hair to play with, so I wasn’t sad when my daughter decided she needed to look like Tintin. My response will have a witty element to it and include that we Jewish mothers don’t care if our child is a boy or a girl, or even if it has all of it’s fingers and toes, as long as it is born with a sense of humor. It will make it clear to Someone I Knew In High School that I love all of my children for who they are, not for biology and that I am hoping that they never “grow out of” their personalities. Most of all, my answer will convey to Lucy that I don’t care what Someone I Knew In High School thinks and that in every single way, she is the perfect child for me.
But until I find that perfect phrase, my answer will be, “Yes, these are my boys.”