Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Boy/girl Meets Girl/Boy Revisted and Updated

My seven-year-old daughter, Sydney, sports a Mohawk. Syd has a style all of her own. Some days Syd will prance around in a long, velvety dress with her nails painted and sparkles on her face. Other days, most days, Syd is all about the football jersey, “boy’s” wind pants and rubber boots. Actually even on her dress days she refuses to wear underwear, instead choosing baggy cargo shorts under her frilly dress. Black, high-top Chuck Taylors are her shoes of choice when she is dressing up. She is becoming very used to being called a boy.

On Syd’s first day of music class I introduced her as “my daughter, Sydney” being very clear that she was a daughter and not a son. The music teacher looked at Syd and made a comment referring to Syd as “he.” So yes, even in 2004 people cannot get past the idea that if a child standing in front of them sports a mohawk and “boy’s” clothes then they must be a boy…even if they are told directly that this child is a girl. It is an insidious visual disease that many, many suffer from. Even when this child is introduced very plainly as a girl people cannot overcome their stereotypes and their sexism. When I corrected the teacher she immediately got apologetic and then defensive. She apologized to Syd as if being a boy were a terrible thing and then said, “But look at you, girl. How was I supposed to know? I mean have you looked in the mirror?” An adult said this to a seven-year-old child. The next time we went to music (Sydney made the choice to stay in the class) Syd wore her “raggedy androgynous” shirt with the picture of the boy/girl raggedy Ann/Andy character on the front. I am pretty sure that the teacher did not know what androgynous meant.

Later that same day I went to get my hair cut. The woman who has cut my hair for years glanced over at Syd and said, “Who is that cute little dude?” I told her it was Syd. Instead of apologizing or shaming she did exactly what every adult should do. She said, “Oh my god, look at your hair! It is fantastic! I love it! I didn’t even recognize you.” And that was that. Syd didn’t even care that she had been called a boy, she was beaming that an adult had validated her and supported her in being herself. This woman did not apologize because there was nothing to apologize for. Being called a boy when you are a girl is not a bad thing and being called a girl when you are a boy is not a bad thing…unless you are taught that it is.

Sydney’s very best friend is a seven-year-old boy named Jesse. Jess also sports a mohawk. Jess adores make-up, nail polish, flowered shirts and wearing a bra. Jesse prefers to stuff his bra with socks. Jesse adores Hello Kitty. He asked his mom if Hello Kitty was a boy or a girl. His mom said, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Jesse replied, “I don’t care, I just love Hello Kitty.” Jesse has asked if he could change into a girl when he grew up. When his sister told him that, yes he could, he decided against it. He was afraid that if he changed into a girl he would not be able to change back into a boy if he wanted and he really had no issue with being a boy. He just likes “girl” thing too. That is how it should be…in a perfect world. Sadly it is not a perfect world.

Jesse and Sydney are accepted for who they are at home, but even homeschooled kids are not safe from the homophobic, transphobic, sexist nature of our society. Jesse’s mom has to worry about Jess going out in public in his make-up and flowery kitty shirt. She knows that the reality is that the other kids will ridicule him. She knows that he will be called “gay” and even though he knows that to be gay is okay it still takes a toll on a kid. Kids want to be accepted. At seven being accepted is all that matters.

Syd gets tired of being called a boy over and over. One day a kid in our neighborhood stopped her and said, “Dude, why are you wearing a dress?” Syd was all “girl” that day with the exception of her hair, but her hair was all that this kid could see. In his world girls just DO NOT have mohawks, shaved heads or even radically short hair. Syd rushed home crying in frustration. “Mom, I just wished I could punch him and then make him wear my dress. Maybe then he might figure out that HE likes wearing a dress.” Go Syd.

I remember when my son, Jason, was about eight or nine and his favorite color was purple. He was all about the purple and went out of his way to wear all things purple. That is until the day the neighborhood kids told him that only girls and gays wore purple. They then started making homophobic slurs directed at him. Jason knew this was wrong. He had been raised in an anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist household, but still it stung. He loved purple, but being harassed every day by the neighborhood kids was just too much. He stopped wearing purple.

I am eternally thankful that Syd has Jess and that Jess has Syd. Syd thinks nothing of doing Jesse’s make-up and Jess thinks nothing of passing down his very “boy” wind pants to Syd. They play cops and robbers, tinker toys, dress up and they build elaborate forts in the living room. They make potions and do each other’s nails. They are girl and they are boy. They are whole...

I hope that they can stay this way forever. I know that the odds are drastically stacked against them. Even without attending school they still have to go out in the world and face a society that is awash in homophobia and sexism. They are only seven. It breaks my heart that they can’t just be who and what they are. It breaks my heart that when Syd and Jess go outside in all of their gender fluid glory Jesse’s mom and I whisper our fears to each other…Will they be teased today? Will they be harassed? Will today be the day that they realize that to be a boy or a girl in our society means that they must follow very rigid rules if they are to be accepted. Will today be the day they conform?

Four days after writing this Syd decided to grow her hair out.

It is now almost 3 years later. Jess is 10 and Syd is 9. They are still dear friends and so much has changed and not changed. Jess wears his hair short, but with long bangs. Apparently this is a tradionally “girl” haircut because, although Jess dresses like a little punk, he is still regularly called a girl. Syd has grown her hair out really long. It is curly, wild and unkempt. She wears tattered “boy” cargos, baggy t-shirts and “boy” skate shoes. She is regularly called a boy…even with the very long hair. When Jesse is called a girl he usually gives the adult a blank stare and then goes about his business unphased. When Syd is called a boy the same thing happens. I asked Syd if it bothered her that she was called a boy. She replied, “No, why would it? I feel more like a boy than a girl and besides those people are just assholes.” Watch your mouth Syd.

I should note here that Syd swears like a bad sailor and Jess will not utter a swear word even when offered cold, hard cash. His sister has tried.

Jesse likes his hair the way it is and Syd likes her clothes as they are. If people want to confuse their genders that is not something that Jess or Syd need to bother themselves with. It is not their problem. Syd has decided to get another mohawk. This time she wants a long, floppy one. I reminded her that she might get made fun of or teased. It killed me to have to have this talk with her, but reality is reality and I don’t want to throw my kids to the wolves unprepared. She said she knew this and didn’t care. She thought floppy mohawks were cool and she wanted one. Case closed.

A few weeks ago Jess spent a couple of nights here. I went to work and left them in the charge of 17-year-old Hailey who mostly ignores them. Apparently while I was at work Sydney gave Jesse a make-over complete with nail polish, mascara and a skirt. Jess wore the skirt for a good long time that day. I asked Syd if she let Jess give her a make-over. “NO! I do NOT wear make-up. Gawd mom!” Of course, sorry.

Jesse’s very favorite movie is Rent. He has even seen the live theatrical version. He knows all the songs and likes to perform them. We hadn’t seen it so when I saw it on sale for $5 I bought it. I brought it home and told Syd that I had it. She asked about it and I told her it was Jesse’s favorite movie and that it was a musical. She was aghast. A musical? No way. That was fine for Jesse, but she was not going to be caught dead watching a musical. Geez mom.

We joke that Syd will grow up to be the tough dyke on her bike roaring down the street with Jesse riding on the back singing.

The kids know that I am a lesbian. They know that both of their older sisters and Jesse’s mom are queer. It is just how it is. It is no deep, dark secret. Their world is made up of straight, gay, lesbian, queer and trans friends and acquaintances. They have been raised to know that people are people and if allowed to be free there are really no rules. People should be allowed to define their gender and their sexuality any way they want and even change it should the urge hit.

I find it funny how some people believe they are raising children in a non-gender constructive way because they buy their little boy a doll and their little girl a truck and they might have a gay uncle that lives in Vermont. They may have bought their boy a boy doll complete with a little blue outfit and they may have bought their daughter a pink truck and they talk about Uncle Jake and his “special friend” and to them this is being hip and enlightened. They get all excited when their boy nurtures a doll or their girl plays construction. They don’t get it. Buying your boy a doll or dressing your girl in blue does not make one damn bit of difference in the long run. Having a gay uncle in a faraway state that you talk about like he is special and exciting is not teaching your kids that people are people. It only makes the parents appear to be good card carrying liberals. Oh yeah, and they voted democrat. In reality, holding onto those beliefs makes those parents just as sexist and homophobic as the parent who dresses their baby boy in blue and buys him a football and dresses their daughter in pink frills and puts her in dance class. To reduce sexuality or gender to colors or toys or dress styles or haircuts is absurd. To act like having a gay uncle is exciting is othering that uncle and making him different and that is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. Uncle Jake is not Uncle Jake. Uncle Jake is GAY Uncle Jake. He is defined by his sexuality. He is his sexuality. He is GAY! He is not like us, but we love him anyway. Yeah.

As some of you know I have a grandbaby now. His name is Felix and he and Hailey live with me. Felix loves his make-up brush, hairbrush and mirror. He owns pink clothes and polka dot pants with ruffles. He is not being made into a little man and owns not one shirt with a football or a race car on it, but none of this makes Hailey a nongender constructive parent. No. Felix has “boy” toys and “girl” toys. He has “boy” clothes and “girl” clothes. Hailey makes no big deal about any of it. If Felix is zooming the truck around the house he is just a baby zooming a truck around the house. He is not a “tough little man.” He is not “all boy.” When he plays with his mirror and brush set he is not “a sweet, little boy.” He is not a “mama’s boy”. He isn’t given any special attention for breaking those strict and completely ridiculous gender laws that mainstream society holds to so tightly. He is just a baby playing with his mirror. He is just a baby rolling the ball across the floor. He is just Felix. His gender is fluid as it should be. His sexuality is yet to be defined. And, believe it or not, that is how it is when children are left to just be themselves.

Syd and Jess are still perfect.

1 comment:

katie said...

I love your family.