There’s No Such Thing As “What a boy looks like,” Lessons From My 8-year-old On Gender Identity
“Can you always tell when someone is queer?” She hesitated, and nearly not finishing the question. We sat at a window seat for dinner overlooking the busy street. Provincetown on Memorial Day is what queer looks like, I wanted to reply, as we were surrounded by drag queens and rainbows and poodles in tutus. It was her first time there, and she was starting to understand. And along with that understanding, she was beginning to piece together the stereotypes that go with all of it, and the problematic erasure that comes along for the ride.
“Sometimes you can tell,” I cautiously began. But she interrupted, “Yeah, like with you. People always know you’re queer. That’s why they sometimes look at you like that.”
“Yeah, I’m visibly queer, that’s right.”
“Maybe they’re trying to tell if you’re a boy or a girl? And that’s funny because they’re always wrong.”
“Yeah, that is kind of funny.”
“Except when they’re mean.”
“Right. Except when they’re mean. We hate it when they’re mean.”
We went on to talk about femme invisibility, transphobia, and the gender binary over lobster rolls, as one does with their kid in Provincetown, I suppose. At least with this kid. She does a lot of talking.
She grew up knowing that trucks and dolls are for all kids. There’s no such thing as toys or colors for boys or girls. And even though I identify as nonbinary transgender and use they/them pronouns, my kid was the one who taught me to tear down the binary, and very much not the other way around.
Because there’s no real way to teach a kid what “queer looks like” without supporting all the stereotypes and perpetuating all kinds of invisibility, it never came up. She learned that people are people first, that all gender identity is up to individuals. She learned to never assume that anyone is a certain gender because of how they’re dressed. But as an adult, I often apply that No Assumptions rule only to the one with the beard wearing a dress, or the person on the bike with the short hair wearing a chest binder under their shirt. I forget that it also applies to the person in line at Whole Foods, wearing a long braid and a dress, while nursing their new baby in line. To my kid? No Assumptions always applies. Even if you’re a nursing parent with a toddler nearby calling you Mommy. She will still ask you your pronouns. And she’s right.
Because to her, there’s no standard masculine and feminine. Boys can (and should! dresses are great! because #RoozleStyle!) wear dresses or pants and just because they’re wearing a tie one day doesn’t mean they will shop from that section tomorrow. To my kid, everyone gets a lot of room for their gender identity. And not just that baby boy pushing his doll in the stroller. Big kids and grown ups and teenagers and teachers and parents all need that room, too. Now more than ever. And these kids are our leaders when it comes to seeing gender through a wider lens.
— Amazeorg (@amazeorg) June 3, 2017
So I try harder. I use they/them pronouns for everyone until I know the pronouns the person wants me to use. I don’t gender anyone until I get to know them and have a chance to ask how they want me to refer to them in conversations. And when I assume someone’s gender, I let my kid correct me. Because she’s right. This binary system often feels like a trap. If you don’t fit in it just right, you’re always on the outside. Not man enough. Not pretty enough. Not strong enough. Too effeminate. Too masculine. Never enough or too much. We don’t need more of that, especially not from each other. We need to give each other a lot more room.
*Identifying as nonbinary transgender means I don’t identify within the binary gender system, “male or female.” I identify as just a person, a partner, and a parent.
This post is sponsored by AMAZE where parents are empowered to start and continue hard conversations with their kids about sexuality, gender, consent, and all the good stuff. Follow AMAZE on Facebook for more of their videos and curated content about kid’s health and sexuality. All content and opinions expressed here are my own. And Roozle’s. She has a lot of opinions.