It’s the hard knock life’kids who don’t fit neatly into society’s girl and boy boxes

Art by B.Love
The other day my five year old son whispered in my ear “I feel like a girl. “What does it feel like to feel like a girl? I asked. “Like the girls in my school, he said. “But how do they feel? I asked. “Different than boys, was all he could come up with. We’ve had this conversation before and I realize that I’m asking him to describe a feeling that is difficult to explain in words for anyone, never mind a five year old.

Most of us take for granted that we feel comfortable being the gender we were assigned at birth, the gender that is determined by our genetics, our hormones and our internal and external genitalia. But what does it mean to really feel like our gender?
“But I don’t act like a girl, he told me. It’s true. He acts in many ways like a typical boy. Sometimes he runs around blasting imaginary bad guys with a toy gun. Only difference is he might be wearing a dress at the time. The other day he asked me to do his nails and then showed us how he could shoot missiles out of the different colors.

I remember what one mom stated at a parenting workshop I was giving. Her son had been to a girl’s birthday party and received typical girl party favors he was quite pleased with and was running around the house in plastic jewelry and fancy sunglasses. “I don’t want to do anything to crush his spirit, she said.
What a beautiful idea- to let a child explore and grow. But in a culture that places a high value on maintaining our binary gender system, this is not a simple task for a parent of a child who is exhibiting gender nonconformity. Will your child be teased, made to feel like an outsider? Will your child be safe?
I volunteer in my son’s kindergarten class and I see how the funniest insult these five and six year olds have discovered is to accuse someone of looking like, sounding like, or acting like the opposite gender.

You sound like a girl! You look like a boy! Coming out of their little mouths, it does not sound malicious. It does not feel like an attempt at cruelty. Not yet. But as they get older, “you sound like a girl becomes “you sound like a faggot. And a girl acting like a boy can lead to her being outcast, isolated. The cruelty begins.

We watched the movie Annie last weekend. My son said he didn’t like it after it was over, but then the next morning he asked if we could watch it again, and again, and again. It’s become his latest obsession. At one point he asked me if he could pretend to be the littlest orphan in the movie, whose name we couldn’t remember. I said sure and we started to act out the scene where Annie is comforting her after a bad dream. After a few minutes, my son said he didn’t want me to be Annie. He wanted me to pretend to be a mom who adopts the little girl. “What’s your name, I asked. Just call me “she he said. “Okay, I role played¦ “I’m your new Mommy and I’m so happy to have you. Welcome to the family. My son was beaming.

At this point, my husband and I don’t know what path our child will take in his gender identity journey. His current interest in dressing like a girl occasionally and role playing he is a girl may be a phase or it may be a sign of things to come. Either way, we don’t want to do anything to crush his amazing strong and beautiful spirit.

Remi Newman

Remi Newman, MA, earned her master’s degree in sexuality education from NYU and has over ten years of experience creating and facilitating sexuality education workshops in both English and Spanish. As a new mom, she created “Having the talk before they can talk” a workshop for new and expectant parents to help them feel confident as the primary sexuality educators for their kids. Originally from the streets of Philadelphia, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, son, sister and one of her best friends. Find her online at Healthy Sex For Life.

You may also like...