We are parked before going into the Food Lion, my quick-witted fantastical child and I. I am trying to navigate the territory of self with my youngest, to support their exploration. I am explaining spectrums.
I hold up my two hands. “Say this one, the one on the left, is all the way feminine and the one on the right is all the way masculine. Where am I? All the way feminine, right?” My beautiful 9 year-old looks at me and giggles. Clearly not. A little finger touches the air nearly in the middle, but slightly to the left, between my two hands. I say, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I like to feel lady-pretty and exercise my femininity. My favorite little voice responds, “Maybe like years ago.” Sass Panda reigns supreme.
I had gotten an email about pronouns. An email that would be followed by a phone call from the fourth-grade teacher. I wanted to have an idea of what to say and to do that, I needed to get a sense of whether my gender identity paradigm needed to be re-evaluated.
Here’s the skinny on what I think. Gender exists on a spectrum and the variance of gender’s meaning and expression is unique to each human. There is no correct or incorrect way to experience or express gender. What I want is for people to bring their whole best selves, however they understand it, to the table. I especially want my child to feel supported and safe to do that.
Sometimes there’s a leap from pronouns to body parts. To me, this leap seems extreme but it is one I see made often in recent school board discussions and fear-mongering social media posts. There’s an assumption that because I advocate to embrace kids and families and treat people with respect I am pro-surgery.
So… would I support my child in surgical sex reassignment? No. Not at this point in my thinking.
This doesn’t imply that I think families who do this are wrong. I can see it both ways. My worry about my being where I am in my thinking is that if that is the eventual choice that my baby, as an adult makes, that I may be making that physical transition more difficult by delaying it. At my own parents insistence that I not “mutilate” my body as a child, I waited to my teens to pierce my ears, which never properly healed. It may be that my insistence on waiting could impede physical healing as the body ages and becomes less resilient.
The scales tip for me in favor of psychosocial development. I believe that adolescence is a journey in identity development and self-discovery. Maybe all those college human behavior and development courses misled me, but I tend to agree that adolescence is a time of trying on, and of casting off, roles to find what fits. I don’t think it’s necessary or healthy to commit to a particular identity at age nine. Maybe when you are nine you are passionate about the Baltimore Orioles, or yellow lemon-scented markers, and by age twenty-two you’ve completely moved on. I tend to think attachment to gender roles and sexuality is like attachment to colors and sports teams. As the brain changes throughout adolescence so too does one’s identity and that is okay, normal, and natural.
So that’s my framework, but I was willing for Max to pull out a screwdriver and disassemble it. I was open to the response of, “Your framework crushes my soul,” and I would need to re-evaluate. While I am driving Max makes two, seemingly discordant, statements.
1: “I am an awesome woman.”
2: “They, Them, It.” Those were the preferred pronouns.
We talk about both of those statements. It’s not either/or. She is an awesome little woman. They are also deserving of respect and the space to explore gender within a safe supportive environment. I agree to try to use the preferred pronouns and to tell our 4th grade teacher that my child can go by whatever pronouns they choose.
Duality and/or multiplicity can make brains achey. It can be a struggle for people to accept that two seemingly opposed concepts can both at once be true. Yet, of course they can. I am both feminine and masculine. I am both a lover of chess and checkers. Well, almost. More importantly, I am a mom to one rad kid who made it back from Food Lion and together made something delicious. For me, what’s important more than gender or definitions, is time shared and relationships nurtured. Those are my Mr. Sketch markers. They smell just like lemons.