When E first started talking to me about stretching the boundaries of her gender, I spent a lot of time wondering. I wondered if she would be a gay woman. (Oh, please please please, make it be that she is “just” gay.) I wondered if she would live her life as a male. I wondered if she would be one of those stunning women who wear their hair short and slicked. They wear ties all the time and usually have a knowing smile and very bright eyes. I was comfortable with gender boxes, as most of us are, and I did a lot of wondering which box she would end up in. And I wanted her to hop right in that box and ease my anxiety over not knowing.
E lives in a middle place. She wears boys clothes. She gets invited to more boy birthday parties than girl. Her friends are mostly boys. She will not play on an all girls sports team. The one team she plays on is technically co-ed but every other kid on the team is a boy. She will not do the school musical because they separate by gender. Yet, she is not insisting that we use male pronouns. She is not asking us to call her by a male name. When I ask her about it, she says the same thing every time: I’m happy being me.
We keep a chart on the wall. It is a line with a G (for girl) on one end and a B on the other. There is an M in the middle. From time to time, I ask her to place a mark on the line for how she feels. She has never placed a mark between M and G. All her marks lie in the space between Middle and Boy. They consistently move toward Boy.
And still: I’m happy being me.
I am in awe of this. She, at nine, does not feel the need to get in a box. She is okay existing on that line, floating somewhere in between. Her comfort with this has started a shift in me. It is the slow rumbling of rocks breaking up, creating some space and air. I’m starting to get it. There is a middle place and it is okay.
Last year, in third grade, her teacher told me a story. The kids were all sitting on the rug together and she wanted them to line up, but not in one big chaotic stampede. So she said, “boys can line up first.” E raised her hand. “Is that me?”
I was torn up by this. That tender, tiny gentle question is also the biggest question in her world. And she put it out there, on the rug in her third grade classroom. Even today, this innocent courage brings tears for me.
I asked the teacher – was she nervous when asking this? Did the other kids react? And the answer was no. The other kids seem to accept this middle place for her. They may go home and ask their parents questions, but there was no smattering of giggles, no remarks. Just nonchalant acceptance.
The kids seem to understand that E is in her own space on the line. The other day, one of her best friends was eating over. He lives across the street from us and they have known each other since his mom and I were waddling around pregnant together. I fed them dinner and was tinkering around the kitchen, as quietly as I could so they would forget I was there. I love listening to them talk and today’s topic was their friends. They were making a list of who they wanted in their class for next year. E’s friend was picking some girls and some boys, trying to make it even. They were assuming that, yes, they wanted each other to be in their class. But this presented a problem for his balance. He looked at me: Is E a boy or a girl?
No judgment. No edge to the question. No naughty smile attached. He was just wondering, as I have been wondering every day for many days. There was no answer for him and that seemed to be okay too. The air was free of any tension as they moved right back into making their delicious list.
I glanced over at E, looking for a clue. How did that question feel for her? But at that moment, she was focused on the sharp lead of her pencil. The clean sheet of paper in front of her. Ready to write the list of her dream class, with no boxes.