This morning found me surfing the Internet. I have a gift card and Eliza needs a coat. We exhausted our local options, from box stores to second hand ones, as she turned up her nose at one coat after another. The green one was too girly, the blue one was too puffy, the red one, “Well, I don’t really like red,” she said. If only it was as simple as color. Or if this little exercise was actually about a coat.
Last year, Eliza wore T-shirts and basketballin’ shorts all year. She wanted a Mohawk. She had no real interest in playing with the girls most of the time and she toyed with changing her name. This year, something has shifted. She wears skinny jeans and T-shirts. She’s stopped asking to cut her hair (we made several appointments to get her hair cut short—no Mohawk but short, and she asked to cancel them). She’s taken to sleeping with a stuffed horse and wears pink slippers around the house.
“You know I would never wear those to school,” she said.
“I know,” I said.
Recently we went to the hot springs and she needed to go to the bathroom. While in the stall she realized she had on girl underwear.
“Oh, mama,” she said. “I forgot to change back into boy underwear. Do you think anyone will see?”
“No baby, no one will see,” I said. “It’s okay.”
Gender is a spectrum and Eliza is on it. She is experimenting with traditional girl things, trying them on, seeing how they feel. She’s still got one foot in both worlds and I stand there with her feeling as though there's a vast chasm beneath us that divides gender into two distinct camps and wishing it wasn’t true.
When asked, Eliza told her teacher that she believes she is different because she wears boy clothes. The exercise was to point out that everyone is different in their own special way but it made my heart ache a little to know that Eliza has awakened to the fact that others see her as different. There was a time when she didn’t seem to know or care. A blissful time of camo cargo pants and calling herself Gerald.
As I watch her move along and back on the gender continuum, I think about how we define our children and so early. Hello Kitty and Power Rangers. In a culture that seems to rely on compartmentalizing people—republican, democrat; rich, poor; boy, girl—my little girl gets caught in a black and white world when she’s nothing if not shades of gray.
I ran into another mom last week in a box store as we had embarked on what I’m now calling the great coat search. This mom was looking for ear muffs—plain ear muffs. She couldn’t find any. There were hot pink ones with Monster High skulls on them; there were
Spiderman ones but nothing in between.
“They should have a section right here in the middle,” she said. “A gender neutral section.”
Yes, yes they should, I thought. And not just in this store because that place in the middle—that place that isn’t in limbo, that isn’t indecision, that place that is simply between—that’s where my daughter lives.