Especially in the beginning, when my child first started insisting she was a “girl with a penis,” people were constantly noticing her “boy behaviors” and pointing them out to me.
My dad told me he had consulted his best buddy, Gary. Gary and my dad have a ball doing guy stuff together. They spend Saturday mornings going to the dump and digging up stumps. Gary’s verdict, after watching my 4-year-old for a few minutes: “That kid’s all boy.”
If my child were a “real girl” (i.e., one with a vagina), she’d probably be called a “tom boy.” She’s really physically active, she likes to sword-fight with sticks (so did I, by the way, and no one ever accused me of being a boy), and she loves loud explosions and potty talk (you can listen to her “Poop Rap” by clicking here – I know I’m biased, but the kid’s got rhythm). On the other hand, she is extremely lukewarm on cars and trucks, consistently favors princesses over superheroes, has a collection of frilly gowns that is to die for, and wants to eat dinner every night off of her flower fairy tea set.
Adult transgender women are subjected to the same scrutiny. They report that people scan them constantly for clues that will expose their “true” maleness – being too assertive, wearing androgynous clothing, a few stray hairs on the upper lip. “Real women,” on the other hand, can get away with all sorts of unladylike behavior: I’m a cisgender woman (cisgender = not transgender – learn more here ), and no one ever questions my womanhood if I interrupt them or wear pants every single day (which I do) or get something waxed. If I act a little masculine, I’m probably respected for it; if a trans woman does, well, then she’s not really a woman, is she?
It’s like we expect them to present us with a 1950s or even Victorian version of womanhood: Obsessed with their appearance and feminine to the point of helplessness.
So what does this mean for my 5-year-old trans daughter? So far, it has meant that she insists on wearing dresses every. single. day. The child has not worn a pair of pants in two years. Even to go sledding (how Victorian is that?). I try to point out that all of the other girls in her preschool wear pants all the time. Mom wears pants all the time. It’s 2013! Girls can wear pants now! But she’s not buying it. She knows that people like Grandpa’s friend, Gary, are on the look-out for slip-ups like that. What if she wears pants one day and… An alarm sounds: Bring! Bring! Fake girl alert! That kid in the pants has got a penis! And then we take away her membership in the girl club. I think she’s actually afraid of that happening.
She’s no dummy. Although she probably couldn’t put it into words, she knows full well that there is a difference between how people view her versus the “real girls” with vaginas. She knows the standard is applied differently, and that unlike her cisgender gal pals at school, she’d better be girly enough or she might risk everything. So she’s not gonna take any chances with pants.
Last night, however, she wasn’t concerned about this. She was in full-on tom boy mode at bedtime, jumping off the head board of my bed, and landing in awesome ninja-style poses: Legs wide apart, arms shooting out to karate-chop off the heads of her enemies. “I’m Acrobat Girl!” she said. I asked if she was a ninja, because her moves struck me as impressively ninja-like. “No,” she said, “Only boys are ninjas. Check out this move. It’s called ‘The Pancake.’” She flew off the headboard and belly-flopped face-down on the bed, arms and legs starfished, completely flattened into the mattress. She looked up at me and said, “Actually, Acrobat Girl teaches the boys how to be ninjas. They want to learn her moves.”
I was impressed. My ninja girl was standing her ground – fully girl, but not fully feminine in the traditional sense. Maybe she’ll even wear pants someday. It would make sledding a lot easier.