I always sort of assumed that people were talking about me and my daughter (“Did you know that little M. is really a boy?”), but I’d never had any proof of this until yesterday. And now that I do, I wish I didn’t.
SCENE: Little Isabella’s fifth birthday party, held at one of those massive indoor gyms that cater to exhausted, well-off urban parents. The scene is dominated by a well-padded and brightly colored warren of trampolines, kid-sized hamster-tubes, slides, and inflatable sea animals. A handful of parents sit off to the side in uncomfortable metal chairs. Gendermom, looking tired, sits next to another mom. They appear to be making awkward conversation.
OTHER MOM: We miss you guys in preschool. So how’s it going for M. in kindergarten?
GENDERMOM: Great! We love her teacher. And the school is really friendly – and diverse.
OTHER MOM: [Hesitates] Ummm, so, you know, we found out about M. from our daughter. So did a bunch of other parents. All the kids, you know, they use that bathroom right off the classroom, and there’s no door, so they SEE everything…
GENDERMOM: [Smiling and nodding.] Right, right. And the kids aren’t self-conscious at all about their bodies at that age, are they?
OTHER MOM: Exactly! So that’s how Madeline knew and then she came home and told me and my husband. She kept saying, “M. has a penis!” But we didn’t believe her!
GENDERMOM: Oh. Because it’s a new experience…
OTHER MOM: Right! I mean, we were all talking about it when we went out for drinks – me and Cynthia and Lisa – because all the kids were saying this. None of us believed them. We didn’t know what to think until we talked to Carla.
GENDERMOM: So… you asked the teacher about it…?
OTHER MOM: Right! And she told us, yes, M. was… you know…
OTHER MOM: Right! And you know, we all talked – me and Cynthia and Lisa – and we ALL agreed that our only PROBLEM with it was that we hadn’t been TOLD and so we were calling our kids liars! When they were actually telling the truth! It felt really bad because we’d been accusing our kids of lying! If we had just KNOWN.
GENDERMOM: So…. it would have been helpful if they’d announced to all the parents at the beginning of the school year which kids had penises and which ones had vaginas? Would that have helped you and Cynthia and Lisa handle this?
[That is what gendermom wishes she had said. What she actually said was something closer to this:]
GENDERMOM: [Nodding supportively.] Right, right, because the transgender thing is new for you and it’s the first time you’ve encountered it.
OTHER MOM: Yes! It IS new! Wow. Totally! And so, like I said, if the school had just TOLD us or done a presentation or something, we wouldn’t have had to accuse our kids of lying. We’d have been PREPARED. We all felt that way, you know.
GENDERMOM: I see, yeah. OK. Oh, I think I hear M. calling for me – I’d better go check on her.
[gendermom walks into the play-area labyrinth, ducks behind a wall, sits on an inflatable dolphin, and begins to sob.]
My child doesn’t go to school with the children of OTHER MOM, Cynthia, and Lisa anymore. She just moved on to kindergarten. But she did go to school with them for the past year. And during that entire year, apparently, these mothers had been consulting, fretting, and conferring, about us: “So did YOUR son see M.’s penis too?” “Why weren’t we TOLD?” “We really should have been told!”
Every morning at drop-off, every evening at pick-up, every birthday party, every parents’ night, they had smiled and chatted with me, all year long, and never, ever – not even once – did any of them mention any of their concerns to me. The thought of this makes my skin crawl.
What were they so afraid of? Was my child’s situation really so unspeakably threatening that it warranted such attention and such secrecy? What in the world were they discussing anyway, over drinks? What do they see when they look at my daughter – and at me? Why do they feel they have a need (and a RIGHT) to know what my child has in her pants? And why is it MY job to explain to them (and make it OK for them, presumably) that people like my child exist?
Yes, it could have been worse. They could have completely rejected me and my daughter. But I still sobbed so hard at that birthday party that I scared a lot of little children. And I still feel sick to my stomach.