“I want to be a normal girl,” M. says.
We’re driving home from a long day of kindergarten and afterschool daycare for her, work for me. Stuck in traffic. It’s already getting dark. I adjust the rear-view mirror but there isn’t enough light to make out the expression on her face.
“What do you mean?” I say, trying to sound curious but calm. “I think you ARE a normal girl.”
“I mean long hair. And a vagina.”
I remind her that girls can have penises, too, and that we know quite a few other girls who do. “And Grandma and Aunt M. both have short hair, and they’re both girls. Aren’t they normal?”
“Yeah, but it’s less normal. MOST girls have a vagina and long hair. That’s more normal.”
“Huh,” I say, in my most respectful, “that’s an interesting point” tone of voice. Five year olds have a lot of theories about the world. Most of them, I am finding, are pretty spot-on. In the society we inhabit, it is indeed considered far more “normal” for a girl to have a vagina than a penis. M. knows this; she’s no fool.
“Well,” I say, “You can have the vagina and the long hair if that’s what you want. It’s your decision.”
We drive the rest of the way home in silence.
At bedtime that night, it is time for another five-year-old specialty: Questions I can’t answer.
“Mama, why are there separate bathrooms for girls and for boys?”
M. just started kindergarten a few weeks ago. And, like every other elementary school, they have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. Her preschool didn’t. She’s taken note of the change.
“That’s a really good question.” I’m stalling. I’m stumped. This is far worse than “Why is the sky blue?” (Another question I can’t answer, but at least THAT one I can look up on my iPhone.)
If everything I’ve taught my child is true – that girls can have penises and boys can have vaginas, that everyone gets to decide what gender they are, what they want to wear, what pronouns they want to use, what toys they want to play with, and that this whole “gender thing” is one big, beautiful, messy muddle – then the idea of two separate bathrooms makes no sense at all.
“I don’t know why they have separate bathrooms, honey. It’s pretty silly, isn’t it?”
“And Mama, what about people who are both – part boy and part girl, like T?” (Our friend T. is genderqueer, identifying as neither male nor female.) “What bathroom would T. use?”
“I’m not sure.”
M. is quiet, biting her lip and thinking it over. We snuggle up in bed and ponder the strangeness of the world in silence.
Later, I sit down with Kate Bornstein’s book, Gender Outlaw, and come across the best answer I can imagine to M.’s questions:
It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white.