“I want to be a normal girl.”

“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.”

“I know.”

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.

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22 thoughts on ““I want to be a normal girl.”

  1. It’s appalling that society is structured in such black and white-ness. We are all wonderfully different and I think the Men’s and Women’s toilets is a great example of how how ‘society’ has to box things into categories.

    • I don’t get this bewilderment. Penises are a threat to vaginas. Penises rape vaginas every minute throughout every day seven days a week. A vagina doesn’t know whether or not the penis coming into the vagina bathroom is a rapist. MtFs with penises are not automatically safe for vaginas. Recent news proves that. There is no mystery here. How about truth telling? When penises come into a vagina bathroom vaginas are threatened. No one should want them to feel that way. In addition, penises and vaginas deserve privacy from each other.

      • I hope this is just a joke. Penises don’t rape anything. People rape other people. Vaginas are not threatened. People sometimes feel threatened. A vagina is a body part. It has no feelings. Any person, even one with a vagina, can be a threat to a person with a vagina. People with vaginas are just as much able to hurt other people as anyone else, especially at the age of 6. You should consider what a transgender child has to go through. The real threat is that such children will be made to feel terrible by other kids and people like you – and may then go on to harm themselves, perhaps fatally. Do you want that on your conscience? Think before you say such cruel stuff.

      • No joke, everyday reality for women, the largest group of people on the planet whose issues are not taken seriously. Just like you didn’t in your reply.

  2. I think the honesty you share with your daughter is wonderful and will help her grow in to a strong ,confident woman, with whatever length of hair she eventually chooses.
    I used to work in a social work department when my girls were little. I was divorced and often worried if I was handling things in the right way for them. One of the senior social workers gave me this advice, ” never lie to your children” she said if they ever caught you lying whether for embarrassment or just because you were too rushed to spend the time, then they would never trust you again. If they are asking then they have a right to know the answer.I have always followed that philosophy despite many of my friends telling me I was giving them too much information. If they asked, I honestly answered. They have turned out fine. You are having to answer more thought provoking questions but perhaps ones we all need to seriously consider the answer to. Thank you for sharing this story and making me think.

  3. Children are extremely observant and naturally curious. That you give honest answers (“I don’t know”) is actually great. There aren’t any really good answers to those questions. Thank you.

    -Connie

  4. T probably uses whichever bathroom feels safer – it’s what I do. But I don’t know a good way of having that be a satisfying answer for M. It brings up a lot of stuff that it seems like you’ve been doing a great job of protecting her from so far. ❤

  5. Wow.
    I don’t know how I’d answer. It sucks.
    It really is silly – in preschool, kids go pee in front of each other, and its no big deal. But then you’re 5, and you’re too old and all of a sudden things are separated. The preschool I worked in had a single-toilet bathroom, and it was a school rule to leave the door open (so they could have help, and for safety).
    I hate all this gender separation and strict rules. Ugh. Can we establish a society on Mars or something?

  6. This entry completely grabbed my heart. M. hit the nail on the head–why are there separate bathrooms? I have been reading for a while, not sure how I got here (maybe Raising My Rainbow?), and I love your writing. As a Women’s Studies scholar I especially appreciate the nuanced way you discuss gender and the challenges of raising a daughter. I shared this post on my facebook and it has been resonating with a lot of my friends, and is being shared around. Also, thanks for the Bornstein quote, beautiful.

  7. I think there are very few of us who feel truly “normal” our entire lives – whether it’s because of our gender, our race, ethnicity, language, dis/abilities, weight, even stature or hair color (think redheads!) or wearing glasses gets you pegged as “not normal” at one point or another.

    Normal depends on context, not normal is when you’re statistically not like the others, which given all the variation, is highly likely to happen!

  8. I have a question about support groups, which might sound strange but is coming from the heart, I assure you.

    My son is four, and he doesn’t seem to have any questions about his gender. But, I don’t want the idea of homosexuality, transgender, genderqueer, questions about gender and sexuality, to be a shock when he is older. I want him to grow up accepting instead of learn to become accepting once he is presented with these ideas.

    How would you suggest exposing him to the concept that everyone is their own version of normal? Discussing gender with children is such an abstract concept, I am having trouble with how to discuss it with my son. It’s not an uncomfortable conversation, I’m just not sure if it’s A) Necessary or B) How to do it at a four year old’s level.

    Any thoughts are helpful.

    Ps. Keep up the beautiful mothering that you are doing.

  9. Reblogged this on Discovering Us and commented:
    I like how Gendermom deals with the difficult decision to allow her son to live his life as a girl. Gender is not a black-and-white subject, and I applaud her ability to help her daughter learn to live in a black-and-white society.
    This is a great example of how these oppressive norms of society hurt so many and benefit so few.

  10. For whatever reason, this reminds me of a few things about myself. xD I have quite short hair, and dress quite like a guy (I used to wear boys clothes only, when I had no hips), and have been called sir before. I AM a girl though, but I guess I don’t look it. I suppose having major interests in both girls and boys makes people wonder what I really am. 😉 Sometimes I am not sure if I really want to be a girl, but other times I know I am. I’ve wondered what being a boy is like, more or less just out of curiousity.

    That was quite off topic of this article, but it just reminded me. ^^ Good luck to you and your daughter. Be proud! And that is such a go question. I’ll be wondering about that all day now! I love your blog!

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