Kindergarten Romance Update

pippilangstrumpf1You may recall that M. has been expressing a good deal of passionate interest in a certain first-grader (an older man!), the apparently highly huggable H.  M. and H. have been pathetically loathe to part at the end of the school day, when much hugging and forlorn professions of love ensue.

However, I have not heard news of the irresistible H. for a good week or so, and wondered if perhaps passions had cooled.  I decided to ask M. about this.

“How is H.?” I inquired last night at dinner. “He seems like a very special friend. Are you still having fun playing with him at school?”

M. shrugged.

“Not so much. I told him I needed some space.”


“Yeah, he was really wanting to play with me all the time.  It was TOO MUCH.” She rolled her eyes.

“I see. And how did he respond when you told him that?”

“He was sad.” Another shrug, this one with upturned hands that I read as, “Men! What can you do?”

I expressed sadness for H., but support for her healthy boundary setting.

She went on: “We compromised.  I told him I’d play with him on Fridays, but not the other days.”

Setting limits with men at age five!  I was impressed.  And as a fellow single gal on the dating circuit, I should probably be taking notes.

I may be reading too much into this, but I’d like to think that M.’s ability to stand up firmly for her needs in a social situation is not unrelated to the Halloween costume she chose this year.  In a total departure from every costume she has selected since she was old enough to choose such things for herself, this year M. was neither a fairy NOR a princess (nor a fairy princess). Instead, she announced in early October that she would be Pippi Longstocking.  Pippi is, of course, one strong little girl.  She is, I believe, the strongest girl in the world. She can lift a horse. She defeated the circus strong man in a wrestling match.  She’s also sassy and smart and independent, and was irresistable to me when I read the books as a child. (Plus, she has a pet monkey and no parents to boss her around!)  Pippi would certainly be the type of girl to kindly but firmly tell a clingy playground sweetheart that she needed some space.

Pippi is part of a larger shift in M. lately. She seems to be moving away from the preoccupation with glitter and gowns and Disney princesses that began the moment she was old enough to form the words to ask for such things. From age two onward, her toys and clothes have been only the girliest of the girlie stuff; anything “boyish” or even slightly androgynous was unacceptable.


No way could any of them lift a horse! They can’t even hold their heads up straight. Do they all have neck injuries?

As a feminist, I admit I’m pleased that Pippi, the strongest girl in the world, has replaced the princesses. While the princess starring in the more recent Disney films are far more palatable than their predecessors, they still tend to orbit around some type of prince.  They don’t seem very likely to tell him they’re only available to play with him on Fridays.

M. went so far as to tell me recently that she didn’t like princesses anymore.  What’s this?! I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly.  I asked for clarification.

“I don’t know.” Shrug. “They’re just dumb.”

No argument there.

Now, if you are a fan of the Family Research Council or your name is Bill O’Reilly, then you are probably chomping at the bit to chime in with the following theory.  I’ll save you the trouble.  Here is what you want to say:

I was right all along! Your child is not actually a girl! Look at how he is rejecting feminine role models! A REAL girl would embrace the delightful array of Disney princesses that so beautifully illustrate the nature of woman: Soft, compliant, needy, demure. By forcing your child to pretend to be a girl, you have morally perverted him to such an extent that he now believes himself to be a red-headed socialist lesbian orphan! Yes, of course Pippi Longstocking is a lesbian: What normal girl would be so indifferent to male help? And she’s a Swede who’s always giving her gold away: Commie! I rest my case.

Whew. You done now, Christian Right?

But you don’t have to be Rush Limbaugh to fall prey to this line of thinking.  I did, too, when M. was three and telling me she was a girl and I was resisting it.  I kept looking for signs that she was “really a boy” – aggressive play, an interest in sports and Legos.  I’d have long talks with my family and friends about it. “He is so outgoing and assertive and physical” we’d say, reassuing ourselves. “He moves like a boy,” a family member said to me.  (What the hell does THAT mean?)

Of course, in the end, M. won the day.  She knew who she was.  And we ended up feeling like fools, having applied the most stereotypical Disney-style gender norms (boys are strong! girls are graceful!) to try to fit M. back in the boy box so we didn’t feel so scared.

My friend Cathy has a tween trans daughter who resembles M. in many ways.  She exhibits many “boy” behaviors: She loves chess and math. She isn’t particularly interested in clothing or fashion.  She reads a lot of science fiction. But she’s as adamant as M. that she is – and forever will be – a girl.

I’m so grateful for Cathy, and for the fact that she has more years in this game than I do. I asked her how she is navigating the mind-bending minefield of questions raised by our tom boy trans girls.

“I think the fact that our daughters are NOT so into traditionally ‘girlie’ stuff actually makes a stronger ‘case’ for them being trans,” she said.

“How so?”

“Well, we know they don’t want to be girls just so they can do girl stuff and wear girl clothes.  They like a lot of boy stuff, so you’d think it would be easier for them to just be boys.  But they aren’t picking that ‘easier’ route, because they simply can’t.  Their gender runs deeper than that.”

Amen.  If I’ve learned anything from having a child like M., it is that who we are runs deep.  Like a river in springtime, it’s deep and strong and unstoppable – and also clear and cool and beautiful.

20 thoughts on “Kindergarten Romance Update

  1. All that you say, of course, is true and I would add probably the most important point–that M and most transitioned FtM & MtF are able to experience the joy of life. The only other option is misery or worse. It is wonderful that M has not had to experience much in the way of misery, but almost all joy. And, as others have said, she is soooooooooo blessed to have an enlightened mother to care for her and be her best friend.

  2. As you say, “… who we are runs deep.”
    What is deeper than the DNA genetic code? Nothing. Every cell of your son’s body contains male chromosomes, an X and Y. Nothing can change that. That is maleness at the very deepest, most fundamental level.

    • “That is maleness at the very deepest, most fundamental level.”
      This seems like a very genteel finger-wag, and I’m not sure what it’s for. I’m not a biologist, but I’ve never heard that chromosomes are supposed to translate to haircuts, clothing, naming conventions, or even the words to describe gender. What biological hell is raised by someone with an XY wanting to act the way society usually attributes to XX?

    • You should really reconsider what you think you should type before clicking on ‘Post Comment’. Because I am a tad bit confused. If your standpoint is genetics, then what does that have to do with toys, opinions, or clothing? And seeing that the most brilliant minds in the world are STILL trying to understand the ENTIRE DNA code, I really think that someone that is clearly being closed minded about something that is obviously making a CHILD HAPPY should keep quiet.

      But to make sure that this flame is at least constructive, I will give you a little background information. Transgenders that suppress what they feel do just that: suppress. It doesn’t make it go away, it doesn’t make it easier to cope with, and it certainly doesn’t help if SHE (in this instance referring specifically to M.) goes about her life ACTING like she is what the world perceives her to be (in this instance being male).

      I for one — but I’m certainly not the only one — have nothing but respect for both mother and daughter, for daring to be true to themselves and each other. That is something that is sadly becoming a rarity in this world.

      • I was about to type “I am also a molecular biologist” but then I reread your post and realised that I don’t think you’re a scientist at all. Scientists are open-minded individuals who collect evidence and make conclusions based on their findings. They gather a large amount of empirical evidence before settling on any result and they never ever allow their personal opinions, biases or predispositions to influence their conclusions. You, on the other hand, seem to be attempting to use basic high-school biology to support an argument that you have already decided upon. Not only have you failed to recognize the many combinations of sex chromosomes that are possible in humans (yes, XX and XY are not the only options) but you have also clearly not obtained any other knowledge about this issue or even (I believe) read the rest of this blog!

        Unfortunately, in my experience, no amount of evidence ever chances the predetermined mind-sets of the ignorant.

  3. That all makes a lot of sense. Cisgender girl here- when I was a kid I wanted to play with Lego and remote-control cars. I might even go so far as to stay that the things a child plays with says nothing about their gender and instead tells you more about their intellectual aptitudes. Your friend’s tween probably is a very intelligent scientist or engineer (or something that requires a difficult degree instead of a birdy course) in the making. And your M is gonna be one sassy lady. 🙂


  4. First of all: I love your blog. Your daughter sounds absolutely awesome and your attitude towards her questions and decisions I find admirable.

    I do however want to venture a quick sidenote on the subject of Pippi Longstocking: I also have read and loved all the Lindgren books as a child and especially Pippi always impressed me. Lately though, I have been made aware of the fact, that the depiction of POC in these books is incredibly racist. Of course, Astrid Lindgren grew up and lived in a time and environment, that could boast of even less awareness concerning racism than our contemporary society, so I wouldn’t actually want to blame her (much). But I do think, that this might be an issue worth reflecting upon, when acquainting a child with her books.

    Well, thanks for making me laugh heartily more than a couple of times, you two! I wish you all the best!

  5. I am gradually catching up with your blog, starting from the beginning, and loving every post. Need it be said again that you’re an awesome mom?

    Responding to this particular post: I’m really glad to see that your earlier fears (that your daughter would be an anti-feminist stereotype) didn’t turn out to be true. At least, so far. (No spoilers, please! I can’t wait to read how it turns out…) Kids will be kids, and growing into adult nuance takes time.

    I must say I find it amusing how often you mention Lego as a “boy’s” toy. When I was growing up, I found it comfortably neutral. I loved Lego. Somehow I never owned a set, but always looked forward to playing with it at other kids’ homes. And it was always something all the kids did together, boys and girls alike. Of course Lego may have changed for the worse these days. All those dumb kits to build very specific objects. What’s up with that? And I can see how that could trend masculine. When I was little, the Lego sets were just bricks, along with some doors and windows. (So somehow, I made a lot of houses and family scenes! 😀 But you could go any creative direction with it that you wanted).

  6. I’m a cisgendered straight woman who was a tomboy as a child. I never owned a doll or anything glittery. My mom would prepare me days in advance for the horror that was wearing a dress to a wedding or some other such occasion. I broke bones and teeth playing football with the boys and would angerly return the ‘girl’ toy that was slipped into my Happy Meal and demand the ‘boy’ toy instead. Adults probably assumed I was gay, but never NEVER was my gender called into question. I think Cathy’s outlook is both profound and accurate. The toys M. chooses to play with, the activities she choose to partake in or the career path she one day choose to follow have no impact whatsoever on whether she is male, female, neither or both.

    On a different note, I discovered your podcast yesterday and started reading your blog today. I started at the beginning and am working my way to the present. I don’t normally comment on blogs etc but I felt an odd connection with M. in regards to this issue. I also wanted to tell you that you write beautifully and are clearly a wonderful and loving mother. Your daughter will do great things in life because you have taught her that she can.

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