You 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?”
“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.
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.
“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.