We went to my sister’s house this weekend for the day. M. spent the afternoon running around with her cousin, A., who is six years old – one year older than M.
As we were leaving, my sister told me that the kids had been fighting in the backyard. She said that A. had called M. by her old “boy” name, X., and that M. had started crying. “A. said he was sorry,” my sister said.
In the car on the way home, I asked M. about it – sideways. “Did you have fun with A.?”
“Not really. He wasn’t very nice.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Are you angry at him?”
“No, but sometimes… I find him very hard to love.” (She really did say that! I swear! Not sure where my kid comes up with this stuff sometimes.)
“Did he do something you didn’t like?”
“No.” Pause. “Well, yes.” Pause. “He called me X.” Then her voice turned low and solemn, like that of a child-actor given an eerily adult role to play: “I don’t even like to say that name.”
“Was it an accident? He said he was sorry, right?”
She shook her head. “It wasn’t an accident.” She was calm, sure of her story. “He was being mean. When no one else was nearby, he said, ‘Everyone calls you M., but your REAL name is X.'”
That little shit.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. My nephew was the last hold-out on acknowledging M.’s new name and pronouns when we switched almost two years ago. Since M. and A. are the two youngest members of the extended family, and he’s the closest thing she has to a sibling, I suspect some sibling rivalry is afoot here.
But I was still fuming, of course. “I’m going to talk to your aunt about this,” I said. “You cousin CANNOT be saying that to you.”
“NO! NO! Mama, please don’t. Please don’t talk to her!!”
“OK, I won’t if you don’t want me to. But why not?”
In response, M. delivers another line that sounds way beyond her years (I keep thinking of that little kid in The Sixth Sense who saw dead people.)
“It’s private,” she says, “Between me and A.”
I imagine the two little kids meeting at high noon on a dusty Wild-West-style main street, the only sound a saloon door creaking on its rusty hinges. They draw their Nerf guns at twenty paces…
I wonder: Is this how it’s going to be?
She’s only five years old and already she wants to fight her own battles: “I got this one, Mom.”
I hope she’ll at least keep telling me about them and letting me be a coach, or a cheerleader. I’m sure she’ll need cheerleaders.
I consider telling my sister anyway, but then realize that this would be a mistake. M. knows what she’s doing. If I break her trust now and she finds out, maybe next time she won’t let me in.
But I can still cheerlead: “Well,” I tell my little cowgirl as we drive home through the darkness, “When you DO talk to A. again, you tell him that EVERYBODY knows your real name is M. Your MOM, your DAD, your DOCTOR, your FRIENDS, your NEIGHBORS, EVERYBODY.” I try to think of the most official place I can think of, where people use names. “It’s your name at SCHOOL!”
M.’s voice brightens. “Yes! Yes! And my teacher doesn’t even KNOW that my name used to be X. She doesn’t even know that!”
Oh honey. My heart aches anew as my wise little child reveals the immensity of her innocence. She really does believe that no one at school (save her BFF Sophie) knows she is transgender – and her voice is full of triumph when she tells me this. Of course, the staff at school all know she is transgender. What will happen when she realizes this?
Deep breath. Yet another glorious and terrifying moment for her mother, as I marvel at how safe we’ve kept her, and wonder how long it can last.
Footnote: Please do not construe this post – or the accompanying image – as me condoning gun violence. Annie Oakley was famous for shooting tiny objects from a distance – not people – and she did it better than any man around. So no, I do not think my child should shoot her six-year-old cousin, or anyone else. It’s meant as a metaphor for her standing up for herself – as a girl and as a trans person. Because she is certainly going to need to be one tough girl to deal with some of the bad guys and outlaws she will no doubt encounter.