Warrior Princess


Paper plate chakram, by M.

If you read my recent “Pants!” post, you know about the pants, the Pokemon, and the boy BFF. I didn’t mention Xena.

I fell hard for Xena in college in the ‘90s. Everything about her was everything I’d been taught girls couldn’t be. In every episode there was that point where she’d stand in a wide, unladylike stance, an arrogant smirk on her face, raising her sword (or chakram!) as she stared the bad guys – and death! – in the face. I wasn’t sure if I want to kiss Xena or be Xena, but either way, I adored her. I bought the Xena refrigerator magnets, the action figure, the comic books. I still have the Xena poster I bought (and framed!). It’s been smiling dangerously at me from the wall for two decades now, in every home I’ve lived in.

A few weeks ago, on a slow night when M. was with her dad, I came across Xena on Netflix. And guess what? She is still awesome! I also realized that the show is pretty PG-rated, so I decided to let M. check it out a few days later.

M. fell for Xena, too, of course. To date, she has made about six chakrams (chakrae?) out of cardboard. She keeps begging me for “a real one! You know, that really slices off the tips of swords – or at least foam ones.” (We are discussing this.)

So here’s the truth: All this unladylike stuff – her new-found interest in wearing pants, her passion for Pokemon and Xena – would fill me with unbridled pride and glee… if she weren’t transgender. There, I said it.

But she is, or…is she really? Was it just a phase?

The other day, she told me, “I love fighting. I’m the best fighter at school.”

If she had a vagina, we’d call her a bit of a tomboy. No one would say, “Gee, maybe she’s a boy.”

My doubts feel incredibly unfair to her. They feel disloyal. And yet I fall prey to them lately. I spoke with my friend about it. She’s the mother of N., who is M.’s age and who is also transgender.

N.’s mom sympathized. She said N.’s therapist had been telling her that gender identity can remain fluid in kids for a while – sometimes until age 7 or 8. “It’s so hard to hear that,” she said. “We just went through this huge thing, letting N. change her name and pronouns, and telling our families and everyone at school, and now the therapist says I have to be open to N. changing her mind again!”

We sat in silence drinking our coffees, imagining what it would mean to go through this whole process again in reverse – the relatives and neighbors and teachers and other parents and doctors and everyone else you have to explain everything to. But of course we would do it again – and again – if we had to.

But I can handle everyone else. There’s something else about this that’s even harder. “I already said goodbye to my son,” I said. “I don’t want to say goodbye to my daughter now.”

N.’s mom nodded.

I don’t know why love should have a gender. It shouldn’t, right? But I am realizing that I don’t want to lose my little girl.

“It’s so hard to keep it open – to not know,” N.’s mom said.

“But I guess we have to try.”

So last night, on the drive home from school, I said this M.: “Some people decide to change their gender more than once. Some people do it when they’re… seven or eight. Or even 42, like me. I could change my gender to being a boy if I wanted to. You can change yours again, too. It’s always your choice – you’re still the same person and your dad and I will always love you, no matter what gender you are.”

M.’s reply: “Most of the people who like Xena are boys. But I’m a girl who likes Xena.”

I hadn’t said anything about Xena or Pokemon, or pants for that matter. But she knew.

She knew Mom was having doubts because she’d strayed from her formerly ultra-girlie ways.

Once again, I had underestimated her, big time. This kid is ten steps ahead of me, and she’s only six! I scurried to keep up: “That’s right! That’s right! And I’m a girl who likes Xena, too. Girls can be anything they want to be, including strong warriors.”

M. nodded and looked out the window, thinking it over.

Or maybe she was battling warriors in her mind, defeating packs of bad guys with a single blow, just like Xena.

13 thoughts on “Warrior Princess

  1. I hate the danged gender binary!!! I’m a trans guy, and I’ve had other trans guys and trans women tell me (or others) to “man up” and so on. She should be who she is, and not be some stereotyped girl. Sometimes I feel the stereotypes are hurled more on us as trans folks because we might not be “man/woman enough”. Sheeesh! (FWIW, I’m a grown guy and like my kitty cat puzzles. :))

    • I agree with you, Jay. The binary is a big fat bully. I wrote a post about that a while back: https://gendermom.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-binary-blues/

      I agree that it’s ridiculous to expect my child to conform to girlie stereotypes in order to be a “real girl.” But I’m trying to be very honest in my blog about the ways my own preconceptions often work against me – even when I know them to be ridiculous and based on stereotypes and arbitrary constructs about gender. My hope is that be being honest and open about my old bad habits of thinking about gender, I’ll be able to break them down and see them for what they are. If I pretend that I don’t hold any stereotypes or prejudices, I’m fooling myself – and I’m probably more likely to act on them unconsciously.

      I want to be as open and flexible as I possibly can, in thinking about gender and in responding to who she tells me she is. My child deserves no less.

  2. I think even for those of us who are aware of gender constructs as that — namely constructs — it is hard sometimes not to fall back into the old patterns of thinking “that’s not like a girl at all” or “that’s so like a boy.” I think your child is seeing through / moving past the basic gender construct of girls as pink and gentle and pretty (mind you, Xena is still pretty!) and is realizing she can be a girl (or a woman) in many ways. I understand what you’re saying, and I feel for you. You’ve worked hard for her to be able to be accepted as a girl, and now she’s deviating — again. At the same time, from a feminist point of view, I am very happy for your daughter, and I don’t see her as any less of a girl for “being the best fighter in school,” willingly wearing pants, or wanting a real Chakram. Some girls are more girly than others, but that does not change their gender. I don’t know if this helps calm or comfort you at all, but I hope so.
    Has she read (or have you read her) “Ronia, Robber’s Daughter” (Astrid LIndgren)? When I was growing up Ronia was my hero, because she was what I wanted to be like. Not pink and sparkly but wild and climbing trees and fighting, and still a girl.

  3. I love all your posts, gendermom. I too was born a boy, knew at 5yo I was a girl, took me until mid 30’s to transition, however after a few years it didnt feel right & I transitioned back to male, last 9 yrs as a male have made me realise Im a girl in a boys body, I am officially changing name today to female, I will not be going back to male ever again, Im more comfortable now wearing womens clothes, my point is that yes M may change her mind, its all a part of the growing up process, btw I am a TransBian & have a very supportive Girlfriend, I wish you all the very best for the future.

  4. I’d have to mostly agree with Jay on this one. Being a transwoman myself, I do not feel my femininity is in any way jeopardized by my liking (certain) sports or disliking soap operas. However, I can sympathize with your position — not knowing what the future may bring is a scary thing when it so directly involves the health and happiness of your child.

    My advice? Love your child as she is (and trust me, it’s not a phase for her! I told myself it was a phase for 24 years before I couldn’t take it any more). Just love her. If you don’t know where she stands, ask her how she sees it — tell her that you just want to understand her opinion, and trust that she’ll tell it like it is.

    In closing… THANK YOU! Knowing that there are parents out there that can accept us… it helps sometimes.

  5. This just made my life. My girlfriend LOVES Xena and introduced her to me in the middle of my own transition. We finished it up sometime last year and were both sobbing. Now we go back and watch it together. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving Xena, Gabrielle, or even Joxer (although I never really did), no matter your gender…and there’s also nothing wrong with doubting. M probably doesn’t experience this as much, but I still doubt the accuracy of my transition! Just keep conversations flowing and be patiently open minded, and you can both get through this.

  6. You know, having this conversation with us makes you an incredible Mom. The fear of looking silly because she might want to change back is natural but that you’re accepting that it’s not a phase and you currently have a daughter while saying you’re there whatever/whenever the decision will be, shows just how supportive you are.
    All of us are in this for the long haul with you to remind you just what incredible parents you are.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  7. I think people get gender expression confused with gender identity. Gender expression is how you express yourself, such as clothing, personal appearance, interests, etc. Gender identity is how you see yourself to be, be it more male, more female, somewhere in-betweeen, or neither.

    Hey, just like non-trans (cisgender) children (and adults) display a wide range of gender expression and a wide range of interests, transgender children (and adults) do so as well. The problem is that media usually only shows the stereotypical trans kids and adults, that’s why it took me so long to figure out who I am. I didn’t fit into the stereotypes. I wasn’t a tomboy as a child and I wasn’t a butch woman as an adult. I was a feminine woman before I transitioned. A transgender boy (and cisgender boy) can be a tomgirl and a transgender girl (and cisgender girl) can be a tomboy and more power to them all. As a matter of fact, let’s bust open all the boxes on gender and expression and just be you.

    With all the binary imagery that bombards our lives and our children, M. is still defining herself on her own terms, which is beautiful. GenderMom, you should be proud.

  8. I’m married to a transman, and he likes to crochet, garden, do origami, and take long baths while reading Sookie Stackhouse. I don’t think that means I should take away his man card. And if tomorrow he told me that he’s actually a girl trapped in a girl’s body, I’d still love him just the same.

    Also, you and M are right: Xena does rock. It’ll be a beautiful thing when M is old enough to appreciate Buffy. 🙂

  9. M. Is a unique kid who will always be her own person. The activities that she is attracted to are not based on her gender, meaning that she probably doesn’t attach activities to gender. However, she most likely will start doing this as she gets older, because she will learn that society has a distinct belief about gender.

    A kid isn’t born with the knowledge that penis=boy and vulva=girl! this is something that they are taught to believe by society. For kids who aren’t taught that genitals and gender are independent variables, are less likely to define themselves based only on anatomy. Saying that certain genitals belong to certain genders is just as arbitrary as saying that someone is black just because they like basketball.

    I just turned 15 a week ago, and through my own meta cognition process, I have realized that I was never taught that boys have penises and girls have vulvas. I knew the names for the anatomical parts, but never associated them with a gender. It wasn’t because I had some parents who made sure that I knew that gender and genitals were different, it was because I simply didn’t see a connection between the two.

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