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.