This is the second in a four-part series.
Not long after wearing nail polish to school for the first time, Liam was relaxing in the tub before doing the “business of the bath.” I was unprepared for my child, who was playing with their penis, told me “Mommy, I don’t think I’m supposed to be a boy. I think I was supposed to be a girl. I like girl things and I’d rather play with girls.” I kept a calm exterior but inside I was freaking out. This was a HUGE parenting moment and I could either nail it or fail miserably and destroy my child. That’s what it felt like anyway. I told Liam that there are lots of different ways to be a boy or a girl and we talked a bit about gender norms, then we carried on with the business of the bath.
Shortly after, Liam wanted to wear nail polish to XN’s house. I tried to tell Liam this was a bad idea but when your six-year-old looks you in the eye and says “Mama, I’m going to be brave,” you support them, despite knowing the biggest bully they will ever encounter is on his way to pick up your baby and take them away. When Liam met XN out at his car that afternoon I could hear him audibly growl upon seeing Liam’s nail polish before flashing me a menacing look. After leaving our house, XN stopped at a CVS a few blocks away to buy nail polish remover. Liam’s attempt to be authentic had ended in defeat but the pride remained.
Every couple of months this would come up, the ‘I’m not sure I’m a boy” conversation. In the meantime, Liam was a rough and tumble kid who loved Legos and Star Wars, and breathed Pokémon. Yes, Liam also had dozens of babies (stuffed animals) who were looked after and cakes to be baked and dances to be performed, but my child seemed solidly boy. That’s what I convinced myself, anyway. Eventually, the nail polish didn’t get used and the tutus that had been collecting hung to gather dust.
Six weeks ago, we were somehow talking about gender, though I don’t remember how or why. Liam said, “I don’t really like to be called ‘he’.” “So, what do you want to be called: she? They?” “I’d like to just be called by my name, Liam.” OK, I thought we can try to avoid gender pronouns, then it occurred to me. I asked Liam “do we need to go shopping for clothes? Do you want different clothes or are you happy with what you have?” To my delight the response was “Mama, anyone can wear whatever clothes they want.” Score for gender-neutral parenting! (And not having to drop more money on clothes that will only fit for a couple of months.)
A week later we were wrapping up dinner and I said, “finish up, sweet boy.” Liam hesitated for a moment then said, “Mama, when you call me your sweet boy it hurts my feelings.” Wow. I called Liam that all the time. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” I replied. “What do you want me to call you?”
Liam said, “you can call me your sweet girl.” There it was. The moment I guess I had been waiting for but had been covertly trying to push back for years. I asked about pronouns and Liam said, “I’d like to be a ‘she’.” OK, I can try that. Later that night I was snuggling with Liam in bed and singing lullabies. I could see just the profile of an innocent face with soft cheeks. Her eyes were closed when I quietly said, “goodnight sweet girl,” and saw those round cheeks lift and that sweet mouth curl into a grin.
The next night Liam said she wanted to go shopping for new clothes. My child has NEVER wanted to go clothes shopping. It has always been a chore, even a month before. Despite needing to, I had never been in a fitting room in a children’s store and am often in and out in under ten minutes. That night, Liam strolled through Osh Kosh/Carters and could try on anything she liked. With arms loaded we headed to the dressing room.
I don’t recall having dresses as a kid. This could be mainly due to not being able to afford many clothes but I also wasn’t that interested. I was interested in playing detective, having bicycle circuses on the playground, and playing basketball. Surely skirts would get in the way of my adventures! For that reason, I guess I was a little surprised by the need for pink and purple sparkly clothes and skirts. The first outfit that she chose to try on was dinosaur themed. Turns out that there are girly dinosaur clothes. Little boy dinosaur clothes are cute and cuddly looking. The dinosaur clothes Liam has been wearing for a year depict fearsome carnivores with gnarly teeth and claws. These “girl” dinosaurs were reminiscent of the baby dinosaurs, all shades of pinks and purples and yellows with bows and smiles on their toothless faces. She picked out a white tee (difference already) with a pink sauropod that said, “You Make My Heart ‘Saur” and a dinosaur printed skort. The moment Liam was head to toe in girls’ clothes there was a weight lifted from her. She started dancing around the dressing room, light as a feather. She continued to try on outfit after outfit for nearly 45 minutes.
We went to Red Mango, her favorite, to celebrate her bravery. Before putting together her probiotic treat she wanted to go to the restroom to change into a new outfit. After she got her mango-flavored treat with a couple each of gummy bears, sour worms, cookie dough balls, and Swedish Fish we sat down, and I asked, “so how does it feel, your first night out as a girl?” She said it felt really good. When I asked if she wanted to be a girl all the time she said she’d like to be a girl at home and at the U (our spiritual home) because “[she knows she’ll] always be supported there.” She was right about that one. She wasn’t sure about school yet but “[she knows she’ll] always have to be a boy at [XN’s] house because he won’t love [her if she’s] a girl.” I wished I could tell her that’s not true.
To learn more about gender diversity and non-conforming youth visit: