“Mom, can you get a wizard to turn me into a boy?” Molly asks me at breakfast yesterday.
“No, love, a wizard can’t turn you into a boy,” I say. “You are a girl. That’s what you are. That’s all you can be.” It’s one of those things a parent says that has no logic, and that has an edge of cruelty to it.
True, a wizard can’t turn her into a boy. But in her three-year-old world, why not? Why can’t a wizard turn her into a boy? Of course he could. Every day, a wizard turns my daughter into a rabbit, a frog, a dog. Wouldn’t a boy be half as easy? Tears are puddling and about to spill over the edges of her lovely blue eyes.
It’s the same look she had, that on the brink of despair look, when last week I finished singing, “On Top Of Spaghetti” and I had to spend fifteen minutes reassuring her that that original meatball that had rolled out the door was okay, it wasn’t dead. “Wh-wh-what happened to the meatball?” she asks, her voice shaky. Well, sweetie, yes, it turned into mush, but then it turned back into a meatball, so everything is okay. Her lip is quivering, eyes still watering. Wait, wait, there’s more! It gets better. That meatball that landed in the garden grew into a meatball tree and grew hundreds of wonderful little meatballs just like it. So everything is okay. The meatball is better than okay!
Why can’t I be so generous in my lies with this new question?
“But I want to be a boy,” she says, her voice shaky, and I know we’re heading towards a meltdown, a meltdown over the impossibility of getting a gender change at age three. It’s all become very important this past month: Who has a vagina, who has a penis. Of course, because she is three and so has pretty much no boundary issues, she feels compelled to review who has which equipment no matter who, what, or when: at the Whole Foods check-out line, to our neighborhood librarian, or to her wonderful godmother, to which she says as part announcement, part query: “You have a vagina.” And just as further proof of how wonderful she is, Molly’s godmother didn’t blink or laugh in that icky way adults do when a child says something inappropriate. She just said, with the enthusiasm of a new campaign slogan, “Yes, Molly, I do have a vagina!” (I imagine a chorus of newly empowered, unembarrassed vaginas chanting, “Yes. We. Can!”)
I start reading too much into her question: What if my little girl feels like a boy trapped in a girl’s body? This will be her burden to bear throughout life. But why do I care? I live in San Francisco, a half mile from Castro and Market, where Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk made his famous “I am angry” speech. There’s an enormous, multi-million center for Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender individuals not far away from where we live. I know a couple transgender people, and here I am, getting uptight about a comment that may, or may not, mean anything for my tiny little girl. You’d think I’d be down with whatever, or whoever, she wants to be, thinks she is.
Steve is completely unfazed and, I think , surprised that I was bothered by Molly’s question. “It’s a normal thing to say at this age,” he says. Oh really? And how many parenting books have you read in the last ten years, I want to say? But what’s most infuriating is that even though the answer is “zero,” Steve’s right. It is normal at her age to be sorting out girl from boy, vagina from penis, pink from blue.
And even if for some reason she does grow up wanting to be a boy and finally becomes one, adds Steve, who has morphed before my eyes into Dr. Sears, then we’ll love her and hope she is happy.
Now…what was it that I was worried about?