The first time I was really made aware of the fact that I was a “girl” was in first grade. Until this point, I had remained blissfully unaware that being a girl made me “different.” I lived on a farm, so I rode horses, fished, and played in the dirt like kids do on farms. I played in the snow, I loved dresses and cowboy boots, and dolls, and played “committee” and “Chairman of the Board.” I crossed gender stereotypes without any thought to it. If my parents ever thought anything of my weirdness, I never knew it.
When I was in the first grade, class did its school play (tiny rural school with only one classroom for each grade). We were doing something about American and the Founding Fathers. Because history is a male-centric venture, there were not many “girl” roles in the play. My teacher took me outside the classroom, walked me down the hall, and explained that because there weren’t enough “girl” roles I needed to play George Washington.
Now, her tone told me that this was somehow a bad thing. That playing THE founding father of the US in a class play about American’s founding was somehow a thing that could hurt my feelings and damage my ego. In retrospect with an understanding that my family was seen as outsiders and interlopers because we were not Mormon (there was a huge and vocal Mormon community in our area), I was probably singled out for this cross-gender roll as some sort of dig at my folks.
FAIL! They so failed! I was George Freekin’ Washington and I got to give meek and quiet Betsy Ross some instructions about the flag. The flag my classmates pledged every day. I wore that wig and those knickers with pride. Strutted my little six year old self out on stage and rocked that roll (or I did in my mind. I was six. I wasn’t a performance for the academy).
I have yet to figure out how my parents imbued me with a sense of self that just did not (and never have) cared about what other people thought of my gender in this world. I keep trying to figure it out because it is one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. I know I somehow shock people and I cannot enter a room unnoticed (6 feet tall, fully inked up, and DD’s usually pushed up to the heavens make subtly difficult). I wish I could find out how they instilled this resilience so that other parents could learn what to do.
I chat with other people who struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation. I feel compassion for them because I see how much it hurts them to not fit in either into social groups or in their own image of what they “should” be. But it is not something I understand. I never have been wedded to either my gender or sexual orientation.
What I do know is my parents celebrated me. My mom made my cotton wig and found pants to make into knickers and found knee socks for my costume. They came to my play and took photos. This made the whole gender swapping thing seem normal and good. So parents, support your kids. Celebrate them and their weirdness. It makes them so much more resilient to the bullshit they will encounter later in life.
Happy Father’s Day.