“Some of the kids from the apartments behind us kept calling the Boychick ‘she’ today,” his teacher tells me as we all walk back to the light rail, in various states of exhaustion and overexcitement after a long day of feasting, protesting, and — apparently — gender policing.
I seek out the blond curls of my firstborn, his bright red “girly” blouse now covered by his bright red “boyish” coat. My tired-tight shoulders tense further in anticipation of too-long-passed events about which I now can do nothing, and make a noise for the teacher to continue his story.
“It was really upsetting him; he told them to stop, but they didn’t. I told one of them ‘some boys have long hair’, and he thought for a second” — here his voice fills with humor — “and he said, ‘well some boys do, but not with such a pretty face.’”
We both laugh, the conversation continues past my — yes, pretty — child’s eccentric relationship with gender performance and the discomfort it regularly provokes in his peers, and we continue home.
“I heard some kids were calling you ‘she’ at the party yesterday,” I ask, so-carefully-light in tone, as I set his oatmeal in front of him.
Sullen or distracted? How do you tell in a four (and a half, he would insist on adding) year old? I persist, lightly, lightly.
“Your teacher said you didn’t like it.”
Not distracted now, but agitated: “Yeah, I told them to stop calling me that, but they wouldn’t. They should have asked before calling me she!”
What is this? Echoes of our conversations on namecalling (“always ask someone if you can call them a name first, and only do it if they say it’s ok”), or something new?
“You wanted them to ask before calling you she?”
“Yeah, but they didn’t. They should have asked.” Really worked up now, oatmeal forgotten.
“But your teacher got them to stop, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he did.” Calming again. Picks up his spoon, takes a bite. So do I. Then:
“Would you have minded if they called you she if they asked first?”
“They could have called me she if they asked first, but they didn’t ask.”
We munch oatmeal while part of my mind wonders if talking with all four year olds feels so much like a scratchy record, skipping to repeat imperfectly but ceaselessly. Probably, another part responds.
The rest tries to count how many times I’ve asked this, to guess how many times I’ll ask again and whether the answer will ever change.
“Do you want me to call you she or he?”
“He. They could have called me she if they asked. But I want you to call me he.”
“Ok.” I stand, pick up my empty bowl, bend over to kiss his still-chewing head. “Well, it’s good to know.”