It was J-Jo's first day at her new preschool program and I was thrilled to watch her jump in to the group and make friends with a child who seemed just as excited to find a new playmate as she was. I'd been nervous about that – the school was perfect, except it severely lacked diversity. Naturally, I felt a sense of relief when another (the only other) black child showed interest in playing with her. I hate to think that these things would be so important this early on, but one could never be too sure.
"Such a cute kid," I mentioned to one of the teachers as we observed J-Jo playing with her new friend who looked like a brown cherub, with apple round cheeks and a soft halo of kinky curls. If I thought I could get away with kidnapping, I would have tried – the child was really that cute. Friendly, too. "What's his name?"
"Luna," the teacher said quietly.
"Louis?" I asked politely.
I thought she must be crazy. There was no way that child was a little girl. He'd be a pretty little boy, sure. But the oversized basketball jersey and the Timberlands? Surely somebody in the office had made a mistake on the paperwork. How were they going to emasculate this little black child at three years old? I wanted to call his parents right then. I knew this child had been at the school longer than mine...how could they not know his/her true gender? Clearly, Luna was not a she. There must have been some kind of mistake.
"You mean she's a...girl?"
"Oh yes!" the teacher ran off to make sure a little blonde haired child with pigtails didn't fall off the wooden slide, thus risking putting the school out of business because her parents decided to sue.
As the children were lining up to go back into their classroom, I quietly went over to J-Jo and "Luna" and very discreetly began looking for any signs of femininity. I saw none. Hair was in a 'fro, no barette in there or anything, so that wasn't a clue. Every single article of clothing the child had on came from the boys department. Except for those socks. The socks that coyly peeked out from under navy blue nylon sweatpants. They were white socks, with ruffles around the edges. J-Jo had the exact same pair at home. They were girls' socks.
Shut me up real quick.
The next morning, Luna's mom brought her to school. She told the teacher that on that particular day, Luna was only answering to the name "Jackie Boy". And that she'd cry if you called her anything else. Here I was thinking we had it tough because J-Jo refused to eat her vegetables.
"Yeah," the mother continued, "last week she only let us call her Vinnie."
Lord have mercy. In the weeks to come, I watched J-Jo and "Jackie Boy" interact in the classroom, curious to see if they would remain friends. I was hoping that J-Jo would have another child of color to bond with, regardless of gender. But my girly girl prefered to stay in the kitchen area. Luna? Not so much. Luna liked playing with the blocks, the trucks and whatever else the boys were into at the moment. She loved racing on tricycles in the gynasium where the kids were herded to on rainy days, not playing with the giant dollhouse like the rest of the girls. It was nothing against J-Jo – the two would always acknowledge eachother...but that was about it. They had seperate friends and interests. Their race drew them to one another just as much as their gender identification repelled them.
It was at that point I realized that – much to Mr. J's dismay – there'd be nothing I could do to prevent our son from asking for a tutu when he's old enough to talk. Not that I'd feel obliged to buy it for him, I just couldn't be sure he'd never ask. Just like there'd be nothing I could do about either of our girls asking to be called Tito or Latrell. It wouldn't matter if they watched me put on lipgloss everyday. Kids come into this world the way they are, and will eventually define their gender for themselves.
How we parents are supposed to accept this is something I'm still trying to understand.
Sunday's New York Times offers further reading on this topic.