I'm standing in a long line at Old Navy on a busy Saturday afternoon. I am looking down at my phone, scanning facebook of course, and I hear this little voice behind me say "Is it a boy or is it a girl?" I smirk to myself, wondering how the adults are going to respond? My next thought is "are they talking about me?" I chuckle to myself, now I really want to hear how the parents are going to answer! Still not turning back to look at them, I am definitely listening to this conversation more attentively and waiting, still appearing to be looking at my phone, wondering how the big person with this little person is going to respond. I hear nothing... silence, maybe they have given the little person a look or just tried to ignore it.
I have friends who are frequently mis-gendered, or called the gender that they do not identify has. It happens as they enter the bathroom, questioned as if they don't know where they should be. Or they hear "excuse me sir" when bumped into. I have extremely short hair in the back and side, above one ear, and the rest of my hair longer, but still considered short, with swooping bangs. I am rarely questioned about my affirming gender, so this is a first.
Still waiting for a response from the adult... then... I hear the little person say very boldly "IS IT A BOY OR IS IT A GIRL?" in a very persistent, "I will not be ignored" voice. At this point, I am convinced the question is about me! I give the adults about five seconds to respond, certainly enough time in a normal conversation to respond to a question you've been asked. I decide it's up to me to answer this question, and I proceed to turn around with a smile. I looked at the little person, they seemed about five or six years old, with long hair in a ponytail and seemingly a girl based on current societies standards, with her inquiring eyes looking up at me. In my friendliest voice, I say, "Isn't it great that girls can have short hair?" She seems to agree, so I continue with " and boys can have long hair if they want." The little person needed a little more time to ponder that idea. As we begin to talk, her parents are trying to apologize in a subtle way, quietly saying sorry and giving me one of those apologetic, I don't know how to handle this looks, we have all given at some point. I try to "shush" the apology and continued to have a conversation with the inquisitive little person.
We chatted that day about what she likes to play with, and that boys can like those things too. We also talked about how she gets to decide what she wants to wear and play with. I comment that I hoped she makes those decisions based on what she likes, and what is fun. And that we all like different things no matter if we are a boy or are a girl.
I made a friend that day in line. This curious little person just wanted an answer because we live in a society that likes to define what a boy and girl should be. I hope she grows to believe that gender doesn't determine what a person can or can't do, what a person does or doesn't like and how to exist in this world of ours. I hope she grows into be a person who appreciates personal preferences and authenticity. By having these conversations, we can begin to undo these stereo-types of what it means to be a boy or girl based on what we've been taught when we were just little ones, and just appreciate that people like what they like.
Let's allow our little ones to continue to ask questions, be curious, and continue the conversation with them. For me the answer to the question is "you'll have to ask them" and that we stop having such a strong idea of what it means to be a boy vs what it means to be a girl, o what it means to be anywhere in between.