Who Am I?

A few weeks ago on my birthday, a bunch of friends and I got together for drinks and excess amounts of various desserts. The conversation ranged from how on earth the wine bottle chandelier was constructed (I figured it out after about an hour) (everyone else seemed to not be mystified by it at all), to my friend’s inspiring interview that day with an ex-prostitute, to clothing, to chocolate. We finally settled in on a vibrant discussion of gender identity.

One friend told us of a Facebook announcement she had just seen, in which her male friend had announced that he was dating a girl who used to be a man.

This lead to a lively debate about whether a man who is dating a woman who used to be a man is gay. We weren’t sure, but the waiter did look more and more freaked out each time he wandered over to do drink re-fills.

And then, one of my friends told us that, having just completed a masculinity class as part of a mandatory Gender Education studies requirement, she was disturbed that the conclusion of the majority of the students at the course’s end was: I can choose who I want to be. Biology doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Fast on the heels of this, another friend shared that she had just found out that in Germany they are considering approval for gender reassignment surgery in children as young as seven, due to way too many cases in which children are mutilating themselves because they so despise the gender of their birth.

At this there was a moment of silence, because how is it in any way normal for a young child to mutilate himself because he can’t stand who he is? Will surgery really fix anything?

My youngest brother is three, turning four in September. I am closer in age to our mother than I am to him, and it is fascinating to watch him grow up from where I stand, as someone who is more in the realm of mother than of sister. The great thing is, I don’t have any of the responsibilities of motherhood, and none of the annoyances of having my doll house trashed, yet again, by my pesky younger brother. I just get to watch and learn.

John is growing up in a house full of women. His two oldest brothers are long gone to various parts of the world, stopping by only once or twice a year, and other than that, John has a grand total of seven sisters, the majority of whom are still at home.

This has led to some confusion for poor John.

One day, about a year back, he seemed to be deep in thought. Finally, he formulated his question and asked our mother, with utmost seriousness: “When I grow up…will I become a girl?” Only, it sounded like “dirl,” since he couldn’t quite manage a “g” at that point in time.

This caused a moment of confusion—Why would he think that? But fairly quickly, it made sense. Other than our father, John’s day to day experience is with females of all ages, ranging from eight to rapidly ageing mother. Coming from a three-year-old brain, his thought process is reasonable: Everyone else older than me is a girl, so is that what I will turn into at some point?

It was explained to him that he is a boy, and that boys turn into young men, just like his older brothers did. Eventually, he will get older and become an old man like dad.

He pondered this. “I’m a boy?”

“Yes. You are are boy.”

And for the next six months, he wouldn’t let us call him anything else.

“Hi sweetie!”

“I’m not SWEETIE. I’m a BOY!”

“Hi little monster!”

“I’m not a LITTLE MONSTER! I’m a BOY!”

Gradually, his identity as “boy” established, he stopped telling us about it, and is now—thanks to a certain popular children’s book—quite insistent about being called “George” as he walks around making monkey sounds.

But what if he had asked his question, and been given a response typical of our politically correct dialogue:

“You can be whatever you want to be!”

Or even:

“Do you want to be a girl?”

A three-year-old needs straightforward answers. I can just imagine the confusion these answers would have led to. What am I? What do I want to be? Do I have to be a girl? What else could I be?

Those questions are way too big for a three-year-old. On top of that, the piece of information crucial to him  would be ignored, even if in reality it would have to be faced at some point. Biology doesn’t lie, and in a boy who has decided to be a girl, it can’t really be pushed aside.

So what happens to the little boy who never knew he was a boy, who eventually discovers he is a boy, but has been encouraged to be something else?

Isn’t it possible that the fact that he has been encouraged to be something other than “boy,” might make him, perhaps, think that boyhood isn’t important, or even lead him to despise himself for it? The logical question might be: Why else would I have been encouraged to be something other than what I am?

What would it do to how you saw yourself if, all your life, you were told you could be a girl, when all you needed to know is whether you actually were one or not?

For many reasons it is a sick thing  that young children are not being affirmed and encouraged in the reality of their very biology. But to me, the saddest reason is that in never having it honestly acknowledged and treated as simple fact, they become pre-occupied with figuring it out for themselves.

So we get children who, in their confusion and the self loathing that stems from that, are mutilating themselves. Why hasn’t it occurred to anyone that they are doing so, not because they are boys who want to be girls, but because they simply needed to be taught to love themselves, as they are.

Maybe then, instead of being tortured over something they shouldn’t even have to worry about, ever, they could just pretend to be Curious George, and occasionally a Tiger, and maybe even the babysitter of a tub full of rubber ducks and stuffed animals who really need a bath.