“Momma, I’m a girl.” Izzy announced boisterously around three years old.
The first time I heard those words I sadly dismissed him.
“But God made you a boy. You have a penis. Girls have a vagina. That makes you a boy,” my sheltered, Southern Baptist rearing prompted me to say.
There was a look of confusion on his face because somehow deep in his soul, he knew he was a girl. I didn’t have any comprehension of how deep in his soul he felt this. I don’t know how, but he did.
I was completely caught off guard. In my head I thought why would he say that? “I’m a girl.” He didn’t say, “I want to be a girl.” He said, “I’m a girl.” My socialization to that point in my life played a part in my rationalizing that he was always around girls; therefore, he wants to be like them. The one girl he admired the most was his, by a decade, older sister. Izzy called her Sissy. Izzy was also constantly following around her two female cousins that came over frequently to play. There were no little boys at that time in our immediate family for him to play with. I talked it over with my husband and he agreed with me that Izzy must just want to “be like” all the little girls he was around.
I thought that I would find some activities for him to be involved with where he would be around other little boys. Around this time, he started 3-year-old preschool. We bought him a little Fisher Price game similar to T-ball where the ball sticks onto the end of a plastic arm that hangs down instead of resting on a tee. The kid hits the ball, then it is easy to stick it back up for another try. He loved it!
Our local recreation department had some classes for small children.
I asked him, “What do you think about T-ball? Wouldn’t you like to play with other kids?”
“No,” he answered.
I have never wanted to force my kids to play team sports. But, I did encourage him. I love how playing on a team teaches a kid to depend on others, to work for goals that they could not accomplish by themselves and to learn to not let others down. We talked about tennis, soccer and karate. He said no to all of them.
One day, we went to a birthday party for one of the kids in his class at the local gymnastics center. They had a trampoline and a giant foam pit you could jump into. Oh boy, he was in heaven!
I asked him, “Want to come back?”
His eyes bulged as he gave an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
I signed him up for beginner’s gymnastics. On the first day all the little girls had on their pink leotards and looked so cute. I had him wear shorts and a t-shirt. Wouldn’t you know it – no boys. I took a seat on the highest bench of the bleachers so that I could watch him. The teacher, an older teenager, had them all line up and she taught them how to do somersaults.
He liked the first class and we went back for another one, but after that he didn’t want to go anymore.
“Mom, I want a pink suit to wear.”
“You call it a leotard. You want one?”
He nodded yes.
“Boys wear different outfits, but let’s go shopping and see what we can find.” My oldest daughter needed some character shoes for her Performing Arts Class, so we went to a local dance shop that sold Capezio shoes. At the same time, I thought we could find something for Izzy to wear. I spotted the singlets for boy’s gymnastics.
“Izzy, look. These are what the boys wear for gymnastics.” He looked revolted.
“But, I want that one.” He pointed to a pink leotard with a beautiful tutu. (It was too early in her journey for me.) I wanted to try and teach him that there were different clothes to wear depending on different events and situations.
“Baby,” I held up the boy’s singlet. “This is what you wear since you’re a boy.”
“No! I’m a girl.” He ran to his sister. I was frustrated. I put the singlet back on the rack.
When it was time for his next gymnastics session, he didn’t want to go. I couldn’t convince him to go back. I’m not sure if I should have made him go, but I also wonder if it would have made a difference if he could have worn the leotard. Maybe I should have just bought him one. He was so strong willed at that age. He would scream, “No!” and turn red in the face. I chose not to fight that battle.
At the end of the year, he turned 4. I invited his class to his party, but only the boys came, mostly with their dads. I was out of my league. I was used to all the moms and the girls coming to my older daughter’s parties. A room full of dads? Thank goodness my husband was there. Izzy was soooo disappointed. Where were all his little girl friends? I believe he had fun that day running and jumping into the foam pit, but he never wanted to go back after that.
Flash-forward to Kindergarten. The first day of school, he latched on to this little girl with glasses. They were so cute. When I came to pick him up after the first day, they were hugging and laughing. I thought he wasn’t going to come to the car. I would say she was his first friend. Day after day they were together. I had met her mom at one of the class parties and liked her. Thankfully their family was down to Earth, relaxed and cool.
Izzy attended her birthday party, mostly girls, at a skating rink. He had so much fun! He learned to skate with a Skate Mate skating trainer. He put his hair in pony tails and skated until he was exhausted. I remember that being a fun time thanks to his little friend and his cool family.
Later that year, I noticed he stopped talking about her.
“Honey what’s up with Mary?
“She’s not my friend.”
Shocked, I ask, “Why?!”
Had she noticed that he was not like the other boys?
But, Izzy said, “She talks too much.”
They were having so much fun at school they were getting in trouble. He didn’t want to get in trouble. He was so defiant at home, it amazed me how he wanted to obey the rules and get along at school. I was grateful but hoped his independence would be nurtured. If he was introverted like his sister, I knew I wanted him to make sure that he could stand up for himself. I often wondered if there was another reason they were no longer friends, but if there was, he didn’t tell me.
In first grade he met a boy I’ll call Sam. When I picked him up that day, he told me about him.
“Mom, he is sooooo cute!”
I said, “Awesome. You really like him, huh?”
He told me all about it. Sam liked him too. I met his mom and we set up a play date at the water-park. They had so much fun. I still have the videos we took of them playing and sliding down the water slide. Izzy had long hair at this point. He wore swim shorts and was bare chested like the rest of the boys. I remember a kid asking me that day if he was a girl.
I said, “no.”
In my head I thought, “Duh?” If she was a girl, wouldn’t she be wearing a top? But, this is another social norm put on kids by society. Should it really matter when kids are 6?When he was a few years older, he always wore a tank top to swim in. His choice.
I must say that I don’t understand the Southern religious way of making kids ashamed of their bodies. The intent is to have girls be modest whereas boys can do as they wish. It’s all about the patriarchal system of controlling women and girls, indoctrination beginning when children are very young and mold-able.
Our bodies are beautiful and natural. I tried to always impart that way of thinking to my kids. I wanted them to have privacy when they wanted, but never to be ashamed of their natural body. I admire cultures that teach kids that the natural way of existing and viewing the body is healthy. It took me years to be comfortable being naked with my own husband in our private hot-tub because of Baptist conditioning.
Once, I had a Sunday School teacher for the Married Adult Class tell the class that sex was only for pro-creation, not for pleasure. Who can live like that? Why would God give us pleasure if we were not to use it?
Of course, it is healthy to have enjoyable mind-blowing sex with someone one you love! And, women should have as many enjoyable orgasms as she or her partner can produce! We only have this one life. I’m going to live mine.
I think it is detrimental to kids to be separated by gender. Girls and boys need to learn to do things together! I’m for co-ed. In some Fundamental Independent Baptist Churches, kids of the opposite sex are not allowed to swim in the same pool together. The boys swim first, then the girls or vice versa. Girls are made to wear T-shirts over their bathing suits. I don’t understand that. Kids should not be afraid of their bodies. Girls should not be forced to cover up. As adults we should not be ashamed of talking about our bodies or any function of our bodies including sex.
I was very sheltered growing up and there was no such thing as Google in the 1970s or 1980s. Withholding knowledge from kids is wrong. However, my mom used to tell me when I was older and I asked her why she didn’t tell me about certain things, drugs for one and different gender expressions.
She answered, “I couldn’t teach you about things I didn’t know about.”
I accepted that as an answer, but she could have pointed me towards resources in the library for example. For that matter, I could have looked up subjects myself. But, sadly, I was taught those subjects were taboo, so I didn’t go looking for information that in my view would lead to trouble and sin.
Keeping something a mystery just encourages exploration and a greater need to know and understand what is hidden. I always kept the line of communication wide open with my kids. I’m so glad they feel as though they can talk to me about anything!
Back to Sam. After learning that Izzy liked him, I really thought Izzy was gay. I thought, “That’s fine.” I grew up in the theater where many creative and non-traditional expressive kids gravitate for its accepting atmosphere. There is a place for everyone; quirky is cool; nerdy is creative.
When I left home to begin college and working in a downtown Atlanta restaurant called Steak N Ale, I met a wide variety of people who became close, close friends. They helped open my mind to different ways of gender expression and sexuality. As a child I was taught these ways were wrong and were choices against a God that created them. However, through talking with them and coming to know them deeply as friends, I learned they were just being themselves; and living their lives openly with passion. Born gay they were; coming out, living life with authenticity—that was the choice they boldly made.
If Izzy was gay or figuring out his gender identity, I felt honored to be his mother, to be open minded enough to accept this about him. I still didn’t understand the depth of Izzy, but I would. It took me about 7 more years.
Sam in the meantime was a great friend and made school a wonderful time for Izzy that year. Sadly, Sam’s parents held him back in school and he did not follow Izzy to second grade. Sam wrote Izzy a letter saying he was the best friend he had ever had. I thought that was so sweet! As kids do though, they eventually lost touch.
Izzy could have used a friend in 4th grade, our most difficult year.