Monday, August 24, 2009

Girls Really Just Want to Have Fun

And so does everyone else. It’s just that we’re still not sure what it means to be a male or a female. Last week at the track and field world championships in Berlin, the international track body (the IAAF) asked the winner of the women’s 800-meter race to undergo gender testing in the wake of suspicions about her rapid improvement, muscular build and deep voice.

Caster Semenya’s team manager said she “believes her talent is God-given and will continue to exercise it.” Semenya’s father said, “She is my little girl. I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.”

Semenya’s case has taken on ugly overtones amid what should be a glorious moment for the young woman, her family, and South African athletics. Our own recent gender issues are completely mild compared to the media firestorm and circus surrounding Semenya.

Early last week, Miguel announced that he was planning to be a girl for Halloween. “I want to get nail polish and lipstick,” he said. Then he added he wanted to buy a wig and a dress, or at least use one of Verna’s.

My initial reaction? “He’s gay.” I know that’s not an enlightened or even fair perspective, but that was my first thought. Believe me, whatever sexual life Miguel drifts toward or adopts as he grows into manhood will be fine with Verna and me. And whatever latent issues of prejudice and discomfort I have about his sexuality will surely dissipate into a swirl of parental love. I just want him to be happy, healthy, and safe. Blah, blah, blah.

In some ways, Miguel’s costume choice for this year is a relief given that Maya still reacts with abject terror when she sees a mask of any kind. And, frankly, I would much rather see Miguel clad in a skirt than wearing a slasher-goblin-zombie mask with fake blood dripping from his face and gashes across his neck.

Maybe it is my fault anyway. Verna and I have always been fairly open with Miguel about physiology and all that. He’s known from an early age that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, knowledge which made me highly fearful that he would explain his understanding of human anatomy in public.

And one time he kind of did. We were behind a young girl of eight or nine in line at Best Buy in early 2006. Her t-shirt said, “Girls Can Do Anything.”

Miguel looked at her and said, “Girls can’t do anything. They can’t take out their wieners and look at them.”

While I was tempted to scold him for sharing his views out loud in a store on a Saturday mrning, I was impressed by his logic, which was true.

Since Maya is young and we still bath her and she also sees us using the bathroom and the shower, we’ve schooled her about the body as well. She routinely reminds me I can’t touch her vagina, which is great because Verna and I have told her about how certain parts of her body are private, just for her. Of course, I’ve had to tell her that Mommy and Daddy can touch her when we are giving her a bath. But it is easy to see how messy gender and body issues can become.

Yesterday, Maya said she was a boy.

“No, Maya, you’re a girl,” I said.

“No, daddy, I’m a boy.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I am a boy.”

I guess I need to be careful what I’ve wished for. After years of bonding with Miguel, first as an at-home father and then as a play partner, I do have a certified sports buddy. He and I wrestle, play catch, one-on-one basketball and golf, watch sports, and manage a fantasy baseball team together.

I fancy Maya becoming a tomboy like her mother used to be. I cringe whenever someone gives her a frilly outfit or when we dress her in something delicate for holidays and department store photo sittings. So I have made an effort to be rough and tumble with her: I toss baseballs at her as she swings her Giants bat. I chase her around the playground.

But I am fully aware that she will be whatever she will be. She may display the athletic acumen of Misty May-Trainer, Babe Didrickson, or Serena Williams and look like an international runway model and dress like a Beverly Hills denizen. Or none of the above.

So Miguel wants to be a girl for Halloween and Maya says she is a boy. And I am happy that they are adjusting to life and society and culture as individuals, self-actualizing themselves through the ever-present gender minefield of the 21st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment