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It was Sunday morning at Blue Skies, my all-time favorite music festival. The tents were pitched close together, there was accordion and fiddle music, and a gaggle of kids played together in the firelane. One of them, who looked to be about five, stopped and asked me if Stanley was a boy or a girl. I looked at Stanley, and called out "Stanley, are you a girl or a boy?" Stanley responded "I'm a girl". So I repeated this to the girl who asked and the two of them went back to the very serious kid business of running around, chasing beach balls, yelling and trying to get adults to pull them around in carts.

It was about perhaps 15 minutes later that I heard the child introducing Stanley to her mother. "This is Stanley," said the child, "she's a girl."
The parent, gently responded "Stanley's a boy's name honey, I don't think you've got that right."
Stanley, who was sitting in the cart with the child and next to the mother, chimed in "I'm a girl!"
The mother however, rather than take her child's word on it, or my child's corroboration, engaged in a bit of a back-and-forth with the kids, insisting that Stanley must be a boy. Eventually she looked over to where I was washing dishes and asked "Is Stanley a boy or a girl?"
I responded "She says she's a girl, so she's a girl!"
The mother however, was not quite willing to take my word on it either, "But isn't Stanley a boy's name?" she asked.
So I told her the story of how we had picked the name Stanley before Stanley was conceived, and that we decided we were having a Stanley, regardless of sex. I shared that Barack Obama's mother's first name is Stanley, and we left it at that.

I've been thinking about the series of exchanges since. First, parenting is a constant series of small moments and decisions. I'm glad that when the small child asked me if Stanley was a boy or a girl my impulse was to ask Stanley. I like that it reinforces both that there is a choice, and that Stanley is the one who gets to make that choice. I like that it makes Stanley and not me the expert on Stanley. I like that it lets Stanley choose in that moment what identity feels best. I don't always feel so good about my parenting, but in this moment, I found the right answer, and I want to hold on to it, and remember it so I can use it again.

Later that morning, another child came to hang out with me as I packed up our stuff. This other child was interested in our things, and kept asking what things were. At first I was annoyed, as I wanted to get the dry gear packed before it rained and was trying to keep track of my child. I thought the child was just hanging out with me for something to do - then the child said "Don't mistake me for a girl. Lots of people mistake me for a girl." Suddenly, it was clear to me why this child was hanging out with me. "I won't." I said. The child told me that because he has long hair, and painted nails, many people think he's a girl. "Wait until you see my costume for the parade" he said, and because the children's parade was soon, he went away and got dressed. When he returned he was in a lacy white dress - the kind of dress I imagine a child might wear for first communion - and was sporting a giant pair of boxing gloves. "You look fabulous and fierce." I said, and he seemed delighted. Both in the moment, and as I write this, I recognise that I am both like the child, and the mother across the way. Like the child, I want to define my own gender, and find the one that feels best is often a little queer. Like the mother, I was tempted both then, and now writing about it, to make guesses about what sex the child was assigned at birth. I recongise this as my adultism, and my own innapropriate curiosity1. It would not have been appropriate to ask him, or to guess that morning, the only right answer was to do as he asked, and "not mistake him for a girl" and it would be even less appropriate to make guesses now in his absence. Let me just say, that he was fierce, and fabulous, and that he asked me to get it right. I want to do that, for him. I want to make sure he is able to keep finding places he can demand that adults get his gender right, and I want to make sure that we do.

I've been going to Blue Skies for about a decade. I fell in love my very first time, when Kingston friends invited me to come for a day. It is the folkiest folk festival ever, full of magic, wonder, and music, but I have never really thought about it as a queer space. Sure, I'm queer in it, and I know some other queers who go, and occasionally a young person glums on to me there and really wants to talk about figuring out how to be who ze is, but most of the people who go appear to be cis and heterosexual. Then a couple of weeks ago, I lead a workshop at Project Acorn about being LGBTT2IQQA outside of metropolitan centres. One of the things I did was put up a huge map of Ontario, and invite participants to mark on the map locations where they had positive experiences that were LGBTT2IQQA in some way. People did. When the map was mostly covered, we took a tour along the Trans-Canada Highway, down Highway 69 (yes this really is how you travel across the province from West to East) and read off the locations. People knew businesses, and campgrounds, people included places they had fallen in love, or fucked, or both. Somewhere near Sharbot Lake, someone had added "Blue Skies". The young person who had added it talked about how being there always felt freer and safer than being at home, and that there were always queers there. I and others had queered this space for her. Suddenly I could see it as a queer space because we were able to find each other there. Sunday morning, the boy in the white dress and boxing gloves had gender-queered the space for me, as I had gender-queered it for him. I am so glad we made room for each other.

1 I was tempted to write "puerile curiosity" and then thought I had better look up exactly what puerile means. Upon discovering that puerile means "belonging to childhood", "childish" "juvenile" and "immature" I changed my mind. I may work on stopping using the word all together, as it implies that to be childish is inappropriate. Also, I note that it was the grown people, not the children who had this. Ah adultism, I see you in the language.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
9th Aug, 2012 17:46 (UTC)
To be perfectly pedantic about it, it's derived from the Latin word for "boy". So yeah.

puerile, a. (n.)


[ad. L. puerīl-is boyish, childish, f. puer a boy, child: see -ile. Cf. F. puéril, -ile (15th c. in Hatz.-Darm.), perh. the immediate source.]

21st Aug, 2012 22:00 (UTC)
My first reflex upon reading this post was also to comment that puer means child (masculine) in Latin. Pedants unite!
9th Aug, 2012 18:07 (UTC)
Oh, that first conversation. I've been having that sort of conversation a lot the past few weeks.
9th Aug, 2012 23:29 (UTC)
j I absolutely love this. I see you often find the people who need you. That, or they find you.

And bonus points on the TRANS-Canda highway pun. I talked about taking a trans-Canada tour one day (as in, a trip across the country) and my friends thought I was talking about travelling Canada in search of trans*people. And they seemed equally unsurprised when I corrected them. Perhaps the right people are finding me too.

10th Aug, 2012 01:28 (UTC)
I really enjoy this, and can very much understand how you might go either way on the Trans Canada front. May the right people always be able to find you, and may you always be able to find the people who are right for you.
10th Aug, 2012 17:14 (UTC)
Love this. These type of parenting moments are utterly priceless. Way to go on getting it right :)
16th Aug, 2012 07:09 (UTC)
Hmm I agree with the idea of letting children choose what to wear and how to behave and I especially admire your parenting in that you let Stanley identify herself, rather than answering for her. Kudos for independence :)

That said, I actually have a lot of misgivings about gender neutrality:

First off, if someone especially a child, asks you to not identify them as either a guy or a girl, how exactly are you supposed to refer to them? Wiki talks about gender-neutral language, but I'm sorry but that seems to me to be kind of over-the-top. I mean English does not even have gender neutral pronouns, right?

And all the whole point of gender neutrality(I've read a bit and talked with people who know the topic) I agree you shouldn't restrict roles to one particular gender, and that is kinda like feminism where you say everyone can, and should be allowed to, do anything. But at some point you have to identify yourself as ether male or female right? I mean what "gender neutral" really mean for one person? When you fill a registration form, do you tick Male or Female??

Thanks in advance for you answers - and in case I offended anyone, I'm just asking cause I want to know, not making light of the topic....
19th Aug, 2012 11:30 (UTC)
I think you are asking two questions:

1) How do you identify someone who does not want either male or female pronouns?, and
2) When does someone have to identify?

I'll get to both of those, but I'm going to add a little bit about my language choices. Mostly, that I don't use "gender neutral". Even when it comes to labeling bathrooms, I prefer "all gender" or "gender inclusive" to "gender neutral. I'm not neutral about gender, I am very aware that we ascribe different benefits to different gender identities and that gender is not neutral. I'm also not interested in getting rid of gender - I think gender can be a great deal of fun, and many people find a great deal of meaning and belonging in expressing a particular gender identity. I'm interested in not assigning a gender based on sex, in not limiting people to only two gender options, not saying you have to pick a gender and stick with it, and in not valuing genders differently.

1) How do you identify someone who does not want either male or female pronouns?
The same as you identify people who do want you to use male or female pronouns - in whatever way feels most appropriate to the individual. For a long time my husband has been a proponent of "ze" and "hir". I know several people who prefer "them". I know others who would prefer people used their name thank you very much. Sure, most people I know prefer "he" or "she" but that does not stop me using other words for other people.

English is a living language. It's a voracious living language that eats up words from other languages, and that incorportates and invents new ones all the time. English is less gendered than French, Spanish or Hebrew, but more gendered than Hungarian (just the languages I am most familiar with). We can either use words that are already part of English, like them, or invent new ones.

2) When does someone have to identify?
I've re-worded your question a little, because I do not think there is ever a time you have to chose only male or female. Certainly there are times that others will try to make you pick, like forms, but I believe you can skip the question, or write in your own box, or choose one of the options there. Yes, I left the sex box unchecked on my most recent passport application, and the passport officer then talked to me about options and how they would all work. I think we always get the option to choose - sometimes there are consequences for those choices, but that does not meant we do not get a choice. We talk about "questioning" as a sexual orientation, and I think it can also be a fine gender identity, as can others that are between or outside of male and female.
21st Aug, 2012 22:11 (UTC)
Mostly, that I don't use "gender neutral". Even when it comes to labeling bathrooms, I prefer "all gender" or "gender inclusive" to "gender neutral. I'm not neutral about gender, I am very aware that we ascribe different benefits to different gender identities and that gender is not neutral.

I really disagree with this. I think when 'neutral' is used as a modifier, as in 'gender-neutral', 'height-neutral', or whatever 'X-neutral', it explicitly means 'regardless of the status of X' rather than 'X is not real' or 'X doesn't matter.' It's like the distinction between immoral and amoral.

I'm not a fan of 'all-gender' or 'gender-inclusive' because I still feel like it excludes (to pluck an example out of the air) people like me, who have no gender identity, hate the whole idea of gender, and find it an at-best-empty-but-usually-harmful construct in our lives. 'Gender-neutral' includes all the people included by your terms, plus people like me.

Edited at 2012-08-21 22:13 (UTC)
23rd Aug, 2012 02:21 (UTC)
And perhaps this is where we end up just calling it "washroom" or "toilet" and leaving it at that.

I don't feel included in "gender neutral". I find it offensive. Too often it means "too freaky to pee in the regular places" (and not in a good way), or "toilets for the people we don't value".
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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