Today they’re wearing a pink tutu that I’m pretty sure was part of a Minnie Mouse costume at one point, with sparkly light up Paw Patrol shoes and a fuzzy pink jacket complete with a unicorn horn on the hood. I wish I was half as cool as Henry.
Walking out of the preschool, another parent walks beside me as I hum a tune from Les Mis and scroll through Instagram without actually looking at any pictures. I think of the cup of coffee rapidly cooling in my car, and the pile of tasks waiting for me when I get to work.
I glance up to see the other parent looking at me. I had seen them briefly in Henry’s classroom, though I’m sure I don’t know their name, or even which kid they belong to.
I smile. “Hi.”
“I have a question.”
My conscious mind doesn’t even begin to respond before my mama bear instinct does. My pulse quickens just so slightly, and I inhale sharply. I can feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, prepared for whatever battle is to come.
I have had this conversation more times than I can count. It’s almost a script by now.
I will avoid using their name and I will not use any binary pronouns or identifiers like son or daughter. I will stress the fact that Henry chooses their own clothing so long as it is appropriate for the weather, even if that means wearing a superhero cape to church. If pressed, I will respond that they are simply a person with inarguable inherent worth and dignity. If pressed further, I will ask why the other party seems to be so interested in a four-year-old child’s genitalia.
And it is exhausting.
Even in my progressive Unitarian Universalist bubble, there are those who do not want to understand, and those who are so committed to saying the right thing that they often say nothing at all, avoiding interactions and healthy discourse in favor of avoiding feeling uncomfortable.
I am uncomfortable knowing that these fellows I love fall short of our shared values every time they pretend they don’t see gender. It is not the same, but it does remind me of the incredible harm caused by claiming that one does not see race.
The other parent stands close to me. They look at me, and then at the ground. Their arms are crossed in the unholy 40-degree Florida chill.
“The gender of your child…?” they implore. Their voice is soft, and their eyes are kind. My whole body relaxes as I realize they are not looking for a battle, they just want to understand.
“Henry identifies as both,” I respond. “They were assigned male at birth and they wear whatever they want. I’m just along for the ride.”
“Oh, cool.” And we begin walking again. “I just wasn’t sure, and I was wondering.”
“No worries,” I respond, mentally chastising myself for my initial assumptions about how this conversation would go.
“And thank you for being so nice about it. Sometimes people are real jerks.”
I don’t think they said anything else as we went our separate ways in the parking lot, Les Mis already playing through my head once more. Once I returned to the warmth of my car, an incredible gratitude washed over me.
We begin to un-learn our trauma responses by being shown kindness where we have not before.
This person did not ask the perfect question in the perfect way, they were not perfectly woke or an expert, they were simply kind, nonjudgmental, and willing to try to understand.
The best any of us can do is be kind, nonjudgmental, and willing to try to understand.
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