From The New York Times Blog "Opinionator"
By Hana Schank
April 9, 2014
There are many possible explanations for why my 5-year-old daughter has yet again asked if she can change her name to Sam. Sam can also be a girl’s name, I explain hopefully. No, she clarifies, sighing at the dullard she has been given for a mother. She wants to be Sam the boy’s name.
“What’s wrong with being a girl?” I ask. My daughter responds that girls like princesses and fairies, and things that are pretty. She is not interested in those things. She is interested in Super Mario (something she’s heard about at school and doesn’t fully understand) and “Star Wars.”
I have consciously not forced pink things or dresses on her because I happen to be a woman who doesn’t particularly care for pink or for dresses. When my daughter was a toddler, I observed a friend’s 3-year-old taking a pretend makeup kit out of a plush purse and applying fake lipstick. “I don’t know where this comes from,” her mother shrugged. “I don’t even wear makeup.”
I immediately went home and read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.” I’ve been waiting ever since for the princess phase, assuming it would engulf my daughter regardless of what precautions I took. Now I think I should have been preparing for something else.
When my daughter turned 5, my mother took her to see “Cinderella” on Broadway. She came home with a Cinderella doll and a CD which she played obsessively while dancing with the doll. “Are you Cinderella?” I asked, loathing myself for hoping she’d say yes. “No,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m the prince dancing with Cinderella.”
I try to come up with reasons that being a girl is good. An image of those women in romantic comedies who hang out with “the girls” and cry into their chardonnay comes to mind. But I don’t know any women who are actually like that. So I point out that you can get to be a mother, which is the most amazing experience in the world. “Don’t you want to be a mama?” I ask my daughter. She starts to cry. “No,” she says. “I want to be a pilot.”
I feel a pang of failure. How is it possible that, despite the fact that I have held a job for my daughter’s entire life, I have somehow failed to convey that one can be both a mama and a pilot?
On the bright side, I have accidentally achieved what many mothers strive for: a non-girlie girl. The other mothers in my Facebook feed share posts from A Mighty Girl (“For smart, confident and courageous girls”) and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (“Change the world by being yourself”). This was the kind of mother I’d planned on being. I’d anticipated conversations about why there were more important things in the world than being beautiful or having a tiara. But these conversations never even come up.
I purchase the book “Rosie Revere, Engineer” in an effort to show my daughter that you don’t have to be a boy to invent things or have a job. We read it a few times but she doesn’t like it because Rosie wears a dress.
On Halloween a parent pulls me aside and tells me how much she loves the fact that my daughter is dressed like a pirate. She is a boy pirate, of course, with pants and a fake beard and a sword. I don’t tell this mother that my daughter is a pirate only because she decided at the last minute not to be Darth Vader. Girls who dress as pirates are spunky, mighty girls. Girls who dress as Darth Vader make the other parents uncomfortable.
Perhaps I’m avoiding the obvious: that my daughter is transgender. One day she tells me that, in her next life, she wants to be a boy. I ignore the fact that she has chosen to believe in reincarnation and ask her, “Do you feel like a boy?”
“Of course not,” she says. “I’m a girl.” Then she says: “But I wish my name were Charlie.”
Charlie is the brother of her best friend at school, who, of course, is a boy. This gets me wondering about a different possibility.
For the second year in a row, my daughter is one of a handful of girls in a class dominated by little boys. And in what seems to me like a pretty girlie impulse, my daughter wants to dress like her friends. This means her favorite color right now is plaid, and her outfits consist of T-shirts layered under flannel hand-me-down shirts from her older brother. “This is just like Emmett’s shirt,” she says as she buttons up a red and white flannel shirt over a blue striped T-shirt. Emmett, who as a 4-year-old boy probably doesn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to his wardrobe, is the Vogue magazine of my daughter’s life.
When I ask her if she would like to wear her glow-in-the-dark space shuttle necklace, she contemplates it and then says she’ll wear it over the weekend. I pull a rumpled skirt from her drawer and ask why she never wears it to school. She says she’ll wear it on a day she doesn’t have school. Is she afraid Emmett won’t play with her if she looks too much like a girl? Is peer pressure causing my daughter to slavishly dress like a boy? Perhaps she isn’t such a Mighty Girl after all. Maybe she’s just as vulnerable as the girls dragging Snow White dresses to school.
Back when my daughter was on the far edge of 3, she went through a combination pink/Hello Kitty phase. It was so brief I wouldn’t even remember it save for the wake of pink detritus it left scattered throughout the house: a soft pink duvet cover in her room, a now-ragged lunch box with a picture of the ever-placid Hello Kitty in a tulle tutu.
The Internet says that my daughter’s desire to be called Sam is probably not a big deal. Renowned experts say that gender identity is fluid and still forming at this age. My daughter seems pretty sure of herself, but maybe that, too, is just a phase. And ultimately, no matter how many theories I come up with about the motivation behind her decisions, she is going to be who she’s going to be, and I will love her the same.
For her birthday she asks for a new duvet cover, to replace the pink one. After much Googling we settle on a blue, green, yellow and white striped cover. The day it arrives she bounces on her little toes, strokes the cover and says she can’t wait to go to sleep that night to try it out. As I fold up the old pink cover she asks what I will do with it. “I don’t know,” I tell her. Maybe a girlie girl somewhere will want it.
“Let’s save it,” my daughter says. “For when I like pink again.”
Hana Schank is the author of “A More Perfect Union: How I Survived the Happiest Day of My Life” and a consultant on website usability.