I’m scared. I meditate and it hums in my mind. I sleep and it arises in my dreams. I do yoga and feel the tension festering in my hamstrings, the anxiety sizzling in my chest. I am terrified for my son.
Recently, I read about a local transgender high school girl being stalked and attacked because her trans identity had been discovered. My brain has rattled and my heart has shuttered since then.
Two days later, still shaken from the story, I read a response in a mommy group claiming that “gender bending” was categorically wrong, that everything from toys to hygiene products should be entirely gender-specific. The mom said anything less than complete adherence to strict gender norms was wrong and that she taught her children to never accept anything different, because skewing gender stereotypes was immoral. I read that and imagined how her children would respond to my gender-bending middle child. I feared for my son’s safety and well-being.
Then, on Mother’s Day, we had yet another playground incident. My middle son was dressed in a red cape and a blue shirt with the iconic read “S” on the front. “I’m Supergirl!” He proclaimed. (Superman and Supergirl wear the same emblem, so this and my son’s outward appearance leads to some understandable confusion.) Most incidents fizzle quickly and everyone goes about scaling playground equipment. No harm, no foul.
This run-in was different though. Two pre-K boys arrived to the relatively uninhabited playground. “Why don’t you play with these new friends here?” I prompted my 4-year-old son. “I’m Supergirl!” He said, striking his proudest superhero pose. The smaller of the two boys pointed to the red “S” on my son’s shirt, “You’re SuperMAN.” “No, I’m SuperGIRL.” My son retorted. “Go play!” I tell my son, trying to end the dispute.
No one moved. The taller boy chimed in, “No. You’re a boy. You’re Superman.” My daughter stepped between the boys and her brother, hands on her hips, and a couple of inches taller than her male counterparts, she looked in their eyes and matter-of-factly said, “He says he’s Supergirl. He’s Supergirl.” “Go play!” I tell them, shoo’ing them with my hands.
“No he’s not! He’s a boy. He’s Superman. He’s not a girl.” The boy argued. My son leaned in, defiant: “I. Am. SuperGIRL.” “Are you here to play?” The boys’ caretaker asked her charges, “If you’re here to play, go play. Otherwise, we’re leaving.” No one moves.
Desperate to end the exchange, I turn to my son, “Do you think you can climb up that twisty slide?” He looked at the slide and bolted towards it. “I can!” Exclaimed the two boys. Not the outcome I was intending, but at least they weren’t debating gender-appropriate superhero play.
A few minutes later, I was helping my daughter on the monkey bars as my son waited his turn. One of the boys sidled up to him and said, “You’re Superman.” Then ran off. Later, my son climbed the curved ladder and, as if they were crows attacking a flying hawk over scraps, the boys pecked at him: “You’re a boy.” “You’re SuperMAN.” My son would simply reply, “I’m Supergirl.” And continue on.
Not one scream. No red face. Not a single tear. My son handled the interaction better than I could. I stayed back letting him fend for himself under my watch in the controlled environment. I looked on as he held his own. He did not kowtow, never once physically fought back, and never cried for my involvement. He simply clarified his purpose and kept on.
I am proud of my son. He is who he is without question, without shame, without fear. I am the one who is afraid.
I am afraid of a world that refuses to let him be himself, refuses to accept him for him, refuses to keep him safe. All I can do is love him, support him, and hope against hope that he will remain unscathed… whoever it is he becomes.