C.J. and I were at the park on a sunny summer day when we ran into a girl from his kindergarten class and her mother. As the kids played, the mom and I got to talking about our respective summer plans and made small talk. I’m not very good at small talk.
After awhile, she touched on the subject of C.J. being different and liking girl stuff. She had volunteered in his classroom throughout kindergarten and had seen him gravitate toward pink and purple, be the only boy to play house, carry a Monster High lunchbox and draw himself as a girl.
Because I work, I only volunteered in C.J.’s class once last year. His dad did it a handful of times. I often wondered what the moms who volunteered on a weekly basis thought of my son. There were at least three of them who were in the class so often that I wondered if they were on the payroll.
I assumed they had chatted amongst themselves about C.J.’s effeminate ways at least a few (or 250) times. I know how Orange County moms talk. They may have even brought it up to his teacher. But they had never, not until now, in the safety of summer, brought it up to me.
“C.J. is gender nonconforming,” I said matter-of-factly and with a kind smile.
Her eyes immediately darted to C.J. Yes, he was within earshot. She looked at me and jerked her head toward him to indicate that he could hear what I was saying.
“Oh, he knows he’s gender nonconforming,” I assured her.
C.J. looked up and smiled at me. Then, he went back to playing a complicated pat-a-cake game with his girl friend.
For C.J. knowing that he is gender nonconforming is like knowing that he has red hair, hates ketchup and that high-fives feel too aggressive. It’s a fact. It’s something that makes him who he is, but doesn’t totally define him — even though, for us, some days it feels like it does.
The mom was swimming in an awkward silence. Staring at her daughter because she didn’t know what else to do. I watched her swim for a minute or two. I didn’t rush to make her feel safe.
“How did you explain that to him?” she finally asked.
“Well, we didn’t. He explained it to us. Not in so many words, but he’s always been a boy who only likes girl stuff. We just gave him the term once we learned it. And, that was so long ago now that it’s like he’s never known life without that phrase,” I explained. “He uses it just as much as we do now.”
“But, other kids don’t know what it means,” she stated.
“Most don’t, but he explains it to them if he feels comfortable doing so. Some kids hear that big-sounding term and don’t ask what it means. I’m sure it sounds too confusing to even deal with,” I said.
“Do parents ever get mad when he explains it to their child?” she asked. I wondered if she would have gotten mad if C.J. had explained gender nonconformity to her daughter prior to our conversation.
I took a second.
“If they do, they don’t tell me. But, you know, I equate it to kids letting other people know that they have some other special or unique need. It’s something that is beneficial for others to know and to keep the child safe, but doesn’t necessarily need to be declared,” I explained.
She got silent again. She was thinking. She was uncomfortable.
“He also knows what it means to be transgender and homosexual,” I said.
“Come on, honey. We have to get you to swim lessons,” she called to her daughter.
Maybe I should get better at small talk. Or maybe I shouldn’t tell my son so much. The jury is still out.