“Hi, I’d like to see if there is availability in the Saturday morning ballet/tap combo class,” I said to the girl at the front desk of our local South Orange County youth gym. It’s a converted warehouse where a child can learn to play soccer, swim, cheerlead, take gymnastics, learn aerial arts on silks, practice parkour, attend preschool, have a birthday party and do just about anything else that will keep business booming for the owners and cater to the OC uber-moms who pilot the blacked-out Escalades parked out front.
“How old is your daughter?” the front-desk girl asked while scanning her computer screen.
“I don’t have a daughter,” I said and stared at her. It took her a while to realize that I had a boy who wanted to dance.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, we don’t have a tap/ballet combo class for boys,” she replied sympathetically, sticking her bottom lip out and tilting her head to the side.
It’s the story of my life.
“Okay. Well. Is there room in your Saturday class?” I asked.
“Yeah, does he want to be in there with girls?”
“He’d love nothing more,” I said.
There was, in fact, room for C.J. in the class. He was going to die.
C.J. has been in gymnastics for about a year and had been wanting to add the ballet/tap class to his schedule for months and months. But, since swim lessons would save his life, they took priority in the summer. Soccer season dominated the fall, although C.J. did not dominate soccer. All the stars aligned when C.J. had a break in his schedule and two special Fairy Gay Fathers (whose initials are, oddly enough, C and J) asked if there was something they could do for C.J. and our family. Why, yes, there was something they could do; they could pay for a few months of C.J.’s dance class so we could try it out and see if he liked it as much as he thought he would.
We headed to Payless Shoes to buy some tap shoes. C.J. could not control himself. When he saw those shiny, patent leather shoes that made loud noise, with huge black bows on top he was nearly embarrassed by his own excitement. He held them and rubbed them for a long while before he even thought of putting them on his feet.
“Those are girls’ tap shoes, the boys tap shoes look like this,” the Payless Shoe salesgirl with crunchy mousse hair said bending over, exposing her crack and showing us what boy tap shoes look like. The boys’ shoes were not shiny. They were dull black with boring lace ups, no Mary Jane-like cutouts on top.
“I want the girl ones,” C.J. said to me quickly with a look of concern.
“I know you do,” I said ignoring Payless girl’s reaction. When it comes to shoes we know what we like. We had this handled, thank you very much.
On Saturday, I awoke to a noise I was not familiar with. It wasn’t the house alarm. It wasn’t a video game. It wasn’t an alarm clock. Not my phone. I threw on my robe and stumbled down the stairs, trying to pry my dry eyes open and brushing my bed head out of my face. The noise got louder. It wasn’t even 7 a.m.
“Mommy! Good morning! Guess what today is?! My dance class starts today!” C.J. said as he danced he tapped his shoes on our kitchen tile, giving Gregory Hines a run for his money. I made coffee and wondered how I was going to make two hours fly by.
Finally, it was time to get dressed. I had been dreading this.
“Where’s my dance outfit?” C.J. asked, as if I had been working on a sequined, lycra, organdy number in my free time.
“You can just wear workout shorts and a t-shirt,” I said.
“No I can’t! I need a tutu!”
Of course he did.
The final ensemble was: the tights from his Frankie Stein Halloween costume that are green with fake scars and stitches on them, blue Nike athletic shorts, a purple tutu from his dress up drawer, his purple Handsome In Pink t-shirt and black socks with skeletons on them. He looked in the mirror and thought he looked perfect, like the dancer that lived in his soul.
Walking through the parking lot, through the gym and up to the second-floor dance studio, it was obvious that not everyone thought C.J. looked as perfect as he thought.
We met his teacher.
“I get to wear those?!” C.J. said smiling.
“ALL OF THEM?!” he squealed looking at the tub of about 100 pink lost and found ballet shoes.
“No, silly, just two, you only have two feet.”
“Ahhhh, maaaaaaaaannnnnnnn.” If only he were a centipede.
I returned C.J. to Miss. Milk-N-Honey’s class and walked him just inside the door. A little girl pointed.
“A boy in ballet shoes!” she laughed and pointed for the other girls to see. The little ballerinas giggled.
C.J. self-consciously found a place on the mat and got ready to stretch. I explained to Miss. Milk-N-Honey that C.J. is gender nonconforming and she smiled like she knew what it meant. I think the tutu pretty much tipped her off to the fact that C.J. isn’t your average boy.
C.J.’s therapist wants us to work on owning his gender nonconformity and to not be hesitant when there is the need to tell someone new. She doesn’t think we need to go around telling everybody or flaunting it, but when it feels like an appropriate thing to do, we should do it without pause, like we are just stating the facts, there is room for a discussion if the person wants to be educated, but there isn’t room for negative judgment. I think we are getting good at it. It is what it is. I’m not labeling him for life; I’m giving a name to what he is right now.
I walked to the area where the parents sit and watch their tiny dancers. I looked at the sets of eyes staring at me as I found a seat. They were watching the new mom who just brought her son to an all-girls dance class, which has never seen a boy before. And, he was wearing a tutu and pink ballet shoes.
To be continued…..