Monday, January 21, 2013

Felicity's First Boyfriend

Names have been changed for privacy.

"...And Felicity's boyfriend will be here tomorrow night for dinner," my mom said with a smile as she folded a towel. I paused what I was doing and looked at her.

I was visiting my family for two weeks over Christmas, and my mom had invited her close friend Georgia, along with her husband and one-year-old son, Julian, over for dinner on New Year's Eve.

I was really excited to see Georgia; she's been a sort of surrogate big-sister/mentor for me since my teen years. I cried when she miscarried her first pregnancy, and was thrilled to find out she was expecting again, a few days after I found out I was pregnant with Felicity. Julian is about three months older than my small offspring, and, apparently, is Felicity's intended.

"Mom," I said softly, "Julian isn't Felicity's boyfriend." I paused. "Felicity can only have a boyfriend if she can consent to have a boyfriend, and she hasn't yet, she's much too little to make a choice like that."

We turned back to the still-warm towels and continued folding, moving on to conversation about what we would serve for dinner, and my plans to bake that evening.

The next afternoon, while Felicity took her afternoon nap, my older sister and I sorted through a large tub of pink baby clothes passed down by one of my aunts. My mom was straightening the kitchen and living room, a seemingly endless task with two toddler grandchildren hell-bent on spreading duplos and board-back books to every possible corner. She stopped by the table to check our progress with the clothes.

"Felicity's boyfriend will be here in about an hour," she said, encouraging us to finish our project and clean up the aftermath as swiftly as possible before the company arrived.

"Mom!" I snapped, more harshly than I intended, "Julian is not Felicity's boyfriend!" I furiously picked up a pink sweater and folded it quickly, messily. "She isn't old enough to speak for herself. She isn't old enough to choose to date someone and to say if she'll even like boys. She may decide she wants to date girls!"

I couldn't look up to meet my mother's eyes. My sweet and loving Christian mother holds very different views on sexuality and morality and I'm sure I offended her on many levels. I felt bad that I reacted so hotly and that I had most likely caused pain, but I also didn't regret my words.

"But in as much as Julian is a boy, and in as much as he is her baby friend, then yes, he is Felicity's boy friend, a friend that is a boy," I conceded.

"Yes," she said quietly, "That's what I mean."

I know she meant well, but I also know it isn't what she meant. I know because it's what I grew up in, the endless matching of this person to that person, always female and male. It's odd that I basically wasn't allowed to date at all throughout high school (yet did, on the sly, once or twice), but I was often verbally paired with someone from church that met with my parents' approval.

This is part of the problem though, isn't it? It seems so innocent and sweet, to tease about babies dating, or even to tease your teenage daughter about which boy in her youth group is cute (although only boys who get good grades, are "serious about the Lord," and intend to go to very good Christian colleges are presented as options). And haven't I been tempted to do the same thing with some of the New York mamas with some seriously sweet and adorable baby boys?

But I abstain, because what I said to my mom is absolutely true: I don't know if Felicity will be interested in men or women when she grows up. I don't know if she'll decide she wants to identify as a female. For all I know, she may resent the fact that she has such a feminine name and go by Brian instead (her middle name, which I'm suddenly convinced we wrote out as 'Brain' on her birth certificate), and decide to have her breasts removed. I do know that whoever and whatever she chooses to identify as, I want to support her completely. I never want her to feel any shame about who she is, what she feels, or what she wants. I don't want to assume anything about her that will cause her harm, or the harm of others.

And that's really what this is about. Statistically, my daughter will choose to identify as a female and will be attracted to men. But by assuming that this is the case and joking about it, we reinforce that heterosexuality is expected, that it is what is normal and right. This belief is why homosexual and queer kids are bullied in school, why adults find it difficult to find work if they dress or act outside of the binary of male/masculine and female/feminine, why our country is having such a difficult time accepting the possibility of gay marriage.

For now my daughter's bangs are swept to the side with a little bow as they grow out, but she also listens to stories about how a baby bird has two mommy birds, or two daddy birds, and all of the dinosaurs in her books are strong, decisive lady dinosaurs.