I was sitting at work one day and a cute little kid, probably three or four years old with huge hair, asked me, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
I panicked. Oh, on the outside I was smiling, and part of me was excited – it was the first time I’d been asked this question, after all – but inside, I was terrified. What was I going to say? I hadn’t prepared an answer for this. What if one of the kid’s moms overheard me? Since I was at work, where I have kept my personal life to myself, what if one of my colleagues overheard – or, worse, one of my teenage clients?
So I said, “What do you think?”
The kid looked me up and down, even bending to look under the table at my legs. “Ummmmm… a boy.”
“Oh? Why do you say that?”
“You have boy shoes.”
I was wearing a fitted t-shirt and I wasn’t binding, but apparently my shoes were more important to my gender expression than my chest. “That works for me.”
I hoped that would be the end of it. I underestimated the power of curiosity.
“But are you a boy or a girl?”
“No,” I said. Hey, it’s the truth.
“Okay… Are you a girl?”
“So you’re a boy?”
“Then why do you have boy shoes?!”
“Because I like them.” I was scrambling. What to say what to say what to say… I was starting to think that it was time for a lie of convenience. Maybe it would be easier to agree and say that I am a boy. Right now, I just sounded obnoxious.
“But what are you?”
I introduced myself and I offered a handshake.
The kid looked extremely confused for a moment, then laughed and flailed in exasperation. “Noooo I mean– tell me the truth! Are you a boy or a girl?”
I laughed too, feeling guilty and defeated, and then I was saved by one of the moms calling across the room that it was time to go. I waved goodbye. Next time, I thought, I’d have a better answer ready.
Yet it’s been almost a week and I still haven’t come up with a good answer for the next time a stranger – especially a child – asks me that dreaded question. A Gender 101 class? A lie of convenience? A “why does it matter”?
Considering my general anxiety in social situations and my complete lack of interest in giving gender lectures on the spot, I may simply ask again, “What do you think?” And when they ask if their guess was correct, whatever it was, I’ll say, “Yes.”