When my daughter, Clementine, was four years old she and I went to the park almost every day. One day I heard her chattering away with a little boy I had never seen before at the top of the slide. As they stood on the ladder, waiting for their respective turns, the boy looked at Clementine, looked at her short hair and overalls, and then asked her “Are you a boy or a girl?” Clementine, for her part, looked back at him like he couldn’t possibly be for real and said, “I’m a Clementine!” (The “moron” part was implied). And then she went down the slide and forgot all about him. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Fast forward thirteen years, and Clementine is now seventeen, And, apparently, hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be asked whether or not you are a boy or a girl.
The first time she referred to herself as cisgendered I was confused, and had to ask what it meant.
“It means you identify with the gender you were born into,” she explained.
“So, um, it means you’re normal?”
“No.” The look she gave me made me understand how that little boy had felt all those years ago. The same “moron” still hung in the air, unspoken, as she gently led me to understand the very real difference between being “normal” and being “common.”
She then went on to explain the difference between hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan-, demi- and asexual, and even patiently taught me that there could be a difference between someone’s sexual and romantic orientations. At first I just rolled my eyes when she told me she was a “cisgendered pansexual panromantic,” asking why she had to make something so simple into something so needlessly complicated. And then, after I thought about it for a bit, (and got over myself a little bit more), I started to see her point.
Unlike young Clementine, I have never once been asked “what I am”—not at any age. I have also never been the subject of rude stares, points and giggles, or flat-out disgusted looks because I don’t fit into somebody else’s idea of what I’m “supposed” to look like. And, to be honest, neither has Clementine. Which makes it all the more amazing that she recognizes that this is exactly what does happen to so many of her peers.
Last week was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. And because I am lucky enough to have a daughter who cares about things like that, I knew it, and was able to spend a moment or two reflecting on all the little ways we could try and make life easier for people who aren’t quite as “common” as the rest of us. Small things, really, like agreeing to call someone by the pronoun they feel most comfortable with (hint: most people do not feel comfortable with “it.”) And also, agreeing not to “out” people who do not feel ready to be outed.
The second one is why I made sure to okay this column with Clementine before I wrote it. After she gave me her permission she asked me what had been my inspiration for writing it, and I told her the “I’m a Clementine!” story. She hadn’t remembered it herself, and laughed to hear it.
“Well, what was your response?” she then asked me.
I thought about it for a moment, and then told her, “I think it was, ‘Right on, Clementine.’”
And now that I think about it some more, that is still my response. Every single day.