- This Is How It Always Is
“It’s cute you think they’re sleeping.” She slipped off her skirt then her underwear while she half listened to what she guessed was Rigel and Orion pounding what she guessed was modeling clay into what she guessed was the upstairs rug. “Plus, a real woman is always available to her husband to fulfill his sexual urges.”
“But has no sexual urges of her own.” Penn slid his pants off. “And she only does it in the bed. In the dark.”
“On the bottom,” Rosie added, climbing on top of him.
“So you see where I think this list is bullshit.” Though Penn was having some trouble concentrating on his argument, he was still pretty confident he was right. “Even if we’re willing to grant identifiably male behavior and identifiably female behavior—”
“Well, maybe in some cases—”
“—we don’t embody it anyway.”
“Tell me about our embodies.”
“You are not a traditionally feminine woman—”
“I will show you how wrong you are.”
“And I’m not a traditionally masculine man.”
“Let me see.”
“He hasn’t learned traditional gender roles at home. He’s not failing to conform—there’s nothing to conform to. He’s not subverting sex-based expectations because we don’t have any sex-based expectations.”
“I have a few.”
“We might not be good role models,” Penn breathed.
“We’re very good role models,” said Rosie.
“We might not be the right people for this exercise.”
“We are exactly the right people for this exercise.”
“We might be thinking of different exercises,” said Penn.
“We might be speaking of different exercises,” Rosie murmured, “but I bet we’re thinking about the same one.”
At that point, Penn found he could not disagree.
The waiting part of waiting and seeing looked like it always looks: doing something else, worrying, going on with your life, raising your little boys and bigger boys and boys who might be something else or something more. Rosie and Penn could not imagine a child understanding something as complex as the thing they needed to explain to their youngest son. Wearing a dress did not make him a girl, but neither did bearing a penis indelibly make him a boy if that’s not what he was or wanted to be, though if it was what he was and wanted to be, he was welcome to be it and still wear a dress if he liked. Or to put it another way: wear whatever the hell you want and who cares what anyone else thinks. Though everyone else will have thoughts. And they’re unlikely to keep those thoughts to themselves or be entirely kind. Though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do whatever you want, just that you should be forewarned that if you do, there will be consequences. Not that that’s not true of everything—all actions have consequences. Not that the consequences in this case suggested he should not do what he wanted to do and be who he was. None of which was to say that all decisions could be made without regard for consequences. If Roo dared him to stuff leftover Halloween candy into the Thanksgiving turkey, as he had dared Orion the year before, Claude would do well to consider the consequences of his actions. If his teacher told him it was inappropriate to talk to his neighbor during Math Trays, that was different than if his teacher told him it was inappropriate to bring his lunch to school in a purse. If his school friends didn’t like his choice of clothes, then maybe they were being mean or maybe they just needed educating or maybe—
“I don’t have any school friends,” Claude interrupted.
“You must,” his parents insisted. Claude was funny and bright, loving and lovable. He knew how to share. He didn’t pick his nose. He was potty trained. What more would a kindergartener want in a friend?
“But I don’t,” Claude said.
“How is that possible?” They meant it as if Claude had claimed gravity did not exist in his kindergarten classroom. As if he claimed the cafeteria were staffed by trained penguins. It seemed just that impossible that anyone could not like baby Claude.
“They think I’m weird.”
“Because you dress like a girl?” said Penn, and Rosie shot him a look. Of course not. He didn’t dress like a girl at school. “Because you bring a purse to lunch?” he amended.
“I don’t know. They think I talk weird.”
“It’s enigmatic.” Claude shrugged. “Or I am.” Rosie considered that his youngest-of-five vocabulary must confuse most kindergarteners. Many fifth graders. Lots of high school students.
“What would make things easier?” Penn got down on his knees so he could meet his son eye to eye.
“What would make things easier?” Rosie got down on her knees to offer something close to prayer.
“Should we talk to Miss Appleton?”
“Could you spend recess with Orion and Rigel?”
“Should we get you a different lunch tote?”
“Should we set up lots of playdates?”
“Should you join a club or a sport or a band?”
“It’s okay.” Tears crawled out of Claude’s eyes and nose, and besides he was only five, but he tried to comfort his parents anyway. “I just feel a little bit sad. Sad isn’t bleeding. Sad is okay.”