- This Is How It Always Is
“Did you see the Statue of Liberty?” Elena asked Davis.
“No,” said Davis.
Miss Appleton clapped her hands together. “Boys and girls, you asked good questions, and you asked them nicely and quietly, so I’m putting a cookie token in our cookie jar to help us earn our cookie party. Now, let’s all find our math partners for Math Trays. Blue table, you may get up and get your math trays.…”
And that was it. No one looked askance at Claude. No one whispered something nasty. Claude’s brown jean skirt and wings were no more or less interesting than a trip to New York or a haircut or certainly an ordinary lost tooth (teeth got lost like tourists among the kindergarten set). They were, bless them, too self-involved to be invested in Claude’s identity crisis. They were too much five-year-olds to give a cookie token about anyone but themselves.
As he got in line for lunch, Claude sidled by Penn’s mini chair to whisper, “You can go home now, Dad.”
“You okay, baby?”
“I’m proud of you, Claude.”
“I’m proud of you too, Daddy.”
The next morning Claude asked at breakfast, “How long will it take to grow hair down to my butt?”
And Rigel said, “How long will it take to grow hair on my butt?”
And Orion said, “Hairy butt, hairy butt.”
Claude was wearing a purple corduroy jumper over rainbow-striped tights. And he had shed his wings.
The kindergarteners were unfazed. Very little is unalterable as far as five-year-olds are concerned. Very little doesn’t change. One day those squiggly lines in books transmute into words. One day actual pieces of your mouth start falling off. One day your beloved resolves into a kind of ratty stuffed animal, and for the first time in your life, you feel fine about leaving him home. One day, like magic, you can balance on two wheels. That one day you could be a boy and the next become a girl was not out of their dominion.
But the older kids had some questions. And they did not always ask them kindly. On the playground at recess, third-graders demanded, “Why are you wearing a dress?” Eight-year-olds pointed at Claude in the cafeteria and sang, “Boooooy girrrrrl boooooy girrrrrl,” like police sirens. Fellow fifth-graders sneered at Rigel and Orion, “Your gay little brother is so gay.” And when Claude tried to jump rope or use the monkey bars or the slide, there was a constant barrage of “Are you a boy or a girl? Are you a boy or a girl? Are you a boy or a girl?” from kids older and bigger and stronger than he. Because he didn’t know the answer, he said nothing. And because he said nothing, they kept asking the question.
Claude decided it was too cold to go outside at recess anyway and spent it alone in the library instead. Claude was content to eat lunch on his lap in the bathroom. But after a few times, the nurse told him her bathroom was only for going to the bathroom in, not for eating lunch in. So Claude went back to the little boys’ room.
Miss Appleton kept him in from recess one day to ask, “Where are you going to the bathroom?”
“I’m not going to the bathroom,” said Claude. “I’m going to the library.”
She took a deep breath. “When you go to the bathroom, where do you go to the bathroom?”
“Where I always go to the bathroom.”
“In the boys’ bathroom?”
Claude nodded. He knew he’d done something wrong; he just didn’t know what it was.
“Why are you using the boys’ bathroom?”
“Because I’m a boy?”
She took another deep breath. “Then why are you wearing a dress?”
Claude was confused. They’d been through this. “I like to wear a dress.”
“Little boys do not wear dresses.” Miss Appleton tried to channel her usual patience. “Little girls wear dresses. If you are a little boy, you can’t wear a dress. If you are a little girl, you have to use the nurse’s bathroom.”
“But little girls use the girls’ bathroom,” said Claude.
“But you’re not a little girl,” Miss Appleton said through her teeth.
At the end of the day, Victoria Revels called. “We are happy to treat your child like a girl if that is what he believes himself to be,” she began.
“Not happy,” Penn corrected. “Legally obligated.”
“Both,” said Ms. Revels. “But it cannot be just on a whim.”
“Meaning if he thinks he is a girl, he has gender dysphoria, and we will accommodate that. If he just wants to wear a dress, he is being disruptive and must wear normal clothes.”
“I’m not sure either Claude or I or even you understand the distinctions you’re making up as you go along here,” said Penn.
“It’s confusing,” the district representative acknowledged, “for Miss Appleton and for the children and clearly also for Claude. No one knows how to treat this child. Do we say he or she? Does Claude line up with the boys or the girls? Why is his hair still short? Why hasn’t he changed his name?”
“Aren’t there girls in the class with short hair?” said Penn. “Aren’t there girls in the class who wear pants?”