“The point,” said Ms. Revels, “is that we can treat your child as a boy. Or we can treat your child as a girl. But we cannot treat him as … well, I don’t even know what else there is.”

“That might be the problem.” Penn had been online. He’d read and researched. He was starting to be an expert here. “He might be both. He might be neither. He might be a boy in a dress or a girl with a penis. He might be one for a while and then another. He might be gender variant. He might be genderqueer—”

“Not in kindergarten he is not,” she interrupted. “He cannot be all of the above in kindergarten, and he cannot be none of the above in kindergarten. In kindergarten, a child can only be a he or a she, a boy or a girl. Kindergartens are not set up for ambiguity.”

“Maybe they should be,” said Penn. “The world is an ambiguous place.”

“Not for a five-year-old. For a five-year-old, the world is very black and white. It’s fair or it’s unfair. It’s fun or it’s torture. There are not disgusting cookies. There are not delicious vegetables.”

“But there are,” said Penn, “even for five-year-olds. Claude hates cookies with coconut. He loves broccoli. He does have a penis, and he does need to wear a dress. It would be simpler perhaps if these things weren’t true, but they are. For all your kids. Surely some of the little girls in his class play soccer after school, and surely some of the boys play hopscotch. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

“It may be a good thing,” said Ms. Revels, “but good or bad, we can’t accommodate it. He needs to decide one way or the other. He needs to … pardon me, but he needs to move his bowels or get off the pot.”

“In the nurse’s office,” added Penn.

“In the nurse’s office,” said Victoria Revels.


Penn wanted to call Dwight Harmon and raise hell. They had a responsibility to make sure his child wasn’t bullied or picked on. And they weren’t going to pressure Claude into declaring a gender-or-anything-else identity just because it made it easier for the district to refer to him in the third person. Rosie wanted to model for Claude an attitude of brushing off insults like dog hair and laughing with wry but wise amusement at hapless administrators. Rosie, like most parents, had learned this approach when she had a second child. When Roo fell down at the playground, she’d swoop in cooing, “Are you okay? Show Mommy where it hurts. Oh my poor baby boy.” And he’d cry like the brokenhearted. By Ben, she’d learned to keep her seat and call, “You’re all right.” And so he was.

“If we don’t act like it’s a big deal, he won’t feel like it’s a big deal,” said Rosie.

“But it is a big deal,” said Penn.

As usual though, while they were trying to map the appropriate course, Claude charted his own. At dinner, he announced he was changing his name to the cocoa channel.

“The cocoa channel?” said Ben.

“Like a TV station with nothing but chocolate,” said Claude.

“You mean Coco Chanel.”

“What’s Chanel?”

“Her last name. She invented perfume.”

“Chocolate perfume?” said Claude.

“Maybe.” Ben shrugged. He didn’t know much about perfume. He did know his little brother couldn’t go around calling himself the cocoa channel. Or Coco Chanel.

“You can just be Claude,” said Penn. “Is Miss Appleton giving you a hard time?”


“They can’t make you change your name. You can keep your own name and still wear whatever you want.”

“I want to change it. I don’t like Claude.”

“Me too. I want to change my name. Orion is the name of a star, not a boy.”

“Orion is the name of a constellation, not a star,” Ben corrected.

“Easy for you,” said Roo. “You got the normal name.”

“Roo’s a normal name,” said Ben.

“Yeah, for a kangaroo,” said Rigel.

“Let’s get a kangaroo!” said Orion.

“We’re not getting a kangaroo,” said Rosie.

“I’m changing my name to Kangaroo,” said Orion. “That’s what I want to be called from now on. Kangaroo Walsh-Adams.”

“At least you got a constellation,” said Rigel. “I got a foot.”

“My foot,” Orion said proudly.

“Your foot,” Rigel agreed morosely.

“No one is changing his name,” said Rosie. “Names aren’t something you give yourself. Names are something you get from your parents. Claude, if you want a girl’s name, you can be Claudia. Everyone else keeps the name I gave him.”

“Why?” Roo was using his tongue to remove the last bits of turkey from a carving knife.

“Because children are bad decision makers,” said Penn.

“You’re letting Claude decide to be a girl,” said Roo, “which is way worse than letting Orion name himself Kangaroo.”

“Roo!” said Rosie and Penn together.

“I don’t want to be Claudia. Claudia’s too much like Claude.”

“You could be Not Claude,” said Ben. “The Absence of Claude. The square root of negative Claude. A Claude Hole.”