“Not usually, no.”

“And it doesn’t feel like anyone else’s business either, right? That’s your point. That it feels odd and awkward to tell.”

“Right but—”

“So I’m sniffing around, and it doesn’t have that whiff of Things We Share either.” Mr. Tongo made snuffling noises on the other end of the line to show that he was on the scent. “We discuss a lot of intimate things with our friends, but our genitals, and those of our children, are private. Many of my patients and clients—kids as well as their parents, people dealing with a whole range of conditions, not just this one—find they don’t want to explain themselves every time they meet someone new. They don’t want to be responsible for educating everyone they meet. They don’t consider what’s in their pants to be any of anyone else’s business.”

“I guess not but—”

“You have lots of opportunities there you never had in Wisconsin. You could go a whole winter without shoveling your walk. You could drink a cup of coffee that would occasion tears of joy. If you shed them out of doors in February, they would not freeze on your cheeks. What fun! And Poppy doesn’t have to be Poppy Who Used to Be Claude. She can be Just Poppy.”

“But people need to know.”

“Who does?


“Oh yes, I see,” said Mr. Tongo. “Everyone who?”

“Her teachers. The school nurse. The parents of her playdates. Her soccer coach. Her ballet instructor. Our friends. Their kids. The boys’ friends. The parents of the boys’ friends—”

“Why?” Mr. Tongo wondered.


“Yes, why do all those people need to know? What’s likely to happen at school that Poppy’s penis would make a difference to her first-grade teacher or the school nurse? What kind of playdates is this six-year-old going on that her friends’ parents need her whole medical history? Do you get her friends’ medical histories when they come over to play?”


“No. So why do they need hers?”

“Maybe it’s not that they have a need to know but a right to know.”

“‘Right to know’ suggests you are being duplicitous, lying to people about something, masking certain truths. Are you duplicitous or lying?”


“No. You’re not masking a truth. This is the truth. If you told people she was really a boy, that would be untrue. There’s nothing here anyone has a need or right to know. You’re not keeping secrets. You’re respecting your child’s right to privacy, which she has both need of and right to, just like the rest of us.”


In fact, it wasn’t just Poppy. Families who keep secrets don’t keep just one. They all guarded like garrisons stories of who they were, who they had been.

At breakfast on the first morning of school, Rigel and Orion crafted a plan.

“Let’s tell everyone we’re actually pirates,” said Rigel. “I’ll say my name is Blackbeard, and you can be Captain Hook.”

“You don’t have a black beard.” Ben was disappointed to find they’d moved all the way across the country and his little brothers were still idiots. “And he doesn’t have a hook.”

“I have a hook,” said Orion.

“Is that why he’s called Blackbeard?” Blackbeard considered the matter. “I’ll be Stubble the Pirate.”

Ben snorted. “You wish.”

“Hint of Whiskers the Pirate? Dad gave me his old electric razor.”

“But have you used it?”

“I see your point.” Rigel’s hairless eleven-year-old face lit up. “I’ll be Nobeard the Pirate! Seattle is going to be so great.”

Ben could be the smart one all anew. The move bought him another year of revelation. By the time he’d turned seven at home, everyone already knew he was smart, which made his being smart unimpressive. His tests actually came back with sighs from his teachers: “A+ as usual” or “Great work as always.” Now his papers came back breathless again with “Wow!”s and “Amazing!”s and invitations to join Advanced Placement classes and the Debate Club.

And Poppy became Just Poppy. Not Poppy with a penis. Not Poppy who used to be Claude. Not Poppy who’s really a boy. Just Poppy.

But for all of that, it was Roo’s transformation that was most dramatic. He wasn’t a little boy after the move any more than Poppy was. He didn’t seem a man quite yet, but Rosie and Penn could see it in there, waiting, biding time in his face, making hard angles and hair where he’d been round and smooth just weeks before. He gave up football, he said, because practice was boring, but Rosie imagined it was because the team already had a quarterback and a backup quarterback and Roo worried he wasn’t as good. He gave up the flute, he said, because he didn’t like the band teacher, but Penn imagined it was because without football to balance it out, a woodwind section otherwise dominated by girls was asking a lot of the new guy. There already was the kid who always got elected president. He gave up football for sitting in his room sulking. He gave up leading all clubs except the Roo Is Really Pissed Off and Doesn’t Want to Talk About It Club. He gave up flautist for floutist. He was not a man, not remotely, but he wasn’t a little boy or even a big boy anymore either. Like Poppy, suddenly he was somewhere in between.