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Gender Benders
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Holly Kozelsky

Sunday, November 18, 2012

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor

It was one of those moments that make parents shudder.

We were in line for the register at the pet store when Mary Evelyn looked at the clerk, then turned to me and queried, “Mama, is that a lady or a man?”

It was a loud enough question that everyone, including the clerk, must have heard it, but not so loud that I had to deal with it and apologize. Everyone could pretend not to have heard it.

To answer, I resorted to our special secret code for moments such as this: the Spanish language. I explained in Spanish that the clerk probably was a woman, but sometimes it’s just not obvious, and that’s OK.

“Like Aunt Taylor?” she asked.

“Good point,” I responded. “Like Aunt Taylor.”

That wasn’t all for the day. The server at the coffee shop had wavy, shoulder-length brown locks. Mary Evelyn looked at him, fascinated, then turned to me and asked incredulously, “That man has long hair?”

At 3, she is fascinated by gender differences. It started about six months ago, when she would list out who was a man and who was a woman. She’d fly right on down the list, just getting stumped at Uncle, oops, I mean Aunt, Taylor.

Once she got people figured out, the concept transferred to animals. First, it was determining what each of our pets were. Then she asked me about every animal we saw: “Is that a girl hamster or a boy hamster?”

One day she posed the question, “Are koala bears boys?”

It’s also a personal concern: “When I was a baby, I was a boy baby or a girl baby?”

I answered that people’s sex doesn’t change ... but in today’s world, that’s not exactly true, is it?

She has learned to make generalizations about gender. Sometimes it’s pretty broad based, such as “Boys like guns and girls like twirling batons?”

Driving past the auto parts store one day, she pointed and said, “Is that store for mens?”

“It’s for people who are going to fix their cars. That’s usually men, but sometimes that can be ladies too.”

“Like Aunt Taylor? Aunt Taylor can go to that store too?”

“Well, yes, Aunt Taylor is pretty good at fixing cars,” I agreed.

Getting dressed brings to mind all sorts of great questions she can ask. “Mens don’t have bras? Only ladies? And mens and boys don’t have slips? Only ladies and girls?”

Yesterday she requested pig tails for the first time. After I fixed them, I spun her around, looked at her and said, “Ahhh. Your first pig tails.”

“Boys don’t have firsts, Mama? Only girls?”

“Boys have lots of first things too. What boys don’t usually have are pig tails.”

That’s right; don’t usually. Who knows. With everything else we’ve seen, we’ll run across that boy or man with pig tails eventually.

And when we do, it will be all right.


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