Are You a Boy or a Girl?
It starts with a gender-reveal celebration, and it culminates at the door of a bathroom in North Carolina.
Like a lot of 18-month-olds, my daughter is epicene; even if she’s out on the town in, say, pink leggings and a floral raincoat, sometimes I’ll still get a “He’s so cute—how old is he?” from a friendly stranger. (I just did, in fact, on Mother’s Day. In the stranger’s defense, we were exploring cannons at a military park. Masculine!) I rarely bother to correct people, but if they realize their mistake, they are often profusely apologetic, as if they’d given grave offense over something far more consequential than gender.
And if this scene unfolds when I’ve dressed her in neutral clothing, the offense at times turns subtly outward. “Why do you dress her like a boy?” demanded a man in the jewelry section of H&M while my kid—in a red sweatshirt, jeans, and gray-and-purple sneakers—rummaged through a pile of tassled earrings. The man was trying to be polite, but he also seemed affronted by his own confusion—and affronted by me, I suppose, for causing his confusion. “She looks like a boy!” he insisted, repeatedly. The only response I could think of was the shrugging one I gave: “She looks like herself.”
Jessica Winter is executive editor of newyorker.com and a former editor at Slate and Time. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Bookforum, The Believer, and many other publications. She lives with her family in Flatbush, Brooklyn.