Is that a boy or a girl?

I’m unlocking my bike at the Harris Teeter when a dad pulls up with his daughter on the back of his bike. While he’s locking up she runs around the bike rack, singing to herself and pushing bikes over. She is standing probably a foot away from me when she asks her dad, “Is that a boy or a girl?” He replies, “Why don’t you ask her?” She never directly addresses me and I stay silent. “Is it a boy or a girl?” she asks again. He repeats his first answer again. Finally, as I’m getting on my bike to ride away (she still hasn’t addressed me directly) he says to her “She’s a girl.”
Kids are usually the most honest, the least afraid to ask questions. But if these interactions don’t reveal how entrenched the gender binary is in our world, I’m not sure what does. She was only vocalizing what all of us do internally, each time we encounter someone new. We size them up, and deciding their gender is a big first step.
Being called “it” didn’t feel too good, but then again she’s six and our language doesn’t give her many other options. It was interesting that his daughter’s questioning didn’t phase the father though–he gendered me right away (“her”) even before he answered her question directly.
I chose not to answer, first because she never asked me directly (it’d be hard to ignore a direct question) but also because I didn’t know how to respond. It’s getting harder and harder these days to respond to that question (which I get mostly on forms and such). These days I identify as genderqueer, if given the opportunity to write in my gender on forms, and kind of enjoy the rare moments when I get called “sir” in public.
Afterwards, while biking home, I contemplated what would I say to this kid if I could actually explain. Would I try and explain the idea of genderqueer to her? Would I give her my life story, complete with my thoughts about my gender identity and presentation as it’s morphed over the years? Would I tell her I don’t love pronouns, or answering which I prefer? There’s no simple answer there for me.
My friend Alex told me about how she reacts in these situations, by asking questions in return. What do you think? Why do you want to know? Are you a boy or a girl?
I’m writing about this because in our recent conversations about gender here at Feministing, the topic of genderqueerness came up and some commenters asked for more discussion on the topic. I’m also working on a new series (title TBD) about gender in everyday life, kind of a way to talk about different examples of how gender difference is reinforced by society. So stay tuned for that to come in the next few weeks.
Looking for a definition of the term genderqueer? Try here and here for some definitions.

Join the Conversation

  • Lisa Harney

    I realize that people say they want to understand because they’re trying to be sympathetic or whatever. In my personal experience, however, cis people tend to not really get trans people – even the most understanding, compassionate, cis people still fail to grasp what it means to be trans, to grow up trans. And I think the understanding needs to start with accepting the fact that trans people exist, that we have needs distinct from cis people, and that those needs aren’t automatically accessible to cis people.
    That is, the understanding shouldn’t be about why we exist and why we transition, but about accepting that we do exist, that we do have needs, and that society’s full of barriers to acceptance and accommodation of our existence and our needs.

  • Kaos

    Haha, well In Norway the very south of the country where Im from is considered a bible belt. One dont notice it that much in ones day to day business, but if you are not into Jesus or footbal/soccer, it is hard to start events.
    although, the most hardcore crhristian areas also have the best black metla, Rock and metal bands ;)
    Another fav word appart from baldylocks is “scaredoo” as presented in a scottish accent by a fourteen year old girl:
    ” did ye see tha? she had a pure scare doo like, fuckin mental.”

  • Catch21

    Great post.
    I would love to see and even contribute to any new developments in the discussion on genderqueerness. I’ve always been fascinated about the role language(or languages) plays in a society’s understanding, consturction, and disposition of genderqueerness, and the linguistic, thus humanistic limbo any intersex/trans/queer people are put into, case in point by being dubbed “it” (our pronouns and language are soo lacking, a thorough, modern and comparative study would be an amazing contribution to this subject).
    I’d also love to see this topic not limited to the US, or the “West” … let’s do a subject aimmed at understanding and inclusiveness the justice it deserves by being as inclusive as possible, seeking information and perspectives from all over the world, not just the US. I say this bc I can list on one hand the number of “prominent” trans-activists on the entire continent of Africa, which is a fascinatingly small number for such an enormous issue.

  • j7sue2

    “Basically, I’ve never heard a (modern) biologist use the term “biological sex” in the sense of the XX/XY binary. It seems like non-biologists like to construct straw man arguments using this term to belittle the field of biology.”
    It’s used to deny trans people their self identification, not to belittle the field of biology. As in “You’re not really a woman, cos you have XY” As if all cis people have had their DNA analysed.