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.

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