He eyed her twirling in her tutu and his heart squeezed with longing.
He wanted to do that, too. It was not fair that it was not allowed.
That only girls could.
Put on make up.
Play with dolls.
Paint their nails.
He’d tried, of course, but he could tell that even those who did not outright take things from him or forbid him or call him hurtful names, didn’t really feel comfortable with his choices. There was that look they gave, the forced smile, the way they inevitably ran out of patience and gave him “other suggestions” or directed him toward “trying other things.” He was given gifts that made it clear that what he’d asked for was not acceptable and therefore required others choose for him.
He could tell his parents were ashamed.
They loved him. He knew. But they didn’t quite love that part of him. The part that he loved in himself the most. The part that he hated. Sometimes.
It wasn’t even that he didn’t like sports, or climbing trees, or making mud pies. He did. It was just that those weren’t fun without adding a bit of dance, of looking for fairies amidst the branches, or pretending that the mud pies were part of a birthday bakery for princesses.
They kept saying how “wonderful it was to have such an imagination,” but their body language told him that they’d have much preferred if his imagination didn’t quite go where it wanted to. That they would have liked better an imagination of the kind they felt was more appropriate for boys.
“Do you want to be a girl?” his sister asked. They were in her room for a tea party. She was wearing one of her ballet-princess dresses and the full set of jewelry she’d gotten from Grandma just the other day. She let him wear the crown. They pretended this made him a princess, too, but they both knew she chose the crown because it would be easy for him to take down if someone walked in.
Or say he was a king.
Sometimes he envied her so much that it carved a hole into the center of his being. The ease and confidence with which she could prance around in rustling taffeta and glittery baubles, the smiles she got when she dressed up and smeared lipstick on her face … It hurt. It hurt. It hurt.
She let him into her world, but they both know that it was not his to live in. They both knew that when her friends came for a play-date he would be excluded. They both knew that even with no dress on, and with a crown fit for a king, at any moment someone might barge in, and frown, and find a reason to ‘redirect’ him.
Her question made him cry.
Because he didn’t want to be a girl.
He wanted to be a boy who liked playing with dolls and painting his nails and having tea parties and trying on dresses and decorating mud-pie cakes for princesses.
And yet … it would have been so easy. If he were a girl.
No frowns. No shaming. No overhearing adults talk of how he needed “toughening up” or was “too sensitive” or was “definitely gay-material” or “headed in the wrong direction.” Not having to know that Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa were kind of ashamed of him.
“I want to be me,” he sobbed, and fingered a dress his sister discarded and that he would give his heart to be allowed to put on without fear. “I just want to be me … and I don’t understand why it is wrong.”