J, my seven year old is growing, and quickly. He’s a brilliant child, full of imagination and love for life. His hair is long in the center and combed over to the side, the sides shaved down a bit, making him look more grown up. He has a dusting of freckles on his cheeks, and both his front teeth are loose. Just last week, he graduated first grade and got a certificate for his achievements in math. He can be a little bit shy, but he’s also bold and very sweet. He will walk up to strangers and offer his hand, ask their name and introduce himself, with first, middle, and last names. He likes baby bunnies and feels bad that they get eaten by eagles and foxes. He draws pictures endlessly. He names his toys and creates stories with them nonstop. He dances, moving his entire body around the room, just because. He sings in front of crowds, into a microphone, without fear. He is an incredible child.
My sons live with their mother most of the time, and with me a few days per week. She’s dating someone seriously now, and the boys are spending more and more time with him and his two children.
Last night, as I made dinner, J came in to the kitchen to talk.
“Hi, dad, I have a question.”
“All right, monkey, what is it?” I stirred the spaghetti sauce in the pan.
“Well, if mom gets married, I’ll have a step-dad.”
I smiled, nodding. I genuinely like the guy, so that helps, but it is jarring to add another parent into the mix. “Yes, that’s right. And you would have a step-brother and step-sister who would live with you every other weekend.”
He moved around the room without looking at me while he talked. “Yeah. I like them. So I would have a mom and a dad and a step-dad. That sounds fun.”
I laughed. Ever the optimist, this one. “Yes, that does sound fun.”
“And if you got married, then I would have two step-dads.”
“Yes, that’s right, too.”
He crinkled his nose, like he does when he is thinking. “I would have three dads and one mom. Are there kids that have three moms and one dad?”
“Absolutely. Some kids have one mom. Some kids have four moms. Some kids have three dads and two moms. There is every kind of family out there.”
He grinned again. “Yeah, that’s cool.”
“It is cool, isn’t it?”
“Are some kids in my class gay, do you think?”
“I bet there are. But they are probably too little to know. Boys and girls who are gay sometimes figure it out when they grow up. It’s the same for transgender people.”
J tried the word out. “Transgender. What does that mean?”
A few minutes later, I had the food finished, and I sat down with J at the table with loose leaf paper and a pen. I drew four stick figures, a small depiction of our family, three boys and a girl.
“Okay, here is me. My body is a boy. How do we know a body is a boy body?”
“It has a penis.”
“Right. I’m a boy on the outside, and I’m also a boy on the inside. My spirit is a boy. I’m gay, which mean I like to date other boys. Now here is Mom. She has a girl body, and girls have a vagina. And she is also a girl on the inside. She’s straight because she likes to date boys. And here are you and your brother.”
J smiled, catching on. “We are both boys on the outside and on the inside.”
“That’s right, monkey. Okay, now look at this.”
I drew another little stick figure. “This is my friend Jamie. When Jamie was born, she had a boy body.”
J crinkled his brow. “You said she.”
I grinned. “Yes I did. Even though Jamie was a boy on the outside, she was a girl on the inside. Her spirit was a girl. So when she was little, she thought she was a boy for a while, but when she got older she realized she was really a girl. So now she is a grown up. She uses a girl’s name, Mary, and she wears dresses and has long hair and she likes makeup and she is a girl.”
J looked at the images for a minute. “So she still has a boy body?”
“Well, that part doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she has a penis or a vagina. It just matters that she is a girl and we treat her like a girl. And sometimes there are people who are born with girl bodies who are really boys on the inside.”
“Like maybe a baby girl named Sue growed up and became a boy named Sam instead?”
“Yeah, kind of like that.”
J looked at the drawings for a few seconds. “That’s cool,” he repeated. “Can I go show my brother this?”
“Of course, monkey. Go ahead.”
J grabbed the paper and went skipping out of the room. “A! Come here! I want to show you transgender!”