Erin Britt On the Spectrum

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When your gender nonconforming child slowly begins to conform it’s a little alarming. She starts by wearing her sister’s clothes at home. And brushing her wild hair. She wears light gray skinny jeans and high tops. She threads the needle between boy and girl so well that you kind of forget the times in kindergarten when she asked for a penis as though it was something you could go pick up off the shelf at the local supermarket. She slowly plays with the girls in her class, the ones she’s roundly ignored for the last three years. She loves the movie Frozen. You barley even remembered to ask if she wanted to go when you took your other daughter because you thought your gender nonconforming one would turn up her nose, say it was for girls, that she’d rather be home playing with her bow and arrow. She sings, full heart, like Elsa in that movie and you wonder, just a little, what is going on with her.

She asks to go shopping for clothes. You suggest the places that have worked in the past, the places where she likes the clothes in the boys department. She says no. Those clothes don’t work for her anymore. You ask what kind of clothes she’s interested in. She says, “the kind teenager girls wear.”  You are not sure you follow. You move between these departments on a sunny day in spring and she chooses black yoga pants, striped long sleeve T-shirts and a fake pair of Ugg boots. For the first time in nearly five years it looks as though you have two daughters when you pull the clothes out of the shopping bags.

You go to one last store. She asks for a dress. The anxiety rises in your throat because now you are really wondering what the hell is going on. She says she’ll wear it. She asks to try it on. Your husband takes her to the dressing room. He comes back, says it fits and he thinks you should get it. It will fit her younger sister, too, he says, just in case your gender nonconforming child changes her mind on the way home.  We support her no matter what, he says. He’s almost a therapist. So you listen. Though the burning in your chest doesn’t go away. Especially when you see her in the dress. She’s dressing in drag, you think, but you keep it to yourself. You tell her she looks lovely.

She wears it out to play in the backyard in mud, in spring. You tell her that it might be best not to wear her school clothes out to play. She says, “I’m not wearing this dress to school, mom. I’m not there yet.” You are a little relieved. You need to take baby steps with this. Evidently so does she. But you still wonder if she’s not “there” and she’s not where you thought she was either, where exactly is she. She’s on the spectrum of gender, remember? Yes. You remember. You breathe a little. You trust her. You know she’s treading lightly on the landscape of girl. She needs you. Don’t forget that. Even if she’s not fitting into any of the boxes you’ve created for her. And, that, you suppose is the point. Gender nonconforming. It can be a box too. Don’t limit her choices, she’s saying. Don’t fence her in.

You keep trying. So does she. You fold her yoga pants and tuck them into her drawer with her button down shirt, tie, and suit jacket. She wears boxer briefs under her dress. She knows who she is. She knows where she’s going. You find comfort in this and follow her blindly because, really, what else is there to do.

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About the Author

Erin Britt

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