bathroom door sign
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.
Back in the PQ7800 stacks on the third floor of Stanford library, Moomin asked me out of the blue, “How do you tell the difference between boys… men and women, or male and female?” in a high, clear, piping voice. He doesn’t often ask questions so I was glad to have the chance to have that discussion, even though I was on the spot.
We talked about bodies a little bit. I ducked a lot of things by saying that “usually” males have a penis and females have a vulva. We talked about what masculine and feminine mean with behavior and stuff… on the level of “some people think only girls should like pink and barbie and only boys should play boy games… but this isn’t true.” Then he was back to what’s in your pants vs. what you’re signifying, like, “How come usually I can tell if people are men or women, even though they have clothes on?” A good question. His “It’s So Amazing” book doesn’t go into that. “How come I can tell Daddy is a boy, even though he has long hair that’s sort of like a girl?” I talked for a bit but ended up… perhaps unconvincingly… with the question “how do you tell” and my ultimate answer which is:
a) why would you care?
b) if you really want to know you have to ask because it’s up to that person to decide.
I know, because we’ve talked about it before, that he’s thinking of this kid in his class, José Luis, and how “everyone says José Luis is like a girl.”
All I really want from this discussion is for him not to be mean to José Luis!
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