Michael is 11 years old and loves My Little Pony. He is also in a coma. He hung himself in his bedroom, because he could no longer stand the taunts he got for liking “a girls’ show.” It is unclear how much damage his brain sustained.
Years ago, I saw a mother carrying her young son through a store. They paused near a nail polish display, and the boy reached out to touch the colorful objects. The mother quickly declared, “You can’t like those! Those are for girls.” Actually, they’re for fingernails. And he can like them, because he does.
As a child, I played with Barbies, played with makeup, begged my Mom to buy me jelly shoes. People frequently took it upon themselves to “correct” my gender transgressions. To this day, I don’t understand why these self-appointed gender police believe so strongly in the total uniformity of their social groups. When the evidence concludes that there are all kinds of bodies, and all kinds of identities.
Sexual differentiation and gender categorization are two different things. The former refers to anatomy, and the second refers to behavior. While the two categories we acknowledge might accurately describe some of us, they don’t describe all of us. In an effort to account for everyone, there are cultures that have categorized gender in very different ways than we do. When you realize that gender categories are cultural fictions, you must admit that we are all participating in a big, lame LARP.
I speak irreverently about social categories now, and I have no problem dis-identifying with all of them; but I am not completely alienated from my child-self nor the suffering I endured. I vividly remember feeling rejected, being “not right” but also not able to change. Harboring insults and ridicule. Exhausting myself trying to fake social success. When I cry for Michael, I am still crying for me.
My heart breaks for Michael and his family. And I was originally going to write that I was washing my hands of the human species. Giving up on the world, disconnecting somehow. Then, someone said, “Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”
So rather than continue railing against ignorance and cruelty, I am asking you to stand with me for something positive. Let us affirm the dignity and rightness of every child who likes ponies, every child who likes nail polish, every child who wants a pair of jelly shoes. Regardless of the sex assignment given to them. As long as we have only two gender categories to work with, let our children define them with their actual behavior, their actual being. Let us be candles neutralizing corners of darkness.