Our 12-year-old daughter would like to pee without being harassed. Lately, she can’t seem to escape it.
Recently, after a long, fun-packed day at a local amusement park, Jenny used the bathroom on the way to the exit. (Jenny is a lovely name, but it’s not our daughter’s real one.) Jenny was met with an adult’s gasp on her way out of the stall and asked why she was in the women’s bathroom. Jenny responded that she is a girl.
This interaction, like many others over the past several months (at a school field trip, in the mall, in restaurants), rattled Jenny. It was the latest in a series of proverbial paper cuts that, taken together, cut deep.
Jenny was born six weeks early. She scared the life out of my wife and me when she decided it was time to make her entrance into the world long before her due date. Jenny’s independence and strength have been evident since that first day, when she came kicking and crying into this world ― whether we were ready or not.
When Jenny announced that she was going to cut her hair short last spring, we didn’t think much of it. From the time she could talk, Jenny has carved out a style that is uniquely her. No pink or purple. Pants, not dresses. Blue hair. Green hair. Jenny defines Jenny. As her parents, we want it no other way.
The new haircut, perfectly executed, is tight on the sides and faded up to a beautiful head of curly hair. It’s a fresh look with practical value. Jenny plays soccer and basketball. Her longer style got in the way.
Adults second-guessing Jenny’s gender — out loud and to her — began soon after the haircut. During a soccer game, the father of a rival player kept referring loudly to Jenny as “he” and “him.” It was outside the earshot of our sideline, and we didn’t find out until after the game. Our daughter’s teammates would have none of it. They checked the dad in real time, admonishing him that “you need to check your pronouns, buddy.”
“No matter the twisted motivation or misdirected agenda, there is a power imbalance when an adult confronts a child about their looks, style, clothes, gender or gender identity.”
Jenny is a strong soccer player. Perhaps this dad thought our team had an unfair advantage because he assumed Jenny was assigned male at birth. Or maybe it was a political statement about trans athletes. Could he have been jealous of Jenny’s skill and wanted to distract her from the game? Maybe he was simply a dinosaur who thinks girls and women belong in a bouffant or Marcia Brady hair. Never mind. No matter the twisted motivation or misdirected agenda, there is a power imbalance when an adult confronts a child about their looks, style, clothes, gender or gender identity — even in the weak, passive-aggressive way this grown man approached it.
Jenny has identified with her birth gender for her entire life. She is a girl — short haircut, long haircut or anything in between. However, no matter how Jenny understands her gender or herself at any point now or throughout the rest of her life, I will support her and love her exactly as she is. Kids come in all kinds of expressions of self and personal style. The most important thing we can do is affirm and celebrate them, even if they fall outside the realm of what some consider commonplace or “normal.”
So, what should an adult do when presented with a child’s haircut they find confusing? Easy: Move on. If you simply must fret over hair, make it your own. You could consider modernizing it like Jenny did.
And if a child’s look is just too much for you to bear, go find an adult connected to that child. For Jenny, my wife and I will be just outside the bathroom door. We’d be happy to discuss why you’re so concerned with the body parts below our daughter’s beautiful head of hair.
Jason Marshall is a public interest attorney.