May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“She’s so cute!” people frequently stop me, to remark about my 2-year-old son. He will be sitting in a shopping cart, wearing a shirt emblazoned with a truck, black sweatpants, high tops, and his long, flowy, unkempt poof-ball hair will be flapping in the wind. None of my daughters ever wore clothing like this. Perhaps there are some toddler girls who do not want to wear ballet costumes all the time, or a princess nightgown to school, but I’m going to guess that truck-shirts are not high on the wardrobe wish-list for a 2-year-old girl. And yet, people think he is a she.

It’s probably the hair. He does not have pierced ears. He does not wear skirts (well, except for once, when he tried on his older sister’s and wouldn’t take it off. We went out the whole afternoon with him wearing what looked like a floor-length skirt. If people thought he was a girl that day, I will be more forgiving in my heart). Sometimes he does wear his older sister’s sparkly Shabbat shoes, or might carry a pink purse to carry his train and trucks, but we are trying to hide those things around the house, to allay some of the gender ambiguity that the public seems to display towards him. “It’s a boy,” I will sometimes correct them, when they compliment me on how cute she is, but more often than not, I don’t bother.

“We grow his hair until he’s 3,” I am then forced to explain to the stranger who is still trying to make sense of the combination of superman shirt plus high ponytail of his sun-streaked hair.

“What’s her name?” the really thick ones continue to ask, and then I am even more stuck. His name is Liad, which in Hebrew can be used for both male and female, and in English, is not a word. This results in eliciting even more blank stares, as the cashier feebly attempts to repeat the name I have just told her.

“Leah?”

Sometimes, people just think I am saying Leon with a stuffed nose, and other times, I just say “Leo.” Once, in Cancun, I told a native that his name was “Lee” because I figured the woman would not understand what I was saying anyway, so I just abbreviated the whole thing. But my too-honest, “let’s never lie” children tried to get me in trouble. “Lee?” my daughter asked, loudly, in front of the local. “That’s not his name, Mommy. Why did you say Lee?” I nudged at her shoe, hoping she would look up and see my face, which was pleading with her to stop exposing me at the moment. I explained to her later that I just shortened his name a little, and it wasn’t really a lie, even though lying is terrible—but this didn’t count! And that the woman wouldn’t have understood the addition of the other two letters anyway, so it was really to her benefit.

When my daughters were babies, people sometimes thought that they were sons. My husband was not a fan of piercing their ears, and I respected those wishes, but even sometimes a headband or a bow was not obvious enough. In fact, they still think my daughters are sons, due to the fact that their names are often mispronounced or misinterpreted to be male, by individuals who are not well-versed in the cultural diversity and complexity of unique names. One daughter was even placed in a boy’s bunk in camp one summer (that might be really fun in the future, but she was less than thrilled).

To put an end to this confusion, I now purposely write on all applications MALE or FEMALE in giant letters, even if I am not asked. And while I don’t bother correcting people who mistake my son for a girl anymore, I am banking on the fact that once we endure the emotional tragedy of cutting his hair for the first time at this third birthday, he will unanimously be regarded as male, even if he has blue nail polish on his toes. That’s blue, for boys.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Sarah Abenaim

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