The doorbell rings, and I run down the steps to answer. Today is the day our condo association is sending someone to take care of the dangerously old porch steps. I greet the carpenter with a smile, and explain my concerns about the steps. After agreeing that my porch steps need to be entirely replaced, I thanked him and left him to his work.
“Was that the guy coming to fix the porch?” my husband asks.
“Yes. He seems really nice…and has bigger boobs than I do,” I reply.
My husband stops brushing his teeth, looking at me for answers. No, I hadn’t meant he was a large guy with man boobs. Quite the contrary; he had real boobs, and I couldn’t help but be a bit jealous that mine didn’t come close to looking so great.
I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Perhaps it’s because my father was a carpenter, and in my head, I always envisioned all carpenters to be like him, with flannel shirts, ripped jeans, muddied work boots. Not a tight sweatshirt, floral headband, and pink sneakers.
My two-year-old daughter comes rushing through the living room, eager to get to the bottom of the steps so she can see out the glass door. I watch as she carefully holds the railing and slowly takes each step to the bottom. I watch her wave to our guest, and flash her winning smile through the glass.
“What’s he doing mommy?” she asks. I explain that the steps are being fixed. “Ohhh, he fix them,” she replies, while keeping her eyes glued to the door, watching the carpenter work. She’s fascinated with the electric saws, the steps being ripped out. I leave her to guard the stairwell, aware that getting her to come back to the living room would be an exercise in futility.
I begin to think about how she knew the carpenter was a man and not a woman. He has hair as long as mine, dresses in women’s clothing, and even has makeup on. She may have not really paid attention at all. At two she may not fully understand pronouns, though I’ve heard her use them properly before.
My brother calls. Of course I mention how Haven is stalking our carpenter, and how I am unsure what she thinks about a trans person fixing the steps, if anything at all. He responds, “That might be confusing to her.”
Then it dawns on me that my daughter is growing up in a different world than the one my brother and I grew up in. Our world now accepts and embraces things that were once kept hidden. What surprised us as children will likely not surprise my daughter at all.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a man dressed as a woman. I was in New York City where my grandparents lived, and we were walking down 42nd street. My grandfather suddenly pointed to the woman in front of us and, in his strong accent, said, “Is a man!”
I was only about eight years old, and didn’t really understand what he meant. The person in front of us was a woman. She was in high heels, a mini skirt and had long flowing brown hair.
“What do you mean, Grandpa?” I asked.
He repeated his statement. I looked at my mother. “Mom. That’s not a guy. She’s wearing a skirt.” My mother, who was already embarrassed that the person in front of us could hear, said, “Sometimes men dress like women. Keep your voice down.” I left that evening feeling very confused.
Though my parents taught my brother and me to never discriminate against anyone, they didn’t necessarily sit down for a lengthy conversation about what it meant to be gay, lesbian, or trans. It still wasn’t something that was much out in the open. By the time I was a teenager, I understood. Even in the late 90s, the most interaction I had with the LGBT community was at funky clothing stores or dance clubs in the city.
My grandparents grew up believing that homosexuals were disturbed people who chose a “deviant” lifestyle. I would argue against them and get nowhere. My parents were more understanding, but still considered the topic something we didn’t talk about.
Now, we live in a world where the LGBT population is much more out in the open. My daughter may grow up without even realizing that it was once something people felt they needed to hide. I hope for a time when no one needs to feel ashamed, but there is no telling what the next 10 years will bring.
I’m glad I didn’t make my “boob” comment in front of my daughter. Doing so would have communicated there was something wrong or different that she needed to take notice of, and that’s not a message I want to send. Someday she’ll start asking questions, and it will be my job to explain how everyone is different, and that we need to accept each individual for who and what they are – whether they’re overweight, underweight, dress a certain way, has a different skin tone, or an obvious disability. I want my daughter to grow into a person who is accepting of all people, regardless of how they dress or who they love.
I also want her to understand that her parents will love and accept her no matter what. I want her to know she need never be ashamed of how she feels inside, because she is beautiful in our eyes no matter what.
My daughter continues to stand at the door watching the carpenter build our new, much safer steps with an intensity usually reserved for her Minnie Mouse dolls. I smile down at her. Children are so innocent, so approving of everyone. They don’t pay as much attention to diversities, or they take them to heart when they do notice. My goal is to keep her mind open, and her natural desire to accept those who treat her with kindness and respect intact.
While so much progress has been made, much more needs to happen. My daughter is part of a new generation. Things that were less commonplace in my grandparents’, parents’, and even my generation will be everyday realities for her. But we must continue to teach acceptance, and that things once considered peculiar are really not unusual at all.