‘Kendi doesn’t know she’s a girl?’, my girlfriend Lucky asked in surprise.
‘Of course not’, I replied, equally surprised.
‘She doesn’t see the difference between her genitals and those of a boy?’, my other friend, Claire piped in.
‘Where would she be seeing that difference Claire?’ I asked.
‘Little kids have no idea if they are boys or girls, they are just kids until something happens (and repeatedly) that tells them they are one or the other.’ I continued. We were on our way to get sushi for lunch. I was craving the soy sauce.
Lucky was confused. Claire wanted to argue but didn’t know what to say. Lucky was the first to find her voice, ‘you mean Kendi doesn’t know she’s a girl?’ she asked again. Maybe not even directly to me.
‘No, she wouldn’t, would she?’ I replied. ‘What is the difference between a two year old girl and a two year old boy?’
‘I mean, if you looked at a two year old child that had none of the stuff we either put on girls or boys (hairbands, sporty t-shirts, etc), how would you know the child was a boy or a girl without stripping them naked? There’s nothing to show, is there?’ I started.
I found myself actually learning as I spoke.
‘Look, little children do not know they are a boy or a girl until we tell them. And it’s usually not a happy time when they find out. It’s not a celebration of “yeah, you’re a little girl, enjoy this privilege”, it’s usually painful and hurtful when they find out. Someone will fiercely whisper to a little boy “stop crying, boys don’t cry” or slap a little girl’s legs “sit properly, you’re a girl”. They learn their gender harshly and rudely. They begin to notice that they are not allowed to do some things because of their gender. They are not allowed to go certain places or enjoy certain toys because of their gender. I promise, I truly believe at some point or another, every little child has wished they were the opposite gender, so that they could also wear the pretty nail polish or go fishing with dad.’
‘Hmmm, I’ve never thought about it like that’, Lucky and Claire were unanimous.
Me either, I noticed.
Actually, now that I think about it, I should be the one to lovingly and with celebration tell her she’s a girl. Every time she does something good I should clap and sing, ‘wow, itimo maber, nikech in nyako!’ (wow, you’ve done well because you’re a girl) or ‘bi icham tam tam nikech in nyako‘ (come and eat a sweet because you’re a girl) or even ‘e, inyalo ringo matek nikech in nyako (yes, you can run fast because you’re a girl) until she associates being a girl with doing great things, strength, privilege, and favor.
Because let’s face it, she will join school soon and someone, as sure as the sun rises and sets, will slap her legs and tell her to ‘sit properly, you’re a girl!’