I have been meaning to blog about this for ages, though it’s sort of a personal reflection which I might have put on my personal blog had it not gone into a hibernation pod until we reach Alpha Centauri on our photon sail ship. At some point, let’s see, must have been…August 2010 or so, our younger daughter Violet, then 6, decided she was actually Calvin, and therefore a boy. Thus, her precious special stuffed animal Saki, probably the single least tiger-like toy in the universe, was Hobbes. She was in a phase of reading—well, being read to—a LOT of Calvin and Hobbes, which constantly reduced her to paroxysms of laughter. She is one of the laughingest children ever, so this isn’t hard, but her love of Calvin and Hobbes was special.
So, she insisted we all call her Calvin, and call Saki “Hobbes.” And refused to wear any of her dresses or skirts or girly T-shirts. And then a few months later she insisted she needed a boy’s haircut, and a boy bathing suit, and also boy underwear. Our reaction was to say: OK, as you like. I cut my children’s hair anyway (and my own!), so that was no problem. Her schoolmates and teacher were very supportive, calling her Calvin; she turned in all her homework and tests as Calvin. She still had girl friends, though; when I asked her if she wanted to play with the boys at school or have them over she rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, they’re all morons.” She also still played with her dolls, but more with Lego, and more Super Mario (both Wii—Super Mario Galaxy!—and Nintendo hand-held).
When I cut her beautiful curls off I saved them, because I thought I might never see them again; that and the rows of lovely dresses in her closet did give me heart pangs from time to time (it will surprise none of you to know that I buy my children a lot of truly adorable clothes. Grosgrain ribbon trim! Gingham!). Also, Violet is an unusually beautiful little girl, so part of me felt it was a shame for her to be a boy.
Other parents, even my American, Yale alumna friend, were surprised at our willingness to go along with it. The Chinese parents were truly mystified, but game enough to send birthday invitations to “Calvin” for the most part. John and I talked about it, of course. We thought, maybe she’s a baby dyke, or a budding trans person, or just really loves Calvin and Hobbes, or something else. There didn’t seem any harm in it. It was clearly centered on Calvin the character, at least at first, but later seemed to be more generally that she was a boy.
We have a live-in maid here in Singapore also, who takes care of the children much of the time, and she clearly thought the whole thing was a terrible idea but was willing to call Violet “Calvin” if that’s what we wanted. Then, after about 8 months, our daughter just got up one day and told our maid Malou that she was Violet again. Snap. End of story. Hobbes also reverted to Saki, though Hobbes’ mama (an identical but bigger toy…that I sleep with but we’ll all just pretend I didn’t say that) remained “Mama Hobbes.” And that really was the end of it. Occasionally we’ll remind Violet, “hey, remember when you were Calvin?” and she’ll merely say “yes, what about it?”
Obviously this would have been much more difficult had she been a boy who wanted to be a girl. I think we might even have gotten push-back from the school, and I’m almost certain the other boys would have teased her. She’s a very popular child at school, so no one teased her at all, as it happened, but I don’t know if that would have been enough had she been a boy.
I have read recently about children who decide that they are “really” the opposite gender almost at once, and who may even get hormone therapy that (for example) blocks the onset of puberty in boys, so they never develop male secondary sex characteristics. I know there is debate over whether children can make an informed decision about these matters, and about whether they might not just be gay as adults rather than trans (certainly many of my queer friends strongly identified as the opposite gender when they were young). I explained to the girls about trans adults, and their main question, naturally enough I think is, how do they make a penis? (I said this was the most difficult part.)
In any case I feel happy with the way it worked out for our family. It is interesting that Calvin’s biggest supporter was her older sister, who began calling her Calvin immediately, and demanded that I buy her boy’s underwear the way she wanted, and so on. Violet is still very insistent that she never wants to develop breasts. (Her sister, at 11, is just barely beginning to do so.) I don’t know how she’ll feel when that starts to happen. Maybe she will go back to being Calvin; maybe not.