I don’t remember how old Jeremy was. Six? Seven? Eight? Nine? It wasn’t just one conversation, it was a bunch of them, all pretty much the same.
“How do I know if I’m a boy?” Jeremy asked. He sat down on the couch beside me and stared at me intently.
“Well…” I paused, thinking hard. “Do you feel like a boy?”
“Well you feel like a boy and you’ve got a penis so you’re a boy,” I replied. “That’s not going to just fall off,” I added dryly.
Jeremy looked relieved but still worried.
“Even the doctor agrees you’re a boy,” I continued. A bit more worry faded. Whoever had been bugging him, whether they were a kid or an adult, didn’t have nearly as much authority as our doctor.
“How do I get to be a man?”
I shrugged. “You grow up.”
Jeremy eyed me skeptically and I smiled.
“That’s it,” I assured him. “You’re a boy now and you’ll grow up to be a man. There’s no magic test. You can like pink and play with barbies, you can even wear a dress. As long as you feel like a boy then you’ll grow up to be a man. Everybody grows up; your body will do this all on its own.”
“Really?” Jeremy looked hopeful.
“Yes, really. Now are you going back outside to play?”
Jeremy shook his head. “No, I think I’ll play in my room.”
And off he skipped.
Fast forward to last year. I sent Jeremy out with my debit card to pick up pizza for dinner. He came bounding in, eyes sparkling, two boxes of pizza in his hands.
“Someone told me in the elevator to ‘be a man’,” Jeremy announced. He set the boxes down on the counter and brushed his hair off his face. This was before his teacher brought in classmates to convince him to cut it, so his hair was past his shoulders. He grinned. “I told him I will be a man when I grow up. I’m a boy now so I’ll be a man.”
I still hate the phrases “man up” and “be a man” but I’m glad Jeremy’s confident enough these days to shake them off.
And now I’m going to dye his hair purple. This time I bought the right container. Hopefully it’ll turn out well.