This past weekend, we took Zeca and a close friend to the YWCA to go swimming. She wore her white swim shirt with the little silver shark on the sleeve and her blue and green shark swim trunks and looked absolutely adorable. We showed our cards and headed towards the girls’ locker room and she took my hand and said, “Mama, can we use the family locker room?”
She spent the summer passing as a boy at the community pool because, though she identifies as a girl, she’d rather pass than deal with strangers’ assumptions about her and the awkwardness when those assumptions are challenged.
As someone who still gets the occasional double-take in women’s restrooms, I get it but I hate the family locker room because it’s not as clean and there is always wet hair on the tile floor.
“Since Miguel’s not here, I want to go to use the girls’ locker room.”
She nodded and I added, “Besides, you don’t need to worry. Your hair is longer and you are wearing a swim shirt.”
She didn’t argue and we made our way into the girls’ locker room.
Luisa, Zeca and her friend changed, got their towels and headed to the pool while I went upstairs to the track. An hour later, I met them in the pool and I watched the girls swim and, after they’d shown me their tricks, we headed to the showers.
Zeca and her friend started a couple of showers and Luisa went to grab the soap and shampoo. When we returned a minute later, there was a woman clutching her towel to her chest, staring at Zeca. The woman turned to Luisa and said, “Is that a boy?”
Luisa gave a look that was equal parts perplexed and annoyed and said, “No, she’s a girl.” The woman exhaled dramatically and said, “Oh thank goodness.”
The woman walked away and even though Zeca didn’t seem to notice the interaction, I was seething.
Since the girls locker room is only for girls, why wouldn’t she assume that Zeca was a girl? What was so frightening about my child that she gasped and questioned and then exhaled with marked relief? Was she worried this “boy” would objectify her? If so, shouldn’t she be more worried about me as a lesbian? Or was she worried that she would have to see “him” naked? If that’s the case, why would she be looking in the first place?
This woman’s behavior is the precise reason why my daughter doesn’t like to use girls’ locker rooms, why she didn’t want to go back to overnight camp, why she was hesitant to try out for the girls’ soccer team. She’s a girl who looks a little different and gets tired of having to explain that to everyone.
I was too stunned to say anything to the woman at the Y but, if I had another chance, I’d tell her to stop policing my child. My daughter gets to decide what being a girl means to her and how she wants to look. My daughter is entitled to feel comfortable in the girls’ locker room and feel safe. If I were feeling particularly gutsy, I might also suggest that she deal with her issues instead of projecting them onto an eight-year-old kid. And I might suggest that, if she couldn’t do anything else, she could at least respect the cuteness.