When I was in preschool, I knew this kid named Wilson. We were best friends. And he was, to put it simply, a princess.
Or at least, he wanted to be. I think that he believed he was one.
He didn’t like Transformers, or toy cars, or superheroes like the other boys. He liked to play with Barbies, and he loved pink. And, of course, he didn’t play with the boys during recess. He played with the girls.
At the time I was the girliest, sparkliest, princess-iest little girl ever, and Wilson was my perfect companion. I knew he was different from the other boys, but I didn’t see anything wrong with that. The only way I could explain it was, “He likes girl toys.” I did too, so as far as I was concerned, he had the right idea.
Wilson didn’t mind being identified as a boy. He was fine being referred to as Wilson or “he.” I don’t think it mattered to him, because I don’t think he thought that Wilsons were supposed to be boys, and boys were supposed to like Transformers. And toy cars. And superheroes.
I think, looking back now, that some of the adults thought he was weird. Not normal. Or maybe they thought he was going through a phase. I remember how they laughed, not exactly at him, but at the way he held himself, the way he played with the girls. They didn’t object to his feminine preferences, and they didn’t dislike him in any way. It’s hard to hate a four-year-old.
Then, as I got older, I lost some of my innocence.
“Wilsons are boys,” society told me. “And boys like Transformers and toy cars and superheroes. Boys don’t like Barbies and princesses and pink things.” I guess I accepted it. I mean, that was the way the world worked, right? But I didn’t buy it deep down, and I still don’t. Wilson was perfectly normal just as he was, and this belief that he couldn’t like “girl” toys was wrong.
Now I’ve lost even more of that innocence. I know how people are treated when they don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. And I have realized that there are stereotypes most people unconsciously accept – and enforce.
“You need to wear more skirts. How pretty you look in a skirt!”
“Honey, stop slouching; act like a lady.”
“Eww! Why do you play with boy toys?”
I’m not saying that I don’t identify as a girl, or that I refuse to touch pink. I am very much a female, and I identify as one. But because of that, I’m told everything about me has to be feminine, feminine, feminine. And it’s really annoying.
Sometimes I wonder about Wilson. Does he want to be called “Willow” and be referred to as “she” now? Does he (or she) still like to wear dresses? Does Wilson like girls or boys? Or was it really just a “phase”?
Maybe it was a phase. Sometimes I hope it was. Because if it wasn’t, I know what Wilson might be going through now. Maybe he’s being shoved into lockers at school. Maybe the other kids call him “pu**y” or “fag.” Maybe he’s had to hide who he really is and act like someone he’s not – a masculine, superhero-admiring, rough-and-tumble someone. Or maybe he’s just fine. Maybe people are more accepting of him. I doubt it. He’s not four anymore; he’s 15. It’s easier to hate someone of that age.
I wish we were all in preschool again. I wish we were all innocent, little kids and had no idea what a cruel, terrible world it is. I wish that we were little again and didn’t know how to hate and didn’t know, or particularly care, that Wilsons are boys and boys should like boy toys.
I wish everyone were like that. Maybe then we wouldn’t live in such a despicable place.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.