3 min

The femme test

A niece chooses sequined pumps

Credit: Xtra West files

She’s almost two, and already showing symptoms. She took her first steps in little miniature workboots and tiny baby Levi’s, but it didn’t help.

I have only myself to blame, really. I never found that mini-hockey stick I was meaning to get her. I have been busy and missed out on her most formative years. I hear from her mother that they gave her the test, in the shoe store, and she passed over the shiny black boots and pulled down the sequined pumps.

Like I said, I have no one to blame but myself. I have neglected my role model duties, and Sailor Moon or someone stepped up in my place. I can’t blame her mother; she can’t be expected to pass on skills she doesn’t possess. Her girlfriend explained to me that she even baited her own black boots with little chocolates one day, but the kid still went for the open-toed mules.

Who can blame her? I mean, girly things are sparkly. Girls smell better; they are more likely to wear flowy things that catch the eye. Their voices are more melodious, and soothing, plus, to a breastfeeding kid, women have the obvious advantage of owning breasts. It’s easy to see why women seem more interesting, and their accoutrements more intriguing.

It’s just that I was really looking forward to a little friend that I could teach my ways. I would start off with the basics, making her a little teeny leather belt. We would progress to street hockey and basic mechanics. She would sit next to me with a piece of long grass in her mouth and pass me the tools. I would teach her to identify wrench size by eye and explain the finer points of bolt recognition. I would get her a little red toolbox with a miniature saw and hammer and such. I would buy her a book of knots and teach her how to tie a hook to her fishing line.

Now, don’t think for a minute that I will love the little gaffer any less for all her femmery, it’s just that little girls leave me feeling vaguely inadequate. I find them confusing. I will have to have the difference between a slip and a camisole explained to me again, I will falter while improvising believable princess stories, I know I will, and I have always sucked at French braiding hair.

She will never say she wants to grow up and be just like me. I will embarrass her in some way she will not be able to put her eight-year-old finger on. She won’t want to wear the outfits I pick out for her. I will require assistance to properly shop for gifts for her.

I know this because I am the oldest of 36 cousins and have lived through it all before. My youngest female cousin has just entered high school. Last summer she introduced me to her boyfriend and I could tell by the way she said “and this is my cousin Ivan,” that I had required some previous explaining, like an uncle with a facial tic, or an aunt that drinks too many white wines and gets lecherous.

“Oh, you’re Cousin Ivan,” her boyfriend shook my hand as they exchanged looks. She won’t call me for relationship advice and later, she will be secretly relieved that I can’t make it to her baby shower.

According to statistics, I should have 3.6 queer cousins to bond with but, other than a few curious blowjobs during college and sporadic bouts of cross-dressing while intoxicated, all of them have turned out quite disappointingly heterosexual. So I am forced to turn to the children of my friends to find a place to pass down my hard-earned tomboy knowledge.

There is still Frances, my friend Chris’ eight-year-old who has nurtured his very own Yukon-grown version of drag, developing cutting-edge ensembles such as the old-sweater-sleeve-as-tubetop, and the sundress-under-snowsuit looks. Chris tells me he got both of his ears pierced last week and then climbed into the truck and informed her that he would now need to change schools, that he needed a bit more of a downtown environment. The French immersion school up on the hill wasn’t quite ready for the new him, he feared, and a change of venue was in order.

Chris and I secretly applaud Frances and his refusal to let the world change that which makes him special. Frances has made it into Grade 3 with his beautiful self intact. His first day of school he wore a flowing velvet shirt over his new cords and wedge-heeled boots. He can do this because he has what most queer kids learn to live without: the true support to be whatever he is.

Because that is the bottom line. We have to support our kids in being whatever they choose to be. Even if it is a Barbie-obsessed fairy princess who wants to be a super-model when she grows up. Part of raising kids to question gender roles is allowing them to make their own choices, so if that little girl grows up and wants me to take her to see the Little Mermaid, then that is what I’ll have to do. She’ll just have to listen to old Uncle Ivan lecture her about how little princesses can grow up to be mechanics and heavy equipment operators, too.

In the meantime, I’m gonna get her that hockey stick.