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Play Dates and Penises

Posted on Apr 13, 2017

We knew we’d be running into this sooner or later, and now that it’s happened: meh.

A few weeks ago, a classmate of Ryder’s came over for a play date after school. They are now in grade 1, but this girl was not in Ryder’s kindergarten class. Since grade 1 is nearly over, it didn’t occur to me that she didn’t know Ryder was a boy!

The girl’s mother and I didn’t know each other very well so we had never discussed it. Even as I write this, I still don’t know if she always thought Ryder was a girl. It’s kind of irrelevant now, I guess.

This was not their first play date – the two classmates have had at least 4 others over the past few months – but this is the first time their genitalia was a topic of discussion. It happened like this:

The two friends were playing on the trampolines outside and it had rained that day so they both got wet. Ryder was changing out of the wet clothes in the bedroom while the friend was in there, and somehow the friend was introduced to the penis. Maybe it peeked out of the princess underwear, or the underwear accidentally came down along with the leggings as it so often does because they are a bit loose.

Look, I don’t know exactly what happened, all I know is I was in the next room and I heard “It’s a penis! Wanna touch it?” and by the time I had flown out of my chair and into the room, it was too late. In an effort to not make a big deal out of it, I walked in nonchalantly and said “Hey. What’s going on?” They both looked up at me but not with shame, because in their eyes they weren’t doing anything wrong, but with smiles and laughter. Because really, what’s funnier than a penis?!

The little girl (also 6 years old) said “I have to go wash my hands.” and I said “Oh, that’s a good idea.” While she was gone I said to Ryder “It’s okay to show your penis to US, your family, but if you show it to your friends, I think their parents aren’t going to let them come over anymore.”

I come from a very open culture (Finnish) where nakedness is absolutely normal. Family, friends, and strangers alike, nobody bats an eye if they see a naked person. There is no body shame, and no body shaming. People are accepting, and they are accepted. As kids we played with other Finnish kids and nobody cared when we were all changing into our bathing suits in the same room. The only time modesty reared its head was when we started playing with the Canadian kids.

I’ve tried to carry on the Finnish tradition with my children, making nakedness an ordinary thing with joint saunas, baths, showers, and walking around in the nude every day. We talk about body parts and never, ever shame each other about anything physical. We laugh at my hanging boobs as I try to windmill them around, and even Dad is not as body-shy as he used to be. We don’t make up silly names for body parts, they are called by their proper names: penis, vagina, breasts, etc. I don’t want my children to be ashamed of their bodies, as bodies are totally natural and come in all different shapes and forms, but I understand this is not how most Canadians think. Finding a balance is a challenge.

When the girl came back in I said “You guys are good friends and I’m glad you can talk about all sorts of things, but I’m going to need you to keep your privates private, okay?” Both kids nodded, and she asked me, “How does Ryder have a penis?”

Ugh. “Well, Ryder is a boy on the outside, but she’s a girl on the inside.”

Then the girl asked me, “Did Ryder grow in your tummy?” It may be important to note here that the girl is adopted and is aware that she did not come from inside her mother.

“Yes.” I replied.

“Was Ryder a boy inside your stomach?” she asked.

“Yes.” I nodded emphatically.

“How did Ryder grow a penis?” she asked in confusion.

What does one say to that? “It just grew, along with all the other parts of Ryder.” I shrugged, and quickly walked away before I had to make up more answers.

The kids followed and as we all prepared to leave to drive the friend home, I heard Ryder say, “I’m a girl on the outside now too, except I have a penis.” Because to Ryder, having long hair and wearing pretty things makes you a girl. They are SO innocent at this age!

In the car, the two friends talked about penises. The girl asked if she could grow a penis and they both decided that no, she could not. Then they talked about how big a penis could get, and wouldn’t it be funny if a penis grew as big as this car? Laughter. Or as big as that house? More laughter. Or as big as the world? No, the UNIVERSE? *screeching laughter*

When I walked the girl into her house, I quickly told her mother about her daughter’s penis-touching. I imagine it was like poking a pile of poop with a stick, not an actual grabbing, but again, I didn’t see it so I can’t be sure. I told her she had washed her hands afterward, and it had been a completely innocent act, just kids discovering body parts, same as if one of them had an extra toe or a third nipple. No biggie. At least, not in my mind.

The next day, the mother called to discuss the incident. Her daughter had asked more questions about penises that night, and seemed to need clearer answers about why Ryder had a penis. The mother tried to explain it by using examples of other trans friends the family has, but I’m sure the child still has many unanswered questions.

Before their next play date, the mother called and asked me to keep a steady eye on the children at all times and not allow them to play behind closed doors, because she didn’t want any more incidences of privates-exposure. *sigh* Nothing like punishing them to make them feel ashamed, like they did something wrong. Of course I agreed, but luckily the kids played at the park for the whole play date so I didn’t have to cross that bridge.

Different families have different rules and navigating them all is exhausting. Is it “your house, your rules; my house, my rules” or is it “your house, your rules; my house, your rules”, or somewhere in between? When my older daughter’s muslim friend comes over, we respect her food restrictions and make vegetarian meals when she’s dining with us. Somehow that seems less¬†of an imposition than having to make sure my kids keep their pants on…