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My journey with my nonbinary child:

As a feminist and sociologist, I have repeated the feminist mantra sex does not equal gender, and gender is socially constructed, repeated it ad nauseam. But I really understood the former, and learnt to complicate the latter, with the birth of my second child. From the time S could speak, S knew they[1] are not just a girl. S toilet trained themselves efficiently and dramatically on our trip to Cambodia, where S woke up one day, threw the diaper away and never wore it again. It was rather inconvenient, since this meant many accidents in beautiful Buddhist temples, which we cleaned up with red, embarrassed faces. But in sum, at age 18 months, S was diaper-free and wanted to pee standing up, like papa. S asked, “when will I grow a penis?” and waited. S did not, of course, grow that convenient tool, but continued to like peeing standing up, whenever possible.

S did not show any gender binary behaviour at all – although S did hate Barbies and only played with them when E (a boy few months younger than S) visited. E loved Barbie dolls, but mostly loved bathing them, drowning them, and breaking their arms and legs. S hated anything to do with barbies, found them creepy and chose football instead. S’s love for football is legendary. S can dribble a ball for hours, and days, if one allows S. We could not have survived the pandemic if it wasn’t for this obsession with a football.

Dresses and pink: S had no strong feeling for or against any color or outfit until age 4. At age 4 S declared that yellow is the chosen color. Dresses were worn happily. S decided that they will not marry anyone except their older sister, and will not have babies. The question, “Must every grownup marry? Do I have to have kids? Will I get big boobs like you? Will I be as hairy as Papa”? were asked in frequencies and manners that I expect all kids that age ask.

The only trouble was school. No one took S’s nonbinary preference seriously at school. The first school, a Montessori, took me very seriously because I looked so stern, and tolerated S’s non binary preference, but still made S stand in the “girl” line. They did not intervene when S’s girlfriends bullied S for wanting to be a boy.

When S moved to big school and grade 1, I made sure every single person in a position of authority knew that S identified as a boy, at least on most days. Same story: this was tolerated but not supported. No dramatic bullying, but S chose to have only girls as friends in this school. By age 5 S declared they hated the color yellow, and their favorite color was blue, they still wanted a penis, and still loved football the best in the world. We enrolled S in a summer soccer club, which S enjoyed thoroughly, but it had only boys who identified as boys, and all were twice S’s age and three times S’s size so no one , in general, took S seriously. But S declared that they were a soccer star.  By now S had discovered the pronoun “they”, but did not much like it, and instead wanted to be addressed as “Sunny boy” or  simply a “S”, no pronoun needed.

Then came the move to Cambridge, MA, USA, the cocoon where every child feels compelled to be nonbinary. Very quickly S noticed and appreciated the support for people like them. They became a “he” and a “boy”. The only complaint, the gender neutral bathroom was two floors below their class and, hence, very inconvenient. The Mandarin teacher fixed a separate appointment with S and I, to apologize for the fact that Mandarin does not have an equivalent for “they”. While we, the parents, constantly got confused, and called S by incorrect pronouns, his sister stuck to the “he” and never got it wrong. In fact, in her first speech in the new school, Z talked about her “brother” S.

Age 7, S is a boy on most days, girl-boy other days. Hates big boobs and doesn’t see the point of boobs. “If I had a choice, not that I would want to get a surgery ever, I would rather have my boobs cut than my arm”.

S wants to be the boyfriend in any relationship. S is unsure whether he wants a relationship with a boy or a girl, but is sure that he will be the boyfriend. Why? Because boyfriends are cool. S does not want to have any kids that come out of his vagina. He is open to adopting one.

S refuses to wear dresses. All dresses, even those beautiful Indian garments, were reluctantly donated. S only wears oxford style checked shirts, jeans with pockets and loafers. S claims they have two girlfriends who have a crush on him. S has a “venis (penis vagina mix”) and for now, is happy with being what he is– Sunny Boy S.


[1] I will use they for now, although the pronoun S uses shifts constantly, and now works on a weekly basis

Hope 2021

Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian poet and author) on Hope: appropriate for a year that follows the year 2020.
We have an incurable malady: hope.
Hope in liberation and independence.
Hope in a normal life where we are neither heroes nor victims.
Hope that our children will go safely to their schools.
Hope that a pregnant woman will give birth to a living baby at the hospital, and not a dead child in front of a military checkpoint;
hope that our poets will see the beauty of the colour red in roses rather than in blood;
hope that this land will take up its original name: the land of love and peace..

Death of death.
Amrita, July 13, 2020

It is no fun to think about death
But people are dying.
Why choose to be morbid?
Where is that proverbial chin up
With that mask hanging under the chin?
Because people are dying.
Two nurses died yesterday at the hospital around the corner.
A homeless man who lived on our street froze to
Yes, death. With his mask on.
Heroes and martyrs are being celebrated. On twitter.
Mass shallow graves, ICU beds are being planned.
Death-planning. Tick.

Two colleagues and two students died of “normal” causes
Three died of the “normal” nowadays.
We even have protocols for privacy and anonymity
For reporting the stats and the figures
Protocol sans emotions.
The mechanics of the remembrance form
They were humble, kind, good, smiled a lot
We extended our support to the family
A.k.a one phone call.
This is the mental health hotline.
Please call us.
Tick. Job done.
There will be a virtual funeral.
For our virtual existence.
If you have enough data.
Please join us.

Accessing the invisible: balcony talks with migrant domestic workers in Lebanon
Amrita, January 12, 2015

In the spirit of being a truly reflexive feminist researcher, let me start by acknowledging the critical role of three body-tools – curly hair, ambiguous looks and a strong neck – in my research on migrant domestic work in Lebanon.

The intimate Labor of Research
Amrita, May 10, 2017

As a sociologist and ethnographer interested in issues around gender and globalization, I have previously worked with surrogates in India and migrant domestic workers in Lebanon (Pande 2012). In both these projects I was in research sites surrounded by women, where men appeared only fleetingly.

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