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Pink: Personal Indulgences No. 12

A young girl of my intimate acquaintance, let’s call her Eve, decided at the age of three or so that, when she grew up, she was going to be a boy.

She liked to play pretend games. You may remember them from your own childhood–those acted-out narratives, full of exciting incident, that have an endless life, with plots and characters repeating variations on a few themes presumably of deep significance to the players. In her “pertends,” as Eve called them, she invariably assigned herself the role of a man or boy. She was Joe. She was Nick. She was Doug. When I was her abettor–being a great fantasist myself, how could I not indulge her excursions to imagined worlds?–it took me a while to convince her that I like being a girl and so sometimes wanted to play a girl role. But Eve is a generous, tolerant soul and eventually let me be Helen or Jane.

Her kindergarten friends were nearly all boys. On her long, swift Atalanta legs, she ran around the playground with “the guys” in wild games of tag. With her pale coloring, slender build, and unconscious grace, she resembled a Victorian illustrator’s idea of a fairy. She concealed her rippling cornsilk hair firmly under a baseball cap until she persuaded her parents to let her cut it short, then shorter. In truth, she still didn’t look like a boy. She looked like Peter Pan.

But I believed in Eve’s earnestness in becoming a boy. I was convinced by an outing with her and her elder sister to a Chinatown emporium that sells thousands of things you didn’t know you needed. There we discovered a cache of tiny old-fashioned advertising cards. Flimsy bits of paper smaller than a Metro card, most of them pictured sentimentally lovely Asian women of the 1920s or 30s. A few, instead, showed exotically uniformed warriors of yore poised for battle. About 300 cards lay in a small wicker basket. Ten for a dollar. I told the girls they could each choose ten. Methodically, they examined each and every card. Eve’s sister found them irresistible and had trouble limiting her choices to ten. Eve found only two she wanted. The guys with the spears, of course.

Oddly enough, Eve’s passion to be a member of the opposite sex peaked with a seemingly trifling symptom: a hatred of pink. The color was anathema to her. She noticed it constantly–on people, in shop displays–greeting it with noises of disgust. Her sister would join in with relish, pointing out a gossamer blush-tinted bridesmaid’s gown displayed in the window of a tailor’s shop, and declare, “Now there’s something for you, Eve,” and the two would produce a racket of “Euew! Gross!” between attention-getting giggles.

After a while, however, Eve, gifted for art as well as baseball, found that she had no objection to using pink in her paintings. It was now offensive only in clothing. Since she bought all her clothes in the boys’ department, she was not often threatened by rosy hues. I did enjoy pointing out to her one day a twenty-something person of the male persuasion sporting a t-shirt that declared, full-frontally, “REAL MEN WEAR PINK.”

These days, now approaching the end of first grade and her second season as a Little Leaguer, Eve is softening on many fronts. She’s thought it through carefully, it would seem, and decided she is a girl and that that condition is fairly permanent–a given, really. Lately she’s even been planning names for her children. The roster of offspring, apparently, will include representatives of both genders. So Joe and Jane have a chance of being born into real life, as Eve scrupulously defines the opposite of her “pertends.” Still, the prospect of becoming a mother takes second place in her imagination to another deeply felt plan for her future. She intends to be a writer. I haven’t the heart to dissuade her. Yet.

© 2009 Tobi Tobias


  1. Carol Schlacter says

    Re your latest Indulgence, “Pink,” I just wanted to let you know that, several years back, AAUW had a big policy push on obliterating the pink/blue syndromes of yesteryear, asking that manufacters and purchasers of all baby and toy gifts, gift wrapping, and children’s clothing try to end the stereotypes. I have bought both bottle-feeding baby dolls and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, interchangeably, for all my grandchildren. In fact, 32 years ago, for my youngest son, I singlehandedly revitalized the market for them by calling all over the city, and finally reaching Knickerbocker Toys–the patent owners–asking them to bring them back.

    My daughter’s daughter (12) recently informed me that she hates pink, and returned one of two pretty turtlenecks I gave her, the one that was pink with metallic horizontal stripes! [Sent January 29, 2009. –Ed.]

  2. Christopher Caines says

    That’s a beautiful piece, Tobi. Who is the girl? It’s so good that no one in her world stomped on her “gender dysphoria” and let her be herself and figure things out for herself. [Sent January 15, 2009. –Ed.]

  3. Sandra Hammond says

    A friend just sent this:
    “Dancing in all its forms can not be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?”
    It’s from Friedrich Nietzsche, and I thought of you and your dancing pen. [Sent January 14, 2009. –Ed.]

  4. Christine Dobush says

    Thank you for your e-words. [Sent January 12, 2009. –Ed.]

  5. Joan Acocella says

    You know Willa Cather’s story, right? As a young teen she went out and got a buzz cut (very shocking in the late 19c) and insisted on being called William. I have always thought she was inspired by Jo March, getting her hair cut off.
    What does this? Maybe literature, where, even now, I think, the boys get most of the good adventures.
    All very amusing, but the thing to think about is: What happens when it’s the opposite — a boy declaring he is a girl? You can be sure that this happens, and that, if the child is middle-class, he is taken to the doctor. In a few ways, girls have it easier than boys. [Sent January 12, 2009. –Ed.]

  6. Martha Ullman West says

    Lovely, oh lovely, but if Eve wants to write, rather than “be a writer,” she will do just that because she must, just as you and I do. I think it’s in the blood, in the genes, part of the genetic will to poverty that all artists have, at least in this society.
    A postscript: I only recently stopped loathing the color pink and have even begun to wear it from time to time. My daughter, who has always loved it, is bemused by this. [Sent January 11, 2009. –Ed.]

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