“No! Boys can’t be princesses! Only girls!” My 4 year old niece yelled. We had been playing with her umpteen Disney princess collection for a few minutes. There were dolls sprawled out every which way on the carpeted floor of her playroom. So many princesses in their pink and purple gowns, their long princess doll hair all scraggly and sticking out in all directions, under their tiaras. She knows all of their names and has instructed the whole family so well, that by now, I can guarantee, we all know them. A skill I’m not so sure I embrace.
But after her intense declaration, my heart shrunk. My four year old vibrantly inventive niece, has already received and worse yet, seems to have absorbed the message, that there are rules around gender and something bad will happen if they are not followed.
I could have shaken it off, as an imaginative kiddo in the midst of play, creating her own rules for the game we were playing, if I didn’t see the scrunched up look on her face, and the piercing look in her eyes. I might have dismissed it if I wasn’t her gender non-conforming Aunt (or as I call myself and chuckle, Ancle) who hadn’t grown up feeling like I had no choice about who I was and spent most of my childhood and into college, trying to fit that definition. Knowing I was silencing a part of who I was. Experiencing the hurt and shame. I could have shaken it off, if I hadn’t spent the last decade or so working with queer and transgender youth who struggle to discover who they are in the confines of this binary culture. Progress has been steady, but slow. Too slow if you are a youth being harassed at school or getting kicked out of the house.
Now in 2014, experience my niece standing firm, gripping her princess doll, it rocked me. It was a call to action. As a gender nonconforming person, I am wholly committed to doing what I can to make the world a more user friendly place for kids to explore who they are and who they want to become. And feel loved, supported, and celebrated for doing so.
This is the impetus for our new theater piece, The Pineapple Project. Theater is a vehicle for inspiring ideas, conversation, questioning the status quo. The Pineapple Project seeks to instill in a new generation of children, that the human experience is complex, messy, and far more fascinating than the pink and the blue. And to hold kids to that archaic societal construct of “are you a boy or a girl?” does a deep injustice to their fiery, imaginative, expressive selves. And to society as a whole.