Heteronormativity effects us all, even 8 year olds who have a passion for fashion.
I AM 8 YEARS OLD. It’s the last day of my weekly weekend visit with my grandparents. The only things on my mind are brown sugar oatmeal, how much butter I’ll add to it, and when I’ll be forced to return home to my parents, sister, and three brothers. It’s been a cold day; possibly the coldest day fall could offer as I’m wrapped in a blanket large enough for eight people while I lay flat watching Disney Channel cartoons. (I’ve never been one for Cartoon Network.) When I feel inspired, I get up and wrap the blanket around my breast and torso, the white fabric touching the ground around my feet becoming the train of my new wedding dress. My imagination leads me to believe it’s the longest wedding dress train a boy has ever worn.
Grana enters, my entire body flying back to the couch in attempt to not get caught in my wedding dress. Her auburn colored hair looks destroyed by the seven hours of sleep she’s had, her bedhead getting the best of her looks. I have learned not everyone can wake up looking as good as they did going to bed. I wonder if it’s a genetic thing for some people. She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and heads towards the coffee machine. Not a day goes by that she’s not at that coffee machine. (Literally, once she tried going a week without coffee and got very timid and closed in; she hated how she felt and fixed a cup-of-joe 48 hours later.)
As I’ve been instructed before, I follow her with my eyes: two and a half scoops of the smelly-good brown stuff, add ‘thiiiis much’ water, and then press the grey button. She’s a great teacher.
She grabs a notepad on the kitchen island and begins to scribble something down; perhaps a drawing, but she normally only doodles when she talks on the phone but isn’t emotionally invested in the conversation.
“Ryan, what are you going to do today?”
I’d like to tell her I’m going to be performing my own rendition of the entire Cheetah Girls soundtrack, but instead I say “I’m going to eat oatmeal and watch TV.”
“Do you want to go to the store with Grana?” Her tone of voice raises near the end of her sentence, like its incentive to say “Yes!” because she’ll let me pick out a toy. I’ve learned grandparents are very generous, and frankly, are born to spoil the youth.
I gobble down the perfect butter:milk:oatmeal ratio I ever prepared and Grana drowns in coffee, her finger on the channel surf button of the remote. She’s the only one I trust changing the channel, because she never picks something stupid. (My brother always picks something stupid, like sports, Punk’d, or Pimp My Ride.)
She picks a soap opera, the one thing I never mind watching but always get overwhelmed when I do because of the emotional fuckery happening on screen. A lady is heartbroken by a handsome man that no longer loves her. They have a kid together, but the kid was just kidnapped by a man named Paul? Now they are on a search for Paul and the kid, but baby-mama just broke her leg and baby-daddy is carrying her. Now, they are making googly eyes at each other. Are they going to…?! Lord, help me. Blah, drama happens, but nothing I should be concerned about at my age.
I’m bored because we’ve sat for what seems like hours and I assume she’s forgotten our trip to the store—here, the word ‘store’ is synonymous with Kroger, because we always go to Kroger.
The last scene ends and Grana’s jaw drops; she’ll definitely be drinking coffee and watching the fuckery play out tomorrow. She leaves the television to get ready; I do the same. We say goodbye to Granddaddy who is now lying propped up in bed reading a newspaper and drinking coffee himself. He’s probably reading the sports or business section. I’m not entirely sure which one.
In the car late at night Delilah Radio plays around seven, but since it’s only around three in the afternoon, we listen to the latest jams. I couldn’t care less what the latest jams are, I’m only 8.
We arrive at the store, but something is wrong. ‘Store’ apparently equals ‘Walmart’ today. We never go to Walmart.
The buggy is full of groceries and all things necessary for the upcoming week and we are nearly ready to check out. She looks down at me. I’m never more than three feet away. She says, “Do you want a toy?” Without a doubt, I let her know the answer. We walk to the toy section and it feels like heaven, if I have ever felt heaven, at least.
We pass all kinds of things: the bike section, which would be too much to bring home today, the sport balls section, which I don’t need a soccer ball but it crosses my mind, and the Barbie section! Wow, the freaking Barbie section is loaded. My sister and I—especially I—would have a blast picking something out from the barbie section!
I walk away.
After ten minutes of searching, my indecisiveness is getting the best of me and I can’t quite think of what I don’t have since this is a weekly thing—the whole Grana spoiling me part. I almost make up my mind that I won’t be getting anything until I spot her: Kimberly Ann Possible. (No, this is not my friend’s name from school nor is it a made up name, but this is literally my future daughter’s name, and the original bae-that-slayed, omg.)
Here in this moment, I am the happiest eight year old there could ever be. In my hands, I hold a beautifully packaged Kim Possible doll, a really cute small one that comes with a mini-pink brush to comb her hair. Her hair reminds me of Grana’s. You can change her clothes, too. Cheerleader one day, fighting crime the next. I could pretend to be Kim Possible if I wanted, like voodoo magic where I’m her and she’s just the poppet. This would be great. I feel relieved to place Kim in the buggy.
Grana looks at me. Grana always looks at me—to see my happy “I want this, please” face—but something suddenly feels off. With me. I’m abruptly hit with a sense of disapproval. But where is it coming from?
Next to her (Kim) on the display shelf sits a Ron Stoppable doll with magnetic hands, ones he would probably use to get to the top of the refrigerator to help Kim beat Dr. Drakken and Shego. I am planning a hell of a show in the kitchen with these dolls and don’t even own them yet. Even worse, I don’t know if I can own them yet. I feel obligated to place Ron in the buggy.
Grana says nothing about my choice. She buys both Kim and Ron. In the car, I open Kim first. The comb goes through her hair like magic and I’m content, but Ron never leaves my side. Just in case.
The point of this story is not to discuss toys, the great day spent with my Grandmother, nor about the hard decisions children have to make when being spoiled, but it’s about the first time I have ever felt forced to conform to a heterosexual lifestyle. (And definitely not the last time.)
I get both a girl and a boy doll and never think twice about it at 8 years old, because “that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
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