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Gender Queer Mom and Young Daughter Talk About Their Bodies

Photograph by Margaret Jacobsen

I love hearing my daughter talk about her body, which she upholds and respects fully. She has always had complete ownership over it, something I am envious of. It has taken me 28 years to learn to accept my body for what it is—and what it isn't. My daughter though? It took her, what, two years of life, before she would stand in front of a mirror singing about how she loves herself. She would, and does, dance through the house with her arms up, celebrating herself.

I watch her, and I want badly to understand what this is like. I wonder if I was like this as a child, but I know I wasn't necessarily that comfortable in my body. Being a girl confused me, when I always wanted so badly to be a boy. I wished for a different body, and when I realized that wouldn't be happening, I wished to accept the body I had.

I might not be Riley forever, and that is OK.

What followed was, of course, life as a teenager. I hid my body as my breasts developed and my hips expanded. I didn't want this, but it was what I was given. As an adult, I was nearly instantly a mother, so my body changed. Again.

This time, it was covered in stretch marks that make me look like a tiger and scars from where my children entered the world. It wasn't until this moment, motherhood, that I was able to respect my body, for its strength and for what it could do.

And yet: Being a woman wasn't something I was fully ready to accept.

I've tried saying it over and over that I am a woman. But I don't believe it. A few years ago, I was introduced to gender queer, which I instantly felt like was me. Yet I didn't completely fit into what I saw as gender queer, so I kept it to myself. Only recently have I begun to correct the pronouns used with regard to myself, and I've been more open to talking about the identity that makes me who I really am.

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My favorite person to talk about how I felt as a person was my daughter. To her, it made perfect sense that someone wouldn't have to be one or the other, that you could exist between them and without them. Her response to me was, "Oh! That's so cool! I love that!" I think because of her, I was more comfortable with talking about it.

I wanted to sit down with her and do a sort of interview because I love her views on bodies and how we treat them. So she wrote down some questions, asking me to contribute some as well. Below is the conversation we shared:

RILEY-GIRL: Can I start? How do you feel about your body?

MOM: Sometimes I feel awkward in my body. A bit confused. My body is the body of a female, but my brain doesn't seem to match that. I'm trying to learn to like my body. What about you, how do you feel about your body?

RILEY: I remember you told me that. I think you're great the way you are. I feel great! I love it! I love it because it's important to me. I like my eyes, because, they are important. They help me see. It's a big opportunity because some people can't see.

MOM: I like that. Are there any parts of your body that you don't like?

RILEY: NO! NO! NO! All the parts are important, and together they help my body be the body it is. Like, my feet take me places. And my hands help me feel stuff and pick stuff up. I like my five senses.

MOM: I really like the way that you view your body. You appreciate it so much! Sometimes, well often times, I forget to appreciate my body.

I think if you think you're beautiful, then you are.

RILEY: I just remember all the wonderful things it can do. You have to think of that stuff more! Well, are there any parts that you think are the most important when it comes to your body?

MOM: I think if I had to choose, I would choose my arms. When I was little, I never thought about the importance of hugging people or holding little animals, but now I love that I can hug you and your brother, and pet sweet dogs.

RILEY: Thank you, I love that too! I haven't thought about my arms in that way either. Thanks, Mom.

MOM: I have another question for you: Why should we love our bodies?

RILEY: Because if we don't love them, and we don't take care of them, we could get sick. I also think that you should love your body, because it'll always be a little different than other people's bodies. I don't think we should wait on other people to love our bodies, we have to do that first.

MOM: Is it important that other people love our bodies? Or just us?

RILEY: Us! We shouldn't let other people tell us how to love our bodies, or how they should look. It's my choice. Not anyone else's. I have another question for you. Why should we take care of our bodies?

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MOM: Well, we only have one body, and our bodies, while strong, aren't built to last for forever. So we need to make sure that we are being kind to our bodies, not pushing them too hard or neglecting them. I have another question for you. What do you think makes a person beautiful?

RILEY: How they think and what they say. It's not what other people tell you, it's not make-up that makes you beautiful. Its not nail polish either. I think if you think you're beautiful, then you are.

MOM: Do you feel like you're beautiful?

RILEY: Yes! Do you?

MOM: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I feel handsome. Sometimes I'm just happy with myself. Does that make sense?

RILEY: I think so. Its not just about being beautiful, but also about being good. And having a body that is good. Bodies can do amazing things. How could we not love them?

Talking about self-love and body care is a conversation that can never happen too soon.

MOM: I am so proud of who you are, Riley, and how you view your body and the bodies of others. Do you understand how some people are born a particular gender, but don't identify with that gender? They feel as if their brain is wired differently. What do you think about those bodies?

RILEY: They are still bodies that should be taken care of. I think people can be whoever they want to be. I think it's important that they feel as if they can be. I know I can be whoever I want to be. I might not be Riley forever, and that is OK.

MOM: It is OK. Thank you for teaching and sharing your wisdom!

RILEY: Thank you. This was fun!

I find it interesting that often we place children in a place of not being capable of understanding how things work. Only because we complicate those things, when, really, they aren't complicated. They are as simple as they look and sound.

It's intimidating, though, when there are differences and we focus on that. Talking about self-love and body care is a conversation that can never happen too soon. Learning to view your body as a vessel that carries you through life, keeps you lifted and is capable of, basically, doing magic will only leave you in awe of its strength.

As Riley reminds me almost daily.

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Photographs by: Margaret Jacobsen

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