For the past 1 year and 9 months, I have fantasized about Alex one day becoming a renowned ballet dancer. His skill and ability seemed above par. His interest and dedication to the art was focused and intent. Or so I thought.
I had often wondered if that duality ever caused him any distress. The ballet school was adamant that the boys are boys, and the girls are girls. Adherence to traditional gender binaries was a strict requirement. To be sure, though, the first thing that ever attracted Alex to ballet at then tender age of four or five, were the tutus and point shoes. Yet somehow over the course of the last nearly-two-years, he managed to find a place for himself and find peace with a male role in ballet classes. At the ballet performance in June, he and two other boys spent the entire day in the dressing room bonding over Nintendo DS, Leapfrog, and iPod games. I began to take his complacency for granted. I assumed that the peace he found in this niche would be lasting in spite of the fact that it did not represent his identity in all other aspects of his life. Underneath the surface, however, there was tension brewing.
The day he decided to quit ballet was no different than the previous ones except that it had been hot. When I picked him up from school, he was sweaty, cranky, and under-snacked. For Alex, this is a volatile combination. As we arrived at the ballet school, in typical fashion, he hid in the backseat to begin the transformation from Girl-Alex (as he expressed himself at school) to Boy-Alex (as he was required to present himself at ballet). He had made it very clear to me that at no time, ever would he reveal his girl side to anyone at the ballet school, and going inside to change into his class clothing was absolutely not a consideration. Thus, for as long as he had ballet lessons directly after school, he had been using the car as his personal dressing room.
From the back of the hot car and in a fit of rage, he tore off the headband—his security blanket—and threw it aside. He angrily unlatched the sparkly necklace and threw it at me where I was still sitting in the driver’s seat. Remaining calm, I coaxed him into his leotard and leggings. My calmness only seemed to exacerbate his rage. He threw shoes, clothes, anything he could get his hands on at me. It was evident that he was directing his rage squarely at me. I wondered where the rage was coming from. It wasn’t new; this had happened before during this transition. The difference this time was that he was mature enough to understand that he had a choice in this matter. If ballet was no longer an aspect of his life that he could identify with, he needed to move on, and I needed to coach him through that moment.
In a low, calm voice, I addressed the wailing, writhing body in the back of the car. “You know, if you don’t want to do ballet anymore, you can quit,” I offered. “Is that what you’d like to do? Because this isn’t worth it. You really do not seem like you’re into this. You’re obviously unhappy about having to do this.”
With a grunt and a nod, Alex found his black ballet slipper, put it on, and got out of the car. This option seemed to instantly soothe him to some degree. I braced myself for the next blow I knew I needed to deliver.
“…but you need to tell Ms. Laura you’re quitting.” There was a long pause and then, “Can’t you just do it?” he pleaded.
“No. This is your decision. I will go with you, but this needs to come from you.” Nervously, he agreed.
As Alex delivered his news to Ms. Laura, I witnessed a side of him I had not seen before. He was fidgety and nervous as he shared that he no longer wanted to do ballet or perform in the Nutcracker in December. For all that he is or isn’t, I had never known him to display this kind nervousness. He was shaking and looked like he was about to throw up. Taking great care to ensure there was no guilt couched in my support of his decision, we agreed to leave it open and should he ever decide to take it up again, he could do so with no hard feelings.
On our way home, I saw the relief wash over him. I watched as a sheath of realization encompass him that he no longer had to be someone he wasn’t—for anyone. But just to be sure, I asked, “So how do you feel about piano? Do you still want to take lessons?” Eyes wide as saucers, “YES! I love piano lessons! I never want to quit that.”
About three weeks before The Ballet Blowout "performance," our family attended a weekend-long conference for families with transgender children. During this time, Alex met and spent a fair amount of time with many other kids on the gender spectrum. Some of the older kids were counselors themselves at the day camp he attended while we attended the workshops for the adults. He was able to see for himself all the creativity, beauty, variety, and even normalcy that the gender spectrum rainbow has to offer. Indeed, for three days, he was able to experience his gender nonconformity as normal. It was, in a word, cathartic for him. While he showed no immediate outward emotional or cognitive reaction to the situation, the Ballet Blowout was proof to me that he finally realized he did not have live in a world under two identities. Accepted at school and home, ballet was the only environment left that had not embraced his girl side.
In addition to simply ending an activity he no longer enjoyed, standing up for himself and expressing his feelings to Ms. Laura was, in a deeper sense, his taking ownership of his own diverse identity. The traditional gender binary that defines ballet turns out is not his world. It’s not who he is. Yet, that was a role he was forced to participate in order to enjoy the art of ballet. Ironic that he is not free to express his true identity in an art form that attracts other like him. Perhaps he will one day find his inspiration in Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo, but for today he’d much rather be Lady Gaga’s sidekick, Boy GooGoo.