It’s Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, and I am sitting by my living-room window attempting to sunbathe. I’m Skyping my older sister — she’s sitting in her moonlit apartment in Tel Aviv — and telling me about her potential wedding and desires to start a nuclear family of her own. Suddenly, she says, “I want two kids — a boy and a girl.”
This takes me by surprise and I go quiet. Her comment lingers in our separate rooms, and I am reminded of the counselor I once had in an American-Jewish summer camp who said, “Every time there is an awkward silence somewhere in the world, a queer baby is born.” If he was right, I wonder if that baby will come out of my sister. I hope that will finally get us out of the paradigm in which assuming, projecting, and determining what your child’s gender is before they are even born is a harmless, neutral, or natural act.
After all, my sister was an invaluable witness to what it was like for me to be brought up as a boy — experiencing deep dysphoria and estrangement from my body; overcoming an intense amount of trauma from the toxic masculinity and Zionism of our surroundings; holding on to secrets and lies; mistakenly coming out as a gay boy; and eventually moving to New York, where I built and then had to take apart a huge part of my life in order to articulate my transfemininity on my own terms.
My sister knows that the decision our family, medical system, and society made about my body before I ever had a say about it was no small challenge to overcome. And yet after witnessing that experience, and experiencing the intense expectations she herself had to face as a cis girl, there is still this societal fantasy: “I want a boy and a girl.”
As someone who held a day job in childcare while beginning my transition (and attempting to have a sustainable career in the arts), I’ve constantly come up against these kinds of ideas about gender and children. As I transitioned, I started to feel as if there were no space for me in the rigid binary world that was built for some of the children I cared for. I began moving away from my desire to be around children — which I don’t think is healthy for me or for them. There is a lot to learn from children’s agile and imaginative ways of exploring themselves; there is also a lot to learn from trans adults who continue to explore and articulate their identities despite living in a world that punishes them for it. Getting along with kids is easy; getting along with the gendered world adults are constructing for them is heartbreaking.
Growing up, I was always known as my community’s child whisperer, the one who would end up rolling around and laughing with the babies and small children who came over for Friday dinners. I enjoyed the break from adult seriousness and the admiration I got for how good I was with the kids; especially as someone who was thought of as a boy, I took on that job with great pride. I was so good with the little ones that multiple babies learned my name as one of their first words. My birth name, Itamar, was too long, so they would just call me Ita, the name I would later officially take on as my own.
That is why, when I moved to the United States and needed a job after acting school, childcare seemed like the natural route. And like the family I grew up in, the families I worked for in New York were thrilled to share with their liberal friends how lovely their “Israeli manny” was.