The Happiest Place on Earth
By the time he was eight, Muir had been to Disneyland four times. When he realized this once on the drive down I-5, he remarked, “There’s a lot of money invested in my happiness.”
This is true. Regular ventures to Disneyland are a financial sacrifice I make because, frankly, we are mad about Disneyland. While the experience requires me to suspend my frustrations with consumerism, classism, sexism, and raises some general all-around liberal snowflake guilt, there is nothing like spending five days with my kid, being a hypocrite, whirling in tea cups and riding through pirate battles and eating pineapple whip. But on our fifth trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, it took on a new kind of magic. One that let a boy be a boy.
A week before we left for Los Angeles, Muir, who was then still going by G. and presenting to the world as a girl, had shyly come to me and asked, “At Disneyland, can I be a boy? To see what it’s like?”
My immediate instinct was to say yes. But there was also a voice in the back of my mind that told me Bryn might not be down with this. He was already having problems with G.’s desire to wear boys’ clothes, and we were currently engaged in a struggle over whether to let her wear boys’ underwear. But since Bryn and I were separated, G. and I were going on this trip alone, and I told myself it was my call. I didn’t see any harm in it. At worst, agreeing to “play pretend” for a week made me a co-parent of mildly questionable judgment. It wasn’t going to make her grow a penis.
So I asked her what name I should call her by, and she chose Muir, for her beloved naturalist and writer, and we set off to the Magic Kingdom. Though I slipped up a lot on using Muir, I did my best to use her chosen name and pronoun, He. It felt a little weird at first, but I adjusted surprisingly fast, kind of like driving on the right hand side of the road in England takes concentration for the first half hour, and then suddenly you’re just zooming along like a native. It felt like we walked into a new world, one we were creating. No one knew us there. Cashiers and ride attendants and waitresses assumed she was a boy. It happened like magic.
But of course, vacations end; in the real world, Chip and Dale don’t stroll the streets and there are no electric light parades or single-rider lines. And sometimes, boys have to go back to being girls. But she’d been Muir for five days, and she liked it. She wanted to be Mui full-time. Alas, given all the complexities this decision raised, I knew he’d have to be a part-timer for the near future.
The chance to cast aside “reality” that we embraced at Disneyland confirmed something for us both, though: Muir was real, and he was making his way into the world. Over the next year, he began to come out in different ways: He requested to see a special therapist to talk about his "gender stuff"; he convinced his dad to let him wear boys' underwear; he stated his desire to use the boys' bathroom, and (while it made me a nervous wreck) started doing so in restaurants and movie theaters...though using the school restrooms was a longer, more complicated challenge.
On our trip to Disneyland the following autumn, the first thing we did when we walked through the main gate was hit the Mad Hatter’s Hat Shop, where he bought a classic green Peter Pan hat and had Muir embroidered on it in bright red script. Once it was on his head, the kid who had always stayed by my side, wanted me to make his purchases and ask questions for him, was suddenly constantly ten steps ahead of me on the streets of the Magic Kingdom, going boldly up to people to request directions to rides, waiting by himself for ages to get on rollercoasters and death-drop experiences I was too big a chicken to ride. Something so powerful and bright bubbled up and out of him that I could feel it as I strolled along behind him, watching the red feather bob along through the crowds. in My kid had become his own boy.
If I had any lingering doubts pecking in my mind, they flew away on the final night, when we made a visit to Turtle Talk with Crush (the three-D interactive surfer dude turtle from Finding Nemo) the last experience of the trip. In Turtle Talk, kids sit in front of a screen on which Crush appears and then answers their questions about turtle life (or, actually, a guy with a microphone behind the screen does). Muir loved this when he was little, and, being an adorable little girl with long blonde hair, he was always called on to ask a question of Crush. Being a big boy in a Peter Pan hat, it was a little harder to get Crush’s attention. But he kept eagerly raising his hand, and finally, as the last question of the night, Crush called on him. “Hey, little dude,” he asked in his hang-ten, Jeff Spicoli drawl, “What’s your name?”
My boy took the microphone from the usher, and in a voice I’d never heard before, a firm, confident, proud voice that boomed through the auditorium, he declared loudly and boldly, “My name is Muir!”
We’re headed back to Disney in a few weeks, to celebrate his twelfth birthday. We’ll get him a new hat--he’s got his eye on a bellhop Tower of Tower cap--and have his name stitched on it. No matter how old he gets, I plan to buy a new hat on every trip, and remind him what that little Peter Pan cap meant to us, the green felt and red feather that helped make him the happiest Muir on Earth.