A. taught me the difference between boys and girls: girls were the ones whose penises had fallen off. She explained this to me as we stood before an easel in the preschool’s backyard on a bright Southern California afternoon, and her voice said it in a way that made me feel bad about myself, like I’d already done something wrong; in not knowing that happened, in not remembering when my own penis had fallen off, and, on top of it all, in letting my penis fall off in the first place. Even though (apparently) my penis falling off had been my girlish fate.
It was only after I’d moved halfway across the world, and age made me aware of biological fact, that I realized A’s illogic, hidden inside the larger fallacy of penises falling off. A., too, had been a girl. She, too, had let her penis fall off. So why had she been so mad at me about it? I was still too young to understand most of why someone who is a girl herself would make someone else feel bad about being a girl—but that, right there—one girl making another girl feel bad about her girlishness—is often the crux of the matter, isn’t it? And A. and I were barely out of diapers.