As a bookish child, I loved most of all an anthology of stories that sat high on my parents’ white bookshelves. At night, my siblings and I would gather on my littlest sister’s bed while one of my parents read to us. Once I learned to read, I took to raising myself up on my tiptoes to borrow that book and carrying it to the nubbly lime green couch in the playroom.
One day I discovered a story I hadn’t read before — “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story,” a feminist classic by Lois Gould published in 1972. In it, as part of a scientific experiment, a newborn is named X, the child’s gender kept secret. When a Ms. and Mr. Jones adopt X, they buy both girls’ toys and boys’ toys; they encourage X to develop traits both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine. When X enters school, the whole family is nervous. “Nobody in X’s class had ever known an X before,” Gould writes. “Nobody had even heard their parents say, ‘Some of my best friends are Xes.’”
In time, X’s classmates accept X. They love that X excels at both playing football and baking cakes. It’s the other parents who demand to know whether the child is male or female. But on this matter, the story never bends: X the child remains.