my tortoise is trans…

November 2015: Oskar and René’s wedding

“My tortoise is trans,” comments Tina.

“She’s female actually,” explains Tina’s brother John. “But even though we’ve had the tortoise for more than five years, I still call my sister’s tortoise a ‘he.’”

“The way children talk today is different from when I was your age,” I toss my adult voice amidst a middle-schoolers’ morning carpool conversation. “I didn’t know what trans meant when I was your age.”

“Yeah,” agrees John. “People are more aware now. Look at Ellen DeGeneres and how she announced she’s lesbian. You know her, don’t you? Back then, everyone was watching, and it was a big deal.”

I hold back my smile. Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997 before the teens and tween in the car were born.

“A lot of girls talk about liking other girls,” adds Minal. “It’s not that unusual any more.” Minal is used to gender preference conversations. She participated as a flower girl in my best friend Oskar’s wedding, while I served as best (wo)man. Our hetero-household was a minority in Houston’s arts community in which Minal was immersed during her first twelve years.

“I don’t think kids our age can decide if they’re gay or not,” says John. “They’re too young.”

“I don’t agree,” says his sister. “Some kids just know…”

I toss in my adult voice again: “I have friends who were your age—13 or 14—and knew which gender they preferred. But you’re right, people didn’t talk so openly about gender preference. Twenty years ago when I taught at a high school, the teachers on both sides of my classroom were gay. One taught German and the other taught drama, but each kept his sexual preference a secret.”

I hold back from saying, Just the conversation in the car would not have taken place a decade ago.

The pre-8:00 am discussion shifts to encompass more pets: parrots, fish, cats, dogs. Once we reach school and the sixth, seventh and eighth graders spill out of my car, I turn off my engine to reflect on the conversation, which began because I asked if Tina, John, and their younger sister Alice knew a nearby vet where we could take our cat.