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What We Can Learn From Charlize Theron, the Actress Who's Raising Her 7-Year-Old Son as Daughter

By: Chandni Doulatramani

Last Updated: May 02, 2019, 10:25 IST

What We Can Learn From Charlize Theron, the Actress Who's Raising Her 7-Year-Old Son as Daughter

Seven years ago when Charlize Theron adopted a child, Jackson, she thought she was adopting a boy. At 3, Jackson told Theron, “I am not a boy!”

Seven years ago when Charlize Theron adopted a child, Jackson, she thought she was adopting a boy. At 3, Jackson told Theron, “I am not a boy!”

Since then, Theron has respected Jackson’s wishes to be identified as female. Jackson is often seen sporting long braided hair, hairbands, dresses, and skirts.

“I have two beautiful daughters who, just like any parent, I want to protect and I want to see thrive. They were born who they are and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up, and who they want to be, is not for me to decide,” Theron told the Daily Mail earlier this month.

While people from the film fraternity often wondered why Theron dressed Jackson in girls’ clothes, this is the first time the actress has revealed her reason.

In the 2013 film Bombay Talkies, Zoya Akhtar’s short tells the story of a young boy Vicky (Naman Jain), who is forced by his father (Ranvir Shorey) to play football despite repeated protests.

“Kya acha nahi lagta, that is not important. Kya acha hai that is important,” he tells Vicky, adding that football will make him “tough”.

Vicky, however, is fascinated by his mother’s lipstick, Katrina Kaif, and dance. So one evening when his parents are away, he puts on his sister’s colourful top and wears it as a dress with a yellow belt clinched around the waist.

Matching yellow earrings sit on his ears as he lines his lips with his mother’s lipstick and slips into her silver stilettos. Glittery purple beads shimmer around his neck.

He starts grooving to "Aaj Ki Raat" from Don (2006) first in front of the mirror and then in front of his sister. As their parents walk through the main door, he turns around and shimmies for them. His sister seems amused, though not in an offended way.

His mother is also amused but brushes aside his act as childish. His father walks up to him, livid, and slaps him across the cheek.

“Yeh joke hai? Yeh kaisa mazaak hai? Yeh kya ho tum? Kya ban rahe ho? Kya banna chahte ho? Kya banoge bade hokar?" are questions he throws at Vicky before threatening to break his bones if he sees him like that again.

Akhtar was only partly successful in addressing gender stereotypes and failed entirely at portraying the several layers and subtleties of sexual identity. We see her challenging the idea of dance being seen as an art form for women even though it is obvious that that isn’t the only issue at hand.

Vicky is clearly a girl trapped in a boy’s body but there isn’t even a sliver of mention of his gender identity crisis or how this young boy doesn’t only feel inclined towards dance but, in fact, also believes he’s a girl. That for him not wanting to play football but instead being interested in dance isn’t just binary – it’s a measure of nonconformity.

“Ladkiyon me kya burai hoti hai?” he asks his sister one night, inducing no response from her.

Intolerance of gender identity outside of what is considered “normal” isn’t taboo just in India but even in seemingly more progressive parts of the world.

In Franco-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani’s 2016 novel Lullaby based in Paris, Louise, the nanny, takes the liberty to slick young Mila’s face with lipstick, blue eye shadow, and an orange blush on her cheeks. She then backcombs her hair so it looks like a mane. The little girl’s finger and toenails are also covered in pink nail paint.

When her father, Paul, returns home, Slimani writes, “He feels sick. He has the feeling that he has walked in on something sordid or abnormal. His daughter, his little girl, looks like a transvestite, like a ruined old drag queen.

He can’t believe it. He is furious, out of control. He hates Louise for having done this. Mila, his angel, his little blue dragonfly, is as ugly as a circus freak, as ridiculous as a dog dressed up for a walk by its hysterical old-lady owner.”

He warns Louise that he doesn’t want to see this ever again. “This kind of thing disgusts me. I have no intention of teaching such a vulgar behaviour to my daughter. She’s far too young to dress up like ... You know what I mean,” he tells her.

Mila, a girl, didn’t dress herself up, but didn’t protest either. She even enjoyed the scent of nail paint. But Paul’s reaction to her appearance tells us that even if she wanted to, she couldn’t have dressed up that way without facing pushback and insult.

In the latest season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix), Susie (Lachlan Watson), a teenager in North America, is bullied for choosing to be called Theo and for wanting to be identified as male.

He wants to join the boys’ basketball team but isn’t allowed to because people identify him as female, even though he doesn’t. When he finally is accepted into the boys’ basketball team, his teammates ridicule him asking him to strip naked in the boy’s locker room. They stock Theo’s locker up with sanitary napkins so that when he opens it, they come flooding out on him.

In her interview with Daily Mail, Theron said, “My job as a parent is to celebrate them (her kids Jackson and August) and to love them and to make sure that they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be. And I will do everything in my power for my kids to have that right and to be protected within that.”

Theron’s decision is not just brave, but also much needed at a time when emotional and physical abuse against people, including children, from the queer community, still continues.