Alice is told to behave like a lady from the age of five, and does.
At twelve, it still doesn’t stop.
"Sit up straight," says Father.
"Close your legs," says Mother.
"And Lord forbid you wear those hideous boy trousers!" says Sister. "Go on, put on a proper dress now."
Alice frowns at Sister.
Geoffrey is their neighbor—Alice’s own neighbor, who has short hair and short sleeves and doesn’t have to wear dresses all the time. Alice doesn’t mind dresses terribly, but doesn’t mind trousers very much either.
Sometimes when they play, Alice will asks things like, “Would you want to wear a dress?”
Geoffrey isn’t like Father or Mother or Sister and answers Alice’s questions instead of responding to them with questions of his own. “Dresses are for girls,” he says.
"Are trousers for boys?" says Alice. "I say we should switch and see how we like them."
"You can try my trousers," says Geoffrey, "but I don’t want to wear a dress."
Alice had taken Geoffrey’s trousers and worn them and found them equally comfortable as the stockings and skirts Mother and Father had always gotten. Trousers aren’t as colorful as dresses, but they fit better between Alice’s legs and are easier to lift up Dinah around in with one foot.
"Return the trousers to that boy," says Mother. "Your sister is right, they’re hideous."
"D’you think Father’s trousers are hideous?" Alice asks.
"It’s not the colouring," says Sister. "They just look positively awful on you."
"You’re a girl," says Father.
Alice goes back upstairs and changes into a blue dress, and sighs loudly when coming back down, clutching the trousers.
"Don’t use that tone with me, young lady," says Mother.
Alice wishes nothing more but to wear Geoffrey’s trousers again.
Geoffrey accepts them and says, “You’re weird,” when Alice offers another chance in a dress, maybe white.
Sometimes Alice dreams of being in Wonderland again, with the Cheshire Cat and the Duchess and that funny white rabbit.
Duchess looks like Geoffrey, but with longer hair. Alice asks the Cat, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
The Cat smiles. “I don’t know. Are you a boy or a girl?”
"Everyone says I’m a girl," says Alice. "They always tell me to act like one.”
Alice thinks about the children at school, the boys and girls. The boys who tug at the girls’ hair and the girls who kick back. The boys who raise their hand quietly in class and the girls who quietly wait their turn outside the bathroom.
The Cat floats down, grins right in front of Alice’s face. “So you’re a girl?”
"I’m not a boy!" Alice says defensively.
The Cat won’t stop smiling.
"So does that mean you’re a girl?"
Alice spends a lot of time thinking about accidental moments of walking into the boys’ bathroom, and seeing exactly what was underneath those trousers. It’s different from what’s under dresses, tucked away beneath layers of panty-hose and white frilly underwear.
Sister says that’s what every ‘girl’ has, “And these,” she adds, gesturing to her own chest. “But you’ll grow them when you get older.”
"What if I don’t?" says Alice. "What if I don’t grow the same way you do?"
Sister laughs. “Silly, all girls grow the same way. Mother did before me, and I am absolutely sure that Grandmother did before her.”
Alice asks, “What if I’m not a girl?”
"But you are," says Sister. "It’s about what you have and what you wear."
"But what if I don’t want to wear the same things as other girls?” says Alice. “Does that make me a boy?”
Sister frowns. “Do you want to be a boy?”
"I don’t know," says Alice.
Alice asks Geoffrey, “Are you a boy?”
"Of course," says Geoffrey.
They’re playing cricket outside, though it’s not the type of cricket Mother and Father usually play. They’ve made a rock their ball and have bent thin sticks as goals. Geoffrey’s using the only other stick they’ve found, and Alice has opted for makeshift leg mallets.
"How do you know?" Alice asks.
Geoffrey shrugs. “I just know. I feel like one.”
Alice wonders what it’s like feeling like a boy.
"I don’t feel like a girl."
"You have a wiener too?" Geoffrey’s eyes widen.
Alice swings and laughs and misses the rock.
"No, I don’t—I don’t know."
"You act like a girl," says Geoffrey, managing to hit the rock this time. And then in a mocking voice, "I mean a lady.”
Alice giggles, but says, “Because everyone tells me to. I don’t want to be something because of everyone else.”
"You can’t really be anything else," says Geoffrey, "unless you’re just nothing." He giggles too. "Not a girl or a boy.”
"I want to be a boy," Alice declares at supper.
It’s a lie; Alice’s seen Geoffrey do it before, and it’s hard work. His father always scolds at him to pick up his toys and learn to hold open doors for ladies and Alice doesn’t want to do anything like that. And Geoffrey’s the only real boy Alice knows.
Mother lets out a horrified gasp and Father says, “You can’t.”
"Why not?" Alice asks defiantly. "I’ll start wearing trousers and braces like you, Father. And I’ll go to the boys’ bathroom at school. I think I’ll try that."
"You’re a lady,” says Sister, picking up her knocked over peas.
"Because you told me to be one," says Alice. "But I can think for myself, you know. I think I want to try to be a boy. A gentleman."
"Go to your room," Mother says firmly.
Alice slips down. “I’m only doing what you tell me.”
"Go," says Father.
Alice leaves, pondering the possibilities of being everything and nothing.
Wonderland doesn’t have any rules like the real world and Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “Am I really anyone?”
"Are you?" says the Cat.
Alice is perched on a tree, legs swinging back and forth. The Cat’s on the next tree branch over.
Alice asks, “What are you?”
"I am nothing." The Cat’s paws are outstretched, smile omnipresent. "And everything! This is Wonderland. There are no rules here."
"This is my dream, too," Alice mutters. "And maybe there aren’t rules anywhere."
"I won’t think you’re a lady if you don’t want me to," says the Cat.
"Does that mean you think I’m a gentleman?"
"No," says the Cat. "Unless you want me to."
"I don’t know," Alice says thoughtfully, looking up. Wonderland’s woods doesn’t have a sky, just endless constellations of twigs and leaves.