Should We Reconsider Assigning Gender At Birth?

10/07/2017 14:50

Canadian media recently announced what they claim is a world first: a newborn baby whose gender was not assigned at birth. At least, that is, not in the traditional sense of either M or F being stipulated on the child's health card. Instead the letter U has been used which the BBC report goes on to explain could stand for 'undetermined' or 'unassigned'.

The parent Kori Doty, a community educator who is part of the Gender-Free ID Coalition, told CNN the thinking behind their decision to keep this information out of their child's public record: "I want to give them the most open opportunity to develop as a whole human and I do not want to be restricting them to what might come with a box as guessed by what their genitals look like."

While this news may come as a shock to some, it raises a very important point about the impact of the stereotypes that we as a society assign to someone based on just three little words in the delivery room: "It's a (insert gender here)".

As a non-binary transgender person, Doty explains that they never truly felt they fitted in with the image of those men/women they were surrounded by as a child, which led to feelings of isolation and alienation - something they were keen for their child to avoid.

Naturally, on hearing the news, social media went crazy. Cries of outrage were hurled at the parent ranging from insinuations of insanity all the way through to the inevitable accusations of child abuse.

While we may not all agree with this approach, we should remember that once upon a time, when a child was born with a penis, his future as a heterosexual husband of 2.4 children was mapped out, as was that of his female counterpart. Now the majority of us understand the notion that, whatever our own sexual preference, sexuality is not something that can be assigned by the midwife at birth.

Sexuality is allowed to develop.

When your baby is born you look at their genitals and presume that your child is going to identify with the associated gender. But actually, until societal norms begin to influence that child he or she will be free to express their gender in the way that feels most natural to them - whether it fits with what is expected, or not. This is not as a result of that child being influenced by outside forces, instead it is about that child instinctively leaning towards those behaviours with which they feel most comfortable.

When I have asked the parents of the children I have met through GenderGP what first caused them to question whether or not they might have a gender variant child, the answer is often the same: their child actively shunned those clothes, toys, habits and activities most stereotypically associated with their phenotypical sex, preferring instead those of the gender opposite to the one they were assigned at birth.

Of course, these parents did not then immediately discard all vestiges of their child's birth gender and embrace their child as the opposite sex, after all this may just be a passing, exploratory phase. Instead, many simply continue open parenting, helping their child to grow and develop, ignoring - or embracing - these 'quirks' as part of their child's freedom of expression.

Gender variance is about far more than just liking blue or pink. It is about the way the child prefers to look, their speech, mannerisms and movements. It is about their individual preferences and how they wear their hair, clothes and demeanour. It is an innate feeling from deep inside about who they are.

Doty goes on to explain that a third-party inspection at birth is unable to determine what gender that person will identify with throughout their life. They are undoubtedly correct. Most phenotypical females (XX) have ovaries, a womb and a vagina and it is the ovaries that produce oestrogen which bring about the female secondary sex characteristics. Phenotypical males (XY) have testicles, a prostate and penis and it is the testicles that produce the testosterone that leads to secondary male characteristics.

Yes, the majority of XX babies will continue to identify as girls and then women and will live their whole lives as female. But that is not always the case. Some XX babies will not identify fully as female, they will not want to live in a pre-prescribed gender role which they do not feel is right for them. The same goes for XY babies.

Assigning gender at birth helps us, as a society, to categorise this new human being. By knowing categorically if we are dealing with a boy or a girl we can apply the rules assigned to that gender, from the clothes that they wear to the bathroom they should use and what role they will go on to play in society.

But, aside from helping us to understand whether the rules for box A or box B apply, I would argue that assigning gender so early does little to assist that child in developing into a rounded human being.

Crucially, the parent in this particular case concludes that they are: "trying to give [their baby] all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be,"

Surely THAT is what really matters?

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