“What a lady killer! This one is going to be a player! Or, wait — Is it a boy or a girl?” my baby’s admirer asked, eyes drawn to the pink socks underneath the blue jumpsuit I had my baby in.
I paused, she persisted, I then answered:
“Um, a girl, I guess — unless they tell me otherwise in the future.”
Shock spread across her face: “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry!”
But what does a baby’s gender matter, if you can’t really tell at this age? Can babies even have a gender (the social construct) versus sex (male or female parts)? Being queer in sexuality and in gender has forced me to question these seemingly simple moments, which are actually very important in our children’s development.
I’m a parent who wants nothing more than for my child to feel loved no matter how they identify. I choose to believe most parents want this for their children, too. That’s why I gently push back on these kinds of questions around my 17-month-old’s gender.
When I was pregnant, I would often be asked if I wanted a boy or a girl. I would respond that I wanted a healthy child. These days, I’ll playfully shrug and say things like: “We’ll see when they let me know.”
“When I was pregnant, I would often be asked if I wanted a boy or a girl. I would respond that I wanted a healthy child.”
From pregnancy to months after a child’s born, people seem overly concerned with children’s gender. They want to know how to properly refer to your child, how to treat them and socialise them, long before any differences between babies are noticeable. In fact, I get questions about my kid’s gender — technically, their sex: male or female — more than anything.
I’m just not sure why what these people are asking is important right now.
I’m not trying to be combative — I’m making space for kids who can’t make their own. Gender is a construct. I don’t think babies have genders before they have personalities. The way I see it, my child is too young to have a fully developed identity, let alone grasp the concept of identity, so in the meantime I want to create a context in which they feel they can fully be who they are.
This openness around gender can be unnerving to some.
What I find unnerving is that people think that a child’s sexuality is an important topic of discussion more than a decade before they even hit puberty. It makes me wonder how hearing their gender and sexuality being discussed and assumed impacts a child as they grow up. It makes me wonder why so many people are concerned with getting a baby’s pronouns “right,” but not when the pronouns in question belong to a grown trans person.
Why not want more options and spaciousness, rather than the rigid boundaries that can make kids feel trapped, unloveable and “wrong?” Whoever your kid is, they are going to be themselves regardless. Depending on how you approach them, however, they’ll feel more or less loved by you.
I think the gendered roles we perpetuate in our society — boy or girl — are limiting at best, and deadly at worst. I also think we should stop assuming that the majority is straight and cis, because I think it’s more of a spectrum that we are all on.
There is much to celebrate and emulate about the ways queer people parent. When your identity or lived experience is marginalised, you begin to analyse the subtle ways in which your identities become or stay marginalised.
One of the ways that homophobia and transphobia operate is by maintaining that the status quo (read: white, straight and cis-gendered) is “normal,” “better,” “smarter,” “more godly”, etc. When you’re on the other end of that, it leads to discomfort, emotional pain, economic disadvantages, stigmatisation, criminalisation, child apprehension, hatred and, far too often, death.
“I want my child to have less unlearning to do than I did. I want them to know that there are infinite options, and that I respect who they are.”
In this way, through lived experience, our marginalised identities allows us to see more clearly what needs critique. Critique creates awareness and awareness hopefully leads to change. Because of our vantage point, queer parents often make conscious decisions to do things differently, and these ways of being are often seen as threatening by mainstream society because they challenge the status quo.
I want my child to have less unlearning to do than I did. I want them to know that there are infinite options, and that I respect who they are. I want them to know that I see them and love them deeply, especially because of who they are (not in spite of it). I want them to be able to declare who they are instead of correct others when they assume incorrectly. A key way that this issue comes up right now is around gender (by way of pronouns and clothes).
When people demonstrate concern over a girl in blue clothes or a boy wearing pink, it doesn’t acknowledge fluidity, a gender spectrum — it presents two options. More times than not, it also assumes and privileges heterosexuality.
But isn’t it more important to socialise our children to love themselves than ascribe them to antiquated gender roles? What’s important to me is not what is between my child’s legs, but that they feel autonomous and safe in their bodies. That they know how to practice meaningful consent.
What is so terrible about encouraging our children to be themselves? You can’t “teach” them to have a different identity. I think the importance placed on a baby’s gender is to hide a scarier truth for some people: that they can’t control or change fundamental truths about their children, especially not with certain clothes.
This article first appeared on HuffPost Canada Personal.
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