Everything that I have to say about gender falls into two categories:
- Things I have learned and believe as a result of being the parent of two children
- Things I have learned and believe as a result of my own experience as a human being
Growing up, I never questioned my gender. I was a “tomboy” as they say. But, it never occurred to me that gender was is something different than sex. It never occurred to me, in part, because being anything other than what was expected (whether it be gender, orientation, career, family, etc.) was not an option. This was both a result of my religious upbringing but also family dynamics. In case anyone was wondering, I was destined to be a Southern Christian woman married to a man, blessed with two children, and a stay-at-home mom and housekeeper. Sometimes things don’t work out the way they were intended. And sometimes that is a good thing.
When I was pregnant the first time, my wife and I had many discussions about what we wanted for our children. Gender often came up. Our ideals surrounding gender were that our baby would be adorned in gender neutral clothing and be given gender neutral toys. They would pick what they liked and what they wanted when they got old enough to decide for themselves. The sex of our child did not matter. No one knew the sex purposefully so that we wouldn’t be smothered in pink or blue.
Then our baby was born. And it was announced to our friends and family, which is all fairness, did a pretty good job of maintaining our gender neutral preferences. Our little A was free to explore the world and determine likes, dislikes, etc.
Our baby, male, was a boy. It did not take long for that to be apparent. As he grew and started to show preferences for hair length, toys, clothes, etc. he chose for himself. He is now old enough to talk about gender and he identifies as male (Disclaimer here recognizing fluidity and we will obviously continue to respect his choices and preferences moving forward if they change). The point is, regardless of sex at birth and regardless of how gender neutral you approach parenting, you get what you get.
In case we weren’t sure of this, along came our second child. Born female, raised by two moms, exposed to a full range of toys, clothes, etc., J is a girl. And not just a girl, a princess dress wearing, baby doll loving, pink and purple covered G-I-R-L. (But, she is also tough, self-assured, sportsy, and proud.)
A is now at the age where kids see black and white, they put people into boxes. You are boy or girl. We are continually talking to him and helping him to understand gender roles and how our society plays into them. We are affirming choice regardless of how others expect you to behave. We are lucky that he attends a school that is incredibly supportive of LGBTQ families and children. And yet, we still have moments when we are frustrated by the limitations of society and gender expectations.
On a recent trip to Georgia we visited Babyland General Hospital (where Cabbage Patch kids are born and adopted). The kids knew going in, and were super excited, that they were each allowed to adopt a doll. J was in heaven. We stood around as Mother Cabbage delivered a new (girl) cabbage baby and suddenly A was having a meltdown. After several minutes of coaxing, he finally told me the problem. He was worried that Babyland General was for girls, adopting a doll was a girl thing to do, and that he shouldn’t do it. We worked through it in the end, but fuck you society for this challenge.
Through this process as a parent (and my own personal experiences, featured in a future Part II), I have come to few conclusions:
- Gender is a spectrum that is influenced by an infinite number of factors.
- Gender can be fluid.
- While gender should be irrelevant, we live in a society where that is not the case.
- The only way to change gender stereotypes is to raise a generation that is not confined by the idea that gender is this or that. Gender is not binary.
Disclaimer: These are my personal beliefs and thoughts on gender and are not intended to be offensive in any way. I would welcome any comments and/or criticisms as I’m perpetually learning… No really, what are you thoughts?