Let’s talk about… Gender – Part I

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.

 

baby in yellow shirt is holding onto couch with sunny background
A – 3 months
baby in gender neutral clothing is sitting on a blanket playing with a plush toy and smiling
A – 4 months
Baby wearing yellow cloth diaper is laying on a multicolored blanket on its back and smiling
A – 5.5 months
baby wearing white and yellow outfit is sitting on a blanket holding a pink plastic Easter egg and laughing with Easter basket in the background
A – 7 months

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.

 

toddler wearing navy blue shirt and grey pants is crawling on driveway with a green toy truck
A – 18 months
young boy wearing jean shorts and blue hooded sweatshirt is standing on yellow tractor with blue sky background
A – 2 years

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.)

 

newborn baby curled up on back wearing striped and hooded outfit with white socks
J – 3 days
young boy and girl standing and playing with sponges in a blue bucket of water
A and J
Young boy and young girl standing and holding hands in the green grass with trees, flowers, and buildings in background
A and J again

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.

boy sitting in car hugging doll

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?

 

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9 thoughts on “Let’s talk about… Gender – Part I

  1. I didn’t try to keep things gender neural but have exposed my son to all kinds of choices in clothes, toys, activities, and games. He loves trains and trucks, but also his long hair (that I just convinced him to trim for summer) and all things sparkly and pretty. He gets misgendered a lot and I have been working with him to correct people when he wants to. I also try to let those times be teaching moments for others without making a big deal out of it for my son. The profuse apologizing is an annoying part of our culture and I reply with a nonchalant “he has long hair and is wearing a pink shirt, it’s bound to happen.” He isn’t in preschool and is only beginning to be exposed to things being for “boys” or for “girls.”

    1. Agree regarding the profuse apologizing. As an adult who has been misgendered in the past, the apologizing is the worst. I remember many instances of waiting in line at the grocery store and kids asking me “Are you a boy or a girl.” Their parents were horrified but I usually just said, “Girl, thanks for asking.”

      1. Hahah, yes that has happened to me too and it doesn’t bother me when it’s just a normal curious kid question. Now as a parent I understand the full extent young kids need to departmentalize everything. I used to get “young man” all the time, especially winter in Chicago. It doesn’t help that I’m really short so put a hat and school bag on me and I looked 12. It’s the way parents react that gets to me. As a cashier, I once had a little one say “mommy, he has boobies.” I was ready to respond, but the mom snatched her off the counter and ran out the door.

  2. We did not know the sex of our baby before she was born. This was really tough for our families – we constantly dealt with complaints around buying clothing, toys and accessories, “we don’t want to buy pink for a boy!” Through the process of choosing a name, we intentionally considered gender neutral options. I never realized how salient gender constructs were until we had a baby. I was privileged to ignore them since I never really lived outside the accepted female role. Turns out our baby is huge – very chubby and tall. No one assumes she’s female unless she’s wearing pink – I think its because of her size. It doesn’t bother me when people assume she’s a boy – I usually don’t even correct them. It bothers me that they assume she’s a boy because she’s not petite. And she’s only 4 months old. FOUR MONTHS and already we assign specific physical traits to boys and girls.

    1. Isn’t it crazy how parenting can bring to light so many issues with gender and choice that you’ve never even considered about yourself. Suddenly you are the caregiver for this little human and making sure they can be unapologetically who they are is tough in this society. Thanks for sharing your story… 🙂

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