Our world is a place where we face a lot of social pressures, a lot of pressures to conform. I can think of many examples from my own life where I felt like I was less valuable for not fitting into the role that society seemed to expect from me. Many of these feelings connect directly to gender roles, gender stereotypes and gender expectations. I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned to value the things that make me unique, I have come to embrace non-conformity as though it was a choice, my choice, but it was not and never has been. I march to the beat of different drum because I can’t hear any other drum beat. And now, I’m finally happy about it. I love the things that make me different.
But now things are changing. I’m pregnant. Soon, we’ll have a baby. I’ll be a mom. I think parents want what’s best for their children and while I think that we’ve come a long way, in terms of gender roles, I think we still have a long way to go. Here’s how I know. We are obsessed with gender. Obsessed. 90% of people who speak to me about my pregnancy ask if it’s a boy or a girl. It’s a ubiquitous question, it would seem, that people ask without even really thinking about it. Along the lines of “how was your summer?” But before we really get into why I find this question problematic, I think we’re going need to establish a bit of common understanding first.
Let’s talk about sex vs. gender. So sex refers to chromosomal traits, male, female, intersex. Chromosomes, DNA, dictate what we look like and sex chromosomes dictate, among other things, what our genitals look like. Most people have genitals that are easily distinguished. A male sex chromosome results in a penis. Female sex chromosomes result in a vagina. Gender, on the other, is a social construct, it’s about behaving in a certain way that a culture has decided is either masculine or feminine. It’s being a “boy” or a “girl”, a “man” or a “woman.” Our society says that there are certain ways we behave that make us one or the other. I think this creates an incredibly narrow view of who we are, or who we can be as people. I think we are ready to value a much broader spectrum of humanity, and I think we have already begun to.
Now back to babies. Babies do not exhibit gender. So when people ask if I’m having a boy or a girl, I think what they’re really asking is if the baby is male or female, because it’s really too soon to know anything about the baby’s gender and we won’t for quite some time even after it’s born. Now, why is it seemingly so important to everyone to know what a baby’s sex is? Are they really desperately curious to know what my baby’s genitals look like? Why? If you think about that objectively it’s actually pretty creepy. I think the truth is that most people see sex and gender as interchangeable synonyms. And for most of the population, particularly all the cis folk out there, they really are. But for trans, gender queer and gender non-conforming folk and folk who never felt like they fit into society’s expectation of their gender, there’s a lot more going on. My guess is that people think they will know something about who the baby is going to be if they know its sex. And when a baby is in utero, its sex is one of the few distinguishing things we can find out, but I don’t think it tells us anything about who this unborn person is going to be, and to imagine otherwise does them a disservice, it limits them. Why are we so anxious to fill this blank slate for them, before they’re even born?
Don’t get me wrong, if you fit nice and snuggly in society’s expectations of gender, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, if my baby fits nice and snuggly into society’s expectations, that’s great too, but, if they don’t, wouldn’t it be glorious for this baby to be free to figure that out on their own? To find their path and have it be valued for whatever it is, right from the beginning, to hear that there are many different ways to be a human and that they are not contingent on what one’s genitals look like. That sounds beautiful to me. It sounds like it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else and like it doesn’t hurt anyone.
Does this mean I won’t let my child play with trucks or wear pink or take risks or play it safe? Nope. What it means is that I want to let them fill in their own slate, and I want to celebrate their uniqueness along the way. Will it be easy? No. We have lived in, and been formed by this gendered society, and it will be a constant challenge to not gender our child based on their genitalia. But I know it’s worth it. I know young people that have struggled for so long to find a path to their true selves, and who have had people who love them try to steer them off that path at every turn. I want my baby, my child to have every opportunity to create their own path and to take us along on the journey, wherever it may lead.
And you, my friends, can help. Please don’t ask me if my baby is a boy or a girl. Not now, not once it has been born. Take some time to reflect on why you want to ask the question, what would the answer mean to you? Why is it important? Feel free to engage me in conversation about this choice, but please know that it comes from a lot of thought and is not a decision made on a whim. If you would like to challenge the ideas I’ve presented here, please be sure to put in a lot of thought and research of your own. When we fit easily into the world, when it’s set up for people like us, we experience privilege, and sometimes that can make us blind to the struggles of those who don’t fit, those for whom the world has not been tailored. If you are someone who finds that gender roles and expectations suit you pretty well, your personal experiences may not serve very well as an argument against what I’ve proposed here. This is an argument for valuing a minority, and it cannot be informed by the experiences of the majority.
This is not meant as an attack or judgement against anyone. If you are someone who has already asked me this question, this is not an attack on you, not at all. I appreciate your interest in our family, in this new human, whomever they may become. I know you will care for them. This is a good chance though, to expand your thinking, and why not? It’s so interesting to think about things in new and different ways. I for one am always enthusiastic to learn how to navigate the world in a more inclusive and respectful way, and I am honoured when people offer me the opportunity to share in that journey. I hope you will share in this journey with us.