New Humans and their, “Gender”

I have been sitting on this post for about a month because it is a delicate subject for me to needle around. Add in the shame, confusion, and frustration I feel about gender in babies and it has been easy to keep saying, “I will write about it tomorrow.” Well, I guess tomorrow has come.

We know the sex of our baby. We’ve known for about a month now. Occasionally we let it slip, but for the most part we are keeping it just between us. Part of me wanted private time to prepare for raising a child in a gender-stereotyped world, and part of me fears that the imposing of a gender from external sources is going to start as soon as I reveal the gender publicly. I am not ready for gifts in Blue or Pink. I am not ready for other mother’s to tell me how my son or daughter will be, and what I need to prepare for. But it is the one and only question people ask.

“We are pregnant.”
“Oh, congratulations, do you know if it is a boy or a girl?”

The reaction is that quick, that standard… it is like a social script that everyone received copies of. It is considered a “safe” question. They don’t ask, “Is it healthy?” or even, “How far along are you?” No, those are too personal, but the question of whether the baby has a penis or vagina is the accepted go-to. As if it even matters. Except apparently it does. Apparently people have no clue how to interact with other people without knowing their sex (and assuming their gender). Little boys get tossed into the air and told what a “Strong little man,” they are, and little girls get stroked and cooed over, told that they are, “Oh, so pretty and delicate.” From age 0. They look the same. They really are the same, except for a bit between their legs.

The other day my father-in-law was looking at pictures of a set of twins. One was dressed in blue, and the other in pink. His first question was, “I thought they were both girls…?” Yes, they are both girls. Girls can wear blue too. Later, I was showing off my crochet work to another friend of the family, who seems irritated that I “don’t know” the sex yet. When I showed her the blue-grey suit with purple and pink trim she decided that it MUST be a boy, because there is too much blue for it to be a girl. These little comments terrify me about raising my kid in such strong gender-stereotypes. It is enough to pull a Storm.

(For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Storm is the baby in canada whose parents are raising gender-neutral. Click here to read about it. )

In reality I wouldn’t raise my kid with a private sex. Once (s)he is born, people will be able to know h(is)(er) sex. I don’t think gender is inherently evil, and I think that there are worse consequences for a child (as they grow) if people feel uncomfortable interacting with them because they don’t know their sex. I think gender is (per)formed as a reflection of society. People toss out expectations in their interactions, and the person either accepts or refuses them, creating their gender. I do not think that all people with a penis are naturally, “masculine,” or people with a vagina are “feminine.” I would like the gender-dichotomy to dissolve into hundreds of adjectives that actually describe a person’s actions and interests. But I know that is too much to ask. I know my baby will be gendered, and all I can do is raise h(im)(er) with the tools to deal with it and create a true exploration of their self.

Okay. That is the rant people have expected from me. Everything falls in line with my semi-feminist, sociologically driven nature. Yes, of course little hippie-Koji doesn’t want to raise a boy or a girl, but a human being. Of course. But there is a little twist.

When I found out the sex of our baby, I had what is commonly (but not so publicly) termed, “Gender disappointment.” Gender disappointment is what mother’s feel when they learn the sex of their baby and they really wanted the opposite sex. I hadn’t known that I wanted one sex or the other, but when the doctor told us which our baby was, I didn’t feel excited. The color drained from me and I tried to smile, and I just continued with the ultrasound without much comment. I felt TERRIBLE, not because of the sex of our baby, but because of my reaction to it. I went online and typed in, “I don’t want to have a ____ baby.” To my surprise hundreds of hits popped up, and I started to learn that this was a common sensation and even had a name. MANY people experience gender disappointment, but it is not considered appropriate to admit it or talk about it. The internet allows enough anonymity so that mother’s can finally admit their fears and disappointment without fear of appearing like a bad mother, and the stories range from gruesome to almost sweet.

Most of the articles have some reference to sex-selection in China, and the death of thousands of female babies. There is usually some mention of zygote selection in IVF, and how parents are able to manage the sex of their babies more these days. Then the comments come. Hundreds of comments from women who don’t want to have a, “nasty boy,” or don’t feel like they will be able to relate to a, “girly daughter.” Women planning abortions because they cannot deal with the sex of their baby. Women who just needed time to adjust to the idea. Women who were afraid that they wouldn’t love their baby. The articles tend to emphasize that gender-disappointment is common, and it usually goes away once your baby is born. I realized that what I was feeling was completely light and manageable compared to some of these other women, and I started dealing with it. It took me about three days to get over the disappointment, but it has taken me a month to work on the guilt of having felt it.

I think about the fact that a hundred years ago women didn’t know whether they were having a boy or a girl. Sure, there were traditional methods of casting wedding rings and looking at how the bump was held that they engaged in, but they didn’t know until the baby came out. There was no preparation in blue or pink. This lack of knowledge allowed the baby to be rather gender-free for the first few months of h(is)(er) life. Now a quick scan can tell us the sex of our baby by the 4th or 5th month of pregnancy (a blood test sooner), and we immediately feel the pressure to start preparing for that sex without having ever met the person and learned WHO they actually are. No wonder this causes anxiety. (I prefer the term gender-anxiety, because really, I don’t think I was as disappointed as I was anxious.) Secondly, we live in a world where we have control over the stylization of almost everything. Our clothes reflect us. We have unlimited choices of telephone covers. We buy a tablet to our specifications. We paint/wallpaper our rooms yearly. We are used to having CONTROL. With a child you don’t get to make the decisions. You don’t order a child to your specifications. “I would like a smart, semi-athletic baby who will grow up to love the outdoors and shun consumerism.” Umm, yeah, parents can influence, but they don’t get to DECIDE these things. I think learning the sex of the baby is the first solid smack in the consumer-driven face that the baby WILL be what it wants to be and is not necessarily “yours,” the way your car or new love-seat is. Lastly, I think it comes from those gender-stereotypes and a narrowing of options. I honestly don’t think that I specifically WANTED a boy or a girl. Then why was I shocked and disappointed? Because I learned the sex at all. Before that day I had four months of wondering and guessing. Then, it was like Christmas morning… I unwrapped the gift, and sure, I liked it just fine, but the mystery and POSSIBILITY of what it might be was gone.

So there you have it- I am afraid of gender-stereotypes, bracing myself to deal with them, and feeling completely guilty that even I apparently am ruled by them. Poor little baby- you have no idea the gender-battle you are being born into.

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