A quest to de-gender

We have been on a quest to remove gendering from our kids lives, and it’s been a journey. For this pregnancy, we found out the sex of the baby. We did this last time too. It was too tempting not to, a symptom of our own socialization of gender. But we keep it mostly to ourselves in an attempt to not make so much of a deal of it. Mostly, we want to avoid the gender stereotypes being placed on our baby before they are even born. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how hard it is, not just because of our own unpacking of our gendered socialization, but because the world is situated by gender in most areas…colors, names, clothes, toys, bathrooms, etc.

Throughout this pregnancy, we’ve wanted to share as much of the experience as we can with our daughter, so we brought her to the ultrasound appointment with us. She was insistent that she was having a baby sister and we were worried about how it might feel if she learned otherwise. We wanted her to be excited no matter the body parts and to understand that we can’t possibly know their gender until they tell us. But she was confused when she found out that the baby indeed had male parts. She really wanted a sister. I worked to ask her questions as to why, assuming it might be because most of her school friends had little sisters. But she soon revealed her confusion, which was simply that she did not know how to take care of a baby with boy parts. When I explained that babies are exactly the same no matter their body parts, and that they just might need wiped differently, it was a relief to her. It turned out to be simple once I unpacked her worry.

But her ability to keep the surprise of the baby’s body parts from others was not so easy for her. She quickly shared with many that she was going to have a brother. We don’t stifle her, but simply remind her that we don’t know the gender just yet. With so many folks knowing, this has resulted in many offers about how boys are so different than girls and/or how much fun they are, etc. The other day someone told me they hoped it was a boy because two girls fight too much. I’ve heard that boys are exhausting, have more energy, all of the expected stereotypes. I simply smile and say thank you. We all have our own experiences and I know that people want to connect and to share. I figure I can then share my own when this baby comes, perhaps offering alternatives to the common narrative.

We are also navigating which pronouns to use this time. When our daughter was little, we assigned her the “she” series of pronouns (she/her/hers). When she was about a year and a half old, she was starting to identify boys and girls in books and in people. I quickly worked to talk about alternatives and asked her about her own gender. Some days she was a girl, some days a boy. She started to assign gender to her dolls including transgender and genderqueer. But what I tried really hard to do was to let her know that just because people assign her the gender of a girl doesn’t mean that she is one. I remember the day (and relief) when I asked her, “Do you know why we think you might be a girl?” She replied, “Because I have girl parts.” I reminded her regularly (and still do) that gender is an open conversation and that at any point she can correct us and we’ll change.

As for this baby’s pronouns, we say “they” most of the time and use “he” as well. Our plan is to use both for this baby. We talked about this a lot, unsure of what to do. As much as we want to offer “they” as the sole choice, the realization of what it will take for this kid to exist in our current society and community under this single pronoun feels overwhelming. As much as we feel good about educating others, we don’t want this kid’s experience to repeatedly be about this education. They would have to hear corrections and/or explanations all the time, and our purpose in this is that gender shouldn’t be such a focus in a baby’s life, but instead without definition until they can self identify.

I know some folks that are choosing “they” as their baby’s pronouns all the time and I commend them. I am so hopeful that their experience is positive and that their communities jump on board. I also hope they too will share their lessons and experiences with others.

As you can probably read within my words, I feel I still have so much to learn on this topic in parenting. I am holding on tightly to the fact that I believe that the more explicit we can be around the push and pull around gender and pronouns and why we choose to resist conventional stereotypes, that we can set the stage for the socialization of our kids. This notion is rooted in my belief that kids should have every right to establish their own identity whenever they choose and as often as they choose. I also know that my family is only one small impact of socialization on their lives and that by promoting anti-oppression values and gender justice, we increase the opportunity for their self empowerment.

The truth is that we offer gender to kids from the second we learn their body parts and then we build their script for their early life. In reality, kids don’t know their own gender until about 3 or 4 years of age, and their assigned script is defined by today’s version of socialization. I see this over and over with my daughter who I see experiencing conflict when some item or characteristic is attached to one specific gender. It’s confusing to her when she has to figure why this is a “girl toy” or “girl clothes,” etc. I can see so profoundly how colors have quickly obtained gendering because it’s a obvious categorization. But colors too have changed over time. It wasn’t too long ago that the color pink was associated with baby boys.

Most folks know now that this baby I am carrying has male parts and I am ok with that. This baby will know that we think he might be a boy because he has male parts. We’ll work to dispel gendering and socialization to the best we can. It’s a battle, but I know we can set the tone that they can always talk to us and that gender is always their ownership no matter what the rest of us say. I feel grateful for those in our family, our friends, my colleagues who are just following our lead. I yearn for the day when we no longer live in a dichotomy. This humanity we live in yields so much variety, diversity, beauty. Gender is simply a story we’ve created to define the masses. Imagine the beauty if we let that script go. It would be spectacular, it would be a relief, it might even shift power. Who would you be if you were stripped of socialization? What would you look like? Still absolutely beautiful no doubt.

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