A friend is due to have a baby in a few months. When I got to see them the other day, I got to share a little bit in their joy, bliss. Hear about what is exciting and what nerves are sneaking up. They are not finding out the sex of the baby. Out of curiosity, I asked them if they had any inkling to what the body parts might be. They said yes and they feel conflicted as to why that happened.
I felt the same way in my pregnancies. Both times, I had a feeling, just knew what the sex of these babies were. And I’d be lying if I didn’t feel some satisfaction in being right. I’m still not sure if it was the act of being right, or confirmation that I did feel strongly connected to these children.
But, I’ve been thinking deeply on this, because I wanted to unpack that feeling of guilt and because I wish I knew what to say in that moment for that friend. My heart is telling me that we shouldn’t feel guilty. That guilt is rooted in our desire, want for the world to be different, all while potentially contributing to status quo. For me, the world I want to live in is one where gender is not binary, that gender is expressed on an individual level and that we don’t script it for others. It is also a world where we untie sex and gender. They are not the same, yet we tie them together with a pretty pink or blue bow.
We can simply, by definition and science, distinguish the two. But is it possible for us to unwrap the societal implications on biological sex?
As a pregnant person, I thought all of the time about what this little human might look like. Tiny fingers, toes, eye color, hair or no hair, who would they look like. Who’s smile would they have? Those little lips, nose, ears. All of it. It was so weird to think that I shouldn’t imagine all of this baby because I was trying to avoid the societal scripting of sex and gender. It felt unnatural and I felt upset that I had to unwrap all of these pieces in order to unwrap what associations both myself and society have put on body parts. So it begs the question, can we actually exist as people, and not care about reproductive body parts as anything other than just body parts?
Imagine a world with me for a moment…that we can have tiny baby humans be born and that their genitals are not a thing other than another piece of their anatomy. That providers don’t announce which ones they have at birth, as they also don’t say, “Wow, this one has black hair, or blue eyes, or a notch in their left earlobe.” Imagine a world where you can go grocery shopping and strangers don’t ask you whether or not you’re growing a tiny human with a penis or a vulva. Yes, these are not the exact words, but this is the actual question. Because if you are asking me the gender of the baby, this I do not know, only they can tell me. But strangers don’t want to be sure that they use the pronoun that the baby wants them to use, it’s that they want to use the socially acceptable pronoun. In fact, I have had people use a pronoun for our baby and then correct themselves when they see a certain color on their clothes. And then apologize for using the wrong one. I imagine a world where we don’t apologize because there is no reason to be offended- by me. Apologize to the person who you mis-gendered, and then ask them their gender pronouns so you get it correct the next time.
And quite frankly, my guess is that most parents are not offended by a person failing to guess their baby’s body parts. However, we still play the role of scripting when we dress our babies up in dramatically gendered clothes to be sure others know what to use. Do we do this for us? Or for the babies? Or for the comfort of others? Because I would guess that the babies don’t know the difference.
I imagine a world where none of this matters, where a baby is just a baby and you can use whatever pronoun comes to you, or you use they because you don’t know and because, one, a baby is too young to identify by gender until they first have words, and, two, they haven’t had the opportunity to live the life of their own mind, body, and being just yet.
This also gets complicated because we live in a world where genitals are also labeled as binary. Yet, much like gender, the truth is that genitals also exist on a spectrum and aren’t often as straight forward as we’re led to believe. It’s still not uncommon that parents and doctors decide to do surgery on babies to make their genitals fit into the binary system.
This brings us to another complication. In this society, this country, genitals are private – unless you are a fetus or too young to name your own gender or gender expression. We announce those genitals out loud for babies every second of their little lives. With balloons, cakes, fireworks, etc. But soon after, the line starts to blur because we get close to the point of sexualization. Once kids grow big enough, their genitals all of a sudden become private again. No one can see them or assume them.
This is all so weird to write, but what I am getting at is that this is not about having a feeling about your baby’s sex while they are growing in your body. But instead about what is attached to that. The guilt, the fear, is all about what you then might then place on that baby because of that knowledge. This happened for me.
I felt very early in my second pregnancy that I knew the genitals and when they were confirmed with a blood test, I spiraled into a fear of toxic masculinity, power, privilege. I created a narrative for a tiny human who was barely out of their first trimester in growth all because I knew their body parts. With my first, I knew too. And when it was confirmed, I felt relieved. Relieved for the opposite of all of those things I just mentioned. And then I was also scared because I knew what world this human was stepping into.
Can we as people allow ourselves to have sexual anatomy be just another part of us, with no societal attachment? Can we release the notion of celebrating a baby’s sex through made up stories like gender reveal parties? Can we unpack our own issues with gender expression? Can we release the inner need to know what body parts babies have?
I believe we can. I believe that we need to start with living our lives in what values we want to see in the world. In my case, I imagine a world where there is no association between sex and gender, that society does not script my life based on my sex or gender, or the others around me.
What world do you imagine?