Imagine a world…

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?

Be the lighthouse

I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns these days….

I want to first admit that we haven’t been as gender neutral as I want for pronouns in our house. We’ve pretty much reached the point where we use gendered pronouns for our baby all the time. I am struggling my way through this. And, I am sharing all this because I want people to know that our egos are strong. They keep us swirling around our confusion. They make us doubt ourselves. I am swirling in that self-doubt. And this is all part of a normal day in parenting.

A few weeks ago, I even said this out loud:

“I struggle with the idea of having to explain they pronouns to strangers in public. I don’t want my kid to feel like they’re an experiment.”

But, I have been enlightened and reminded by the universe in several ways lately that this is kind of a bs excuse. Let me break that down for you. First off, I saw a tweet (click to listen) that reminded me that pretty much all parenting is experimentation. So why would I think gender pronouns are an experiment but the rest is not!? Here’s where it gets tough. I don’t actually want to correct people or teach them because I am uncomfortable. I don’t want people to think that I am experimenting. I am judging myself that I may make the wrong decision. So this is really all about me. But you already knew that right!?

I deeply believe that I can do nothing to change the gender of my kids. What I can do is create an environment that may or may not match this gender and could make things easier or harder for them. For example, I could create one that doesn’t openly allow them to explore and understand their own gender. I can do damage to their own view of their gender by living and promoting scripted gender stereotypes or gendered expressions. I can associate certain words with my oldest but not my youngest simply because they are born with different body parts…tough guy, sweet girl, strong men, nice women, rough and tumble, sugary and spice…

So, this is where I’m at – realization. Realization that I want to do this differently. I believe in a world where gender is non-binary, non-scripted, and fluid. I believe that we can live in a world where people don’t connect or associate things simply because of one’s gender. I believe in a world where we ask a person their pronouns before we assumingly pronoun them based on our observations.

This folks is the world I imagine. I am learning how to build this world in my home, for my kids, and for me. I have no answers, but am constantly inspired by others who are doing this in a way that I admire and look up to. I am seeing what I can take and incorporate into my life that starts us on this path towards liberation. (Click here to check out Tiffany Cook, one radical momma sharing her experiences raising a baby with they pronouns. She inspires me and I love her deeply, you will too).

Thankfully, we have many successes already. Thus, I am also trying to remind myself that pronouns are only one step towards freedom. I look at my little people and I feel confidence in my ability to remove gendered thinking, gendered actions in how I choose to live in front of them. We have gender neutral and mixed gender toys for both kids. They wear whatever color they want, whatever clothes they want. I tell them they are both beautiful, gorgeous, brave, smart, strong, kind, sweet, and perfect. I avoid using gender in compliments like “good boy” or “way to go girl.” We are explicit about pronouns, gender and gender oppression. They know family and friends that use non-binary pronouns and identify as non-binary or transgender.

I have not mastered living this value out loud in public. But I am taking steps. I am moving and making small steps that I can only hope sets the example for them that their lives, their gender is their business alone. In the grocery store (it’s always the grocery store) people pronoun my kids all the time. The baby has a different gender pronoun nearly every time we go. I even had one person correct themselves after seeing a pink line in one of their socks. In these moments, I do not correct. I feel comfortable in them hearing different options for pronouns, that I am not going to correct and make sure someone knows which body parts they actually do have. And I don’t use pronouns when they ask me about them. I’ll use their name or avoid pronouns all together. Sometimes, I see people looking for confirmation from me, that they got it right. In these moments, I leave the discomfort on the table. This is their exploration too, these kind people wanting to connect. They need to explore their discomfort, their need to know and what comes up for them in this exchange.

This all makes me realize that my journey in parenting gender justice doesn’t have to be a whole package. I don’t have to flip the entire script today, but I do want to be committed to flipping the script as the end goal. Today, I feel that we parent in our community, among our family and friends pretty close to what I envision for the world. Out loud, I am still finding my voice, my role in how to bring other people along.

So here’s where I am at, after self-correcting my own course. A friend, mentor, coach once said “be the lighthouse.” If I can be grounded in what I value, what I believe in this world, then it will shine from me for others to see and feel, even possibly provide guidance. I don’t have to move my core to have impact, but instead to dig deeper. And it’s not my job to create the light in others. Instead, it’s my job to be so immobile, to be so sure in my shining that it guides others to a similar notion, similar desire to ground themselves in their light that also guides others. This is what living out loud truly looks like.

So yes, is this an experiment? Perhaps if you consider parenting an experiment. But I’m not experimenting on my kids, gender is much too important to even be considered such a thing. To have access to a community, a life where you get to navigate yourself without burden, script, assumption – that’s no experiment. That’s an explosion of love. This explosion of love is just yet another step in rearing my own little lighthouses so they find their cliff, ground their values, and shine brightly. My oldest loves to shine it in your face, you will never miss her or her light. Sometimes, I think it’s just pure fire. The littlest is going to be the one that warms your soul with their light.

Be the lighthouse folks. And join me in letting go of gender as we know it. It can only serve us to take additional steps towards our own liberation.

(Note: This writing makes me feel that I am part of a community where I can live out loud. I commit to using “they” for my baby moving forward until they can speak out loud what they want me to use. For my oldest, I will use she/her/hers. She has expressed numerous times that this is what she wants me to use when I speak about her.)

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.

Gendered toys

The other day, my partner took our daughter for some fast food. At the drive-thru window, the cashier asked if he wanted the girl toy or the boy toy. From the back, she answered “girl toy.”

This is what showed up in her meal.

20171201_204148_1512242252432

When she opened it, she said “thank goodness I got the girl toy.”

This was a good laugh for us, and so much proof about the lie of what is associated with gender. In preschool, she knows she is one of the girls and she regularly works to separate the class by gender. This is actually one of my greatest struggles in teaching her, breaking the outside view of gender. It is everywhere.

I once learned in a child development class that young kids build boxes of information. When they experience something new, and it doesn’t obviously fit into a box, without the guidance to create a new box, they instead fit it into the one’s they’ve already designed. I have found this with her. We have people in our lives who identify as transgender, gender-queer, non-binary. She has created a box for each of these individuals, but so far these boxes sit separately from her boxes on gender. She is unintentionally “othering” these folks because she has no other way to do it. I regularly talk with her about gender and when she mentions “boys and girls”, I offer additional options. But I see her really struggling, as not many others around her offer alternatives because we are all socialized to see the world split in two.

We were once in an airport and she had to go to the bathroom. She wanted my partner to take her, but I explained that I had to. There was no family restroom and she is getting too big to go into the men’s room. She kept asking why, and I explained to her that there are bathrooms in many places that are meant for boys and girls and that since she and I are both cisgender girls, we had to go together. Sitting on the toilet, she looked at me and asked about one of our gender-queer friends. “Which bathroom do they use?” she asked me. I told her what a great question that was and that when there are only two choices, people have to pick. Even though both of the options are not their choice.

Bathrooms, toys, television, clothes, friends, schools, shoes, even fast food meal toys. It’s all one or the other, no in-between. It’s nearly impossible to fight this. I am trying and I won’t stop trying. And I admit that I too am far from perfect.

A few days back, I gave a gendered pronoun to our soon to be second kid. In the middle of playing, without looking at me, I heard her say “Mommy, we don’t know if it’s a boy yet. It just has boy parts.”

Message received.