Gender revelations.

Let me begin this post by offending half of the people who read my blog: I hate gender reveal parties.

I understand completely why people want to celebrate the upcoming arrival of their bundle of joy, and those few details that are knowable before birth. I recognize that it’s nice to have your excitement and enthusiasm shared by others.  I had a Puppy Surprise toy as a kid, so can even appreciate the thrill that comes with seeing that glimpse of pink or blue.  But I just can’t get onboard the gender reveal party train.*

I’ve taken enough Women’s Studies courses to see sex and gender as two very different things.  Sex is physical and biological.  It’s hormones, chromosomes, anatomy.  It’s everything that we learn about in science class.  Gender is social and mental. It’s how we feel about ourselves, and how people tell us we should feel about ourselves as men, women, or otherwise gendered people in this world.  Amniocentesis or an anatomy scan can (sometimes, not always) reveal sex: they can’t reveal gender.

So, it would be more accurate to have a sex reveal party.  When I imagine this party, I imagine a grand affair.  Balloons would be bought from the same stores that supply bachelor/bachelorette parties. Cheerfully hung banners would read: “Based on the information we’ve been provided with, we believe our fetus has XY chromosomes!”  Cake would still be served, but elegantly crafted into the shape of a penis or vulva.  Actually, all of this is tempting me to send out invitations.  But I digress.

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Exhibit A

Gender and sex aren’t neatly correlated.  Our queerly gendered bodies and complicated attractions to each other should be a good reminder of this fact. Sometimes sex and gender align, sometimes they contradict each other, and often the relationship between the two is much messier.  Women’s Studies courses aside, I’m reminded of this fact by the fabulous displays of gender that surround me every day.  In my world, gender includes bowties, glitter, femme flagging, suspenders, drag, eyeshadow and sequins.  My own gender doesn’t include all of these things, but is certainly more complex than the cotton candy pink bedroom I grew up in.

Sex, too, is more than an either/or.  Most of us were born into bodies that can be classified without too much complication as male or female, most of our children will be too.  But 2% of bodies defy this classification, and risk being altered or “corrected” from their very first moments because they make our clean categories into a lie.  And among the 98% of bodies that can be assigned neatly enough at birth, there are many that shift later on: surgeries, hormones, electrolysis, binding, tucking, packing being just a few of the ways that people redefine or reshape what was incorrectly assumed at the start.

Which is all to say, neither sex nor gender are choices between two checkboxes.  They are spectrums, not categories.  They are shifting, triggering, affirming, confusing and contradictory.  They exist in the language of “neither”, “both”, “sometimes”, “maybe”.  They are both more complicated than biting into a cupcake to find sugary sweet pink or blue icing inside.

Based on this tirade, you might reasonably assume that Sea and I wouldn’t find out Bingo’s sex. My own mother made this assumption, asking and then immediately responding to her own question, “Of course not.  My gender non-conforming daughter is just going to raise a gender non-conforming child, anyways.”

But we did find out.  Why?

In part it was to grasp on to one of the few things knowable before Bingo is born.  We can’t know Bingo’s hair colour, eye colour, likes, dislikes, personality.  Even with the availability of 3D ultrasounds, Bingo’s features will largely be a mystery until s/he arrives (I’ve never found ultrasounds particularly indicative of later appearance).    In finding out Bingo’s (probable) sex, we’ve been able to imagine a little more about the baby that will eventually arrive.  We’ve tentatively tested out pronouns, and even potential names.

Finding out Bingo’s sex was also partially about preparation.  Sexism is alive and well, and living everywhere.  It is simple fact that a baby’s sex will impact how it’s socialized from the very start.  If Bingo is seen and socialized as male, we will have to teach him—as two women—how to hold male privilege in this world.  If Bingo is seen and socialized as female, we will have to teach her how to navigate a culture rife with sexism, misogyny and gendered violence.  I know little more about how to teach these realities than I do about holding newborns or changing diapers, but learning Bingo’s sex allows us to begin thinking about how the world will respond to the child we’re bringing into it.

Which is also part of why we’re not telling.

In part we’re not telling people Bingo’s sex because it doesn’t matter.  Though knowing allows us to begin testing out pronouns and potential names, it doesn’t actually tell us—or anybody else—who Bingo will be.   This is made even truer by the fact that often the people asking, “Boy or girl?” are people unlikely to ever meet Bingo: my boss, random Facebook acquaintances, the stranger we bought a stroller from, etc.

We’re also not telling because we don’t want people to think it matters.  A friend of ours recently told us about a friend of hers: a feminist who would soon be having a daughter.  At the baby shower, this woman received not one but TEN adorable little dresses, with each guest insisting that she had to have “just one”.  I don’t want a thousand ‘’Little Slugger” sleepers or “Princess” onesies to suddenly appear in our lives.  As much as I trust our friends to not to do this to us, it’s just so tempting to wander toward girls’ or boys’ departments once you know.  Trust me, I know: just ask me about the tutu I bought for our niece.

There’s also something nice about having something that only Sea and I know.  There will be a time, soon, when everybody will know Bingo’s sex, when everybody will have a name and pronouns to use, when we will be inundated with advice about what girls or boys are like.  But in a process where almost everything is made public, it’s nice to have something that’s just ours.  So for today, Sea and I will keep our secret, quietly trying out names and smiling when nobody else is there.  And if you ask, “Is it a boy or a girl?” the only answer you’ll get is “probably”.

*Don’t even get me started about the number of things that will be lit up pink or blue when the royal baby arrives.  Really, don’t.

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19 thoughts on “Gender revelations.

  1. Also, baby clothing is maybe THE most gendered of any clothing. Last summer we went to Carter’s to buy a gift for friends who had just had a baby. I wanted to find something cute but not super boy or girl identified. It was SO hard! We did manage to find some things, but it took a lot of work. We ended up buying a onesie (navy blue with a orange crab embroidered) that was a ‘girl’ onesie. We didn’t care, but the lady who rang us up was bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have that onesie for boys. I asked what she meant and she mentioned the scalloping on the edge of the onesie. REALLY?! So intense!
    Anyway, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I don’t really want to find out (once we are knocked up) but La does, and I’m willing to cave for her. But I have a lot of feelings about sharing that information with folks. Thanks for contributing to such an important conversation. Its shocking to me how often LGBT/Queer families fall in line with the status quo on this stuff.

    • We fall in line with the status quo on this stuff because we know that what one dresses their child in is not going to dictate who they are as a person. So if I like the color pink for my daughter I am going to dress her in pink. My wife likes blue so she will also be dressed in blue. Everyone draws a line in this matter yours might be clothes. Are you going to grow yours sons hair out or buzz cut your daughters hair? Or give your son a “girly” name? We make choices based on what we like as parents, isn’t becoming a parent the most selfish decision we make? I mean why are we having a child in the first place, to impose the values and belief systems we deem right on them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you are not putting your son or daughter into gender-specific clothes you are saving them from something.

  2. totally. people always asked me “are you going to find out the gender?” to which I would often reply “we found out the sex but we will have to wait and ask her about the gender in another 5+ years.”

  3. Love this post. I was a Women & Gender Studies major in college, and I absolutely cringe every time I hear about “gender reveal parties” or “boys do this/girls do that”. Every time I see those “It’s a BOY!!” signs, I want to cross it out and write “It has a penis!!” instead. We’re also going to find out the sex (if we get that far, knock on wood), but we’re debating telling people. It’s interesting to me that it is always the first question family members asked when they found out about the pregnancy: “when do you find out if it’s a boy or a girl?” Maybe we won’t tell them just to piss them off. Heh. That and we want to avoid the frilly dresses/sports onsies for as long as we can.

  4. I totally understand and respect your reasoning! I was sickened over the gendered clothes that seemed to be my only choices when shopping for my daughter. A little digging (and shopping in the “boys” section) allowed me to find some really cool gender neutral stuff for her to wear. Without horrific phrases such as “Daddy’s princess” on them.

  5. So smart.

    We accidentally (long story; I blogged about it) found out Bunny’s sex and didn’t think much about telling others.

    Fast forward to annoying assumptions including the baby shower gift encouraging my son to become a rapist. (T-shirt saying “lock up your daughters”) Uh, no! As it turns out, Bunny is very much a boy who loves all traditional boy stuff despite all the gender neutral clothes that made people assume he was a girl his first year, but the whole attitude towards babies and gender kills me.

  6. Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. I just always thought it would be funny to reveal the sex of my baby using more bachelor/bachelorette appropriate props:) ( penis cakepops or flowering vagina cupcake topper) glad that way of thinking is actually more correct. I’m not a fan of the blue for boys and pink for girls thing. Regardless of my baby’s sex, it will be dressed in SF 49er or SF Giants gear:) sports is something any child can grow to love if we create favorable memories from a young age.

  7. I get really torn about this as I am a girly girl. And it had nothing to do with being put in pink onsies as I was the last born of three brothers. I wore boys hand me downs until I was around 5 or 6. My wife is femme but not to the extent that I am. As much as I don’t want to be one of those stereotypical moms that puts girls in pink and boys in blue, I adore the girlie tutus and the construction onsie that says “I dig mommie”. I totally get what you’re saying, but putting a girl in pink doesn’t make me sexist and when I see a baby in orange I don’t assume it’s a boy. I have a friend that identifies as butch that gets upset when her daughter gets mistaken for a boy when she dresses her in blue and says that society is imposing thier views on her kid. But isn’t she doing the same thing by trying to prove her point? As parents we will impose our belief system on our kids until they are old enough to say otherwise whether it be about religion, organic food, and even clothes. And I wonder if when her daughter is old enough to choose her clothes and wants to be “girly”, will she embrace that? It goes both ways. That being said, if my hypothetical 5 yr old boy wanted to wear a pink shirt I would be the first one to buy it for him and vice versa for a girl. Just the way sex doesn’t define gender neither do clothes. And I am not a big fan of the gender reveal thing either.

  8. I am so with you on this. With Critter, we found out his sex at the anatomy scan, but didn’t tell anyone until he was born. This was my idea, but PB signed on once I explained my reasoning. (It was also partly our compromise, because she wanted to know the sex, and I didn’t.) I’m glad we waited to let everyone know.

    Critter is anatomically male, and in many ways has stereotypical “boy” behavior. He is fascinated by diggers and trucks, he loves sticks and dirt. (Then again, the same could be said of me at the same age.) He also loves flowers, and stuffed animals, and jewelry. His favorite color is purple, and his favorite Sesame Street character is Abby Cadabby. I want him to grow up understanding that he can be a boy in a way that feels right to him. (If, later on, he tells us he feels more comfortable as a girl, that’s fine too.)

    I’m anatomically female, and read as such, but I’m not what I would describe as femme. I don’t consider myself especially butch, either. I wear dresses, on occasion. (More often at the moment, because the ones I have are comfortable, especially in the heat.) I wear makeup, on even less frequent occasion, but I’ve never worn it on a daily basis. I also like digging in the garden, and building things. I was once cornered in a department store shoe area (I needed a new pair of sandals, I think), by a woman who wanted to commiserate with me about how all women loved shoes, and always needed more room for them. She had two closets full, and was shopping for more. I made polite noises, but inside I was thinking “What are you talking about lady? I have, like, four pairs. And one of those are hiking boots.” I’ve always hated being told that I should or shouldn’t do/like/whatever a certain thing because I’m a woman. How about I follow my interests, and you follow yours, and we’ll both respect each other as individuals? Yes? And while we’re at it, let’s extend my children the same courtesy, shall we?

    Also, I haaaate the lack of gender neutral baby clothing. Seriously, I kind of want to move to Finland just to get that baby box with the gender neutral clothes. The vast majority of our baby wardrobe was hand-me-downs, and some of them came from boys, and some came from girls. Critter wore both, although we did put away the dresses for possible future use. PB’s mother, who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to find out Teeny’s sex before birth in general, was horrified when I said that Teeny would be mostly wearing the same things as Critter had, regardless of sex. We dressed Critter in cat pajamas (with a tiny bit of lace at the neck, even, because cats are for girls); I’m certainly not going to tell Teeny “No dinosaurs for you; you have a vagina!”. (You know, should Teeny prove to have a vagina. Should Teeny have a penis, he will wear dinosaurs and cats and whatever else, just like his older brother. At least until he makes a preference to the contrary known.)

    Also, I have a former co-worker who was pregnant, and was frequently asked by the general public whether she was having a girl or a boy. She was petite, and fairly feminine, and had a certain air of innocence around her (at least if you didn’t know her well…), and so they were always surprised when she would smile sweetly, rub her belly, and say “We’re just hoping it’s human”. I’ve always loved that answer. (And I have, in fact, responded to “Do you know what you’re having yet?” with “Well, we’re pretty sure it’s human”.)

  9. I am totally on board here and think you’re making the best decision (not that you need my approval lol). When people ask(ed) us about E’s gender, our favorite reply is, “We’re not sure! Our baby can’t talk and therefore can’t tell us yet!”

    I agree also about the disgusting gendered clothes for babies. You can find the most perfect, gender neutral print onesie, and then in the corner, it will say something gross like, “Tough like daddy.” Ugh. A) Daddy is not tough, at least not in the stereotypical dude way. B) E is a baby and is definitely not tough. C) My baby is a BABY and therefore doesn’t have a gender yet. He’s having enough difficulties just trying to relax and not fight his body when he poops. Give him an effing break. D) His parents will not be remotely offended if you assume our baby is female. E) Neither will E.

  10. I think you are doing things right. We announced Punky’s gender (not at a party) and mostly because we were really bad a keeping secrets! But, we are raising her to be gender blind. At least for the most part. She’s got dresses and princesses and she’s got cars and firefighter shoes. She has a toy tool bench and a princess cell phone. I don’t see anything wrong with your line of thinking at all!

    I am glad you have been giving it more thought that we have, so I will definitely be following more closely to see how you manage to navigate this! I am sure we will all learn valuable things!

  11. Thanks for this post! Lots of it sounds really similar to our reasoning. We were really excited to find out Tad’s sex when he was in utero, even though we knew that it didn’t really tell us anything about his personality or interests. It’s just nice to know SOMETHING about this little being that’s going to become such a huge part of one’s life. And in our very gendered world, it’s useful to be able to pick a pronoun to use (at least until s/he is old enough to express his/her preference on the matter). Plus, it was helpful to us to have some time to freak out about how on earth two women who had spent most of their lives in communities of women would do with raising a boy. We were able to have that freak out and then do some reading and thinking and talking and to feel more okay about it by the time we had an actual baby on our hands (at which point the freaking out switched to being about more basic things like keeping him fed and getting him to sleep….).

  12. I’ve always told my wife that when we get pregnant, I don’t even want to know our baby’s sex. I feel like it’s the one “present” in life that can actually be a true surprise. She really wants to know, though. She wants to be “prepared.” I hope I can talk her out of it when the time comes, but if it’s that important to her, we’ll go ahead and find out.

  13. I’ve said a thousand times that Gus is a baby. He is beautiful, pretty, handsome, sweet, and sometimes a pain in the a$$. He is all of those things and more and I won’t be held to just one set of those terms because he has a penis. I will admit that we dress him like us (in clothes more often found in the “boy’s” section) but that has nothing to do with him having a penis and far more to do with what we are both drawn to. (If #2 has a vagina, they will also be wearing polo shirts and ripped jeans). As a toddler he likes to play with cars, put his doll to sleep and play sports, but so did (do) I and I have a vagina. I hate boxes.

  14. I agree with most of this post, however like another commenter said it goes both ways. I think often we want to overcompensate for society by not buying any pink for a girls or putting a boy in pink and purple to make a point. Children will be drawn to whatever they want regardless of how much we try to prevent it. Our niece loves princess dresses and dolls as much as her parents tried to shield her from every having contact with these things. My wife and I are having a little girl and her feelings are similar to yours. We have beat this horse dead in our house.

    Are you choosing a gender-neutral name? A child’s gender-specific name will affect their life much more then a baby girl only wearing pink and tutus.

  15. We also chose not to tell anyone BoomBoom’s sex because we didn’t want all the pink things in the world. Turns out as soon as she was born, we got all of the pink things in the world. Not from close friends, because they know better, but from everyone else. We often have her in boy’s clothes because they’re cuter… but then get attitude that two lesbians are trying to raise a tomboy. Ugh, you can’t win. Whatever you end up having, I’m sure you will raise them most excellently!

  16. Pingback: It’s a… mystery. |

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