Friday, January 7, 2011

On Gender "Neutrality"

The Droidlet was supposed to be female. “Supposed” to be because that is what the ultra sound technician, the 99% sure technician, said he was going to be. Nine days before he was born a different ultra sound technician announced “I’ve found something!” Her treasure? Testicles.
                Most people’s response: “What are you going to do about the room?” “All those clothes!” What was funny is her/his room already had a rocket ship bed spread, alien decals, Star Wars original art, and blue, green, and orange lights complete with blue bookshelf spilling over with everything from Where the Wild Things Are to Neil Gaiman’s Dangerous Alphabet.
                When I thought I was pregnant with a female, I insisted on no pink (and got it anyway) was so proud I had bought overalls, outfits with space ships and dinosaurs, awesome orange striped leggings, and other clothing generally considered “boy” clothing. I was fighting the system! Screw the infiltration of gender normativity (at least staving off the eventual influence of school)! Yes, I still had the polka dot dresses and adorable pea coats, but her closet was an assortment, an array, not defined by the “boy” or “girl” section of the local convenience store.
                And then we found out he was a she. Certain people in my life, who think gender constructs are bullshit yet define everything in their life around them, scoffed and asked “So will you put him in a dress?” I was surprised at the slight feeling of discomfort that popped up in my stomach whereas, if someone had asked “So, you’d put your little girl in a baseball cap and overalls?” The answer would have been “Well, duh.” This moment highlighted for me the general taboo that hits gender neutrality – that society is much more accepting of a female “crossing” over to man rather than a male “crossing” over to woman. Now, much of this has to do with patriarchy and the idea that females “acting” as men is considered a step up. However, a male acting as a woman? Demotion. Of course, not everyone believes this and I think that blurring gender lines, in many cases, can actually subvert the notions of gender that are acted but now I am beginning to sound like an academic paper. What this anecdote comes down to is I was surprised at my own reaction – my liberated self who thinks about gender construction all of the time, who considers gender a choice, was suddenly slightly put off. This caused for closer examination. Why was I more comfortable putting my future daughter in “boy” clothes than putting my future son in “girl” clothes?
                A little boy saw Droidlet at Trader Joe’s earlier in the week and asked me if my baby was a boy or a girl.
                I replied, “I don’t know, it’s so hard to tell sometimes. What do you think?”
                “I think it’s a baby.”
                That little boy summed it all up.
                I wish we lived in a society that could just let babies be babies without encoding our gender stereotypes from the moment of conception. When Droidlet wears orange, people tell me what a beautiful daughter I have. And I say thank you. When Droidlet wears overalls and a dinosaur shirt they tell me what a handsome son I have. And I say thank you.
                At home, I tell Droidlet how pretty he is, how strong he is, how smart he is, how creative he is, how sweet he is.  Droidlet is a male yes. But is he a boy? I don’t know. He hasn’t figured out his gender for himself yet. Granted, he has parents whose gender match their sex, so in most likelihood, he will be the same. However, we want to foster an environment where if he decides he feels better and more confident in a skirt or in pink, then we will encourage and support him just as we would if he decides blue is his favorite color and only wears cargo pants. We’ll be thrilled if he wants to do musical theatre or dance; we’ll be thrilled if he wants to play hockey or wrestle. We want him growing up knowing there are options and being able, if he wants, to explore those options. I think at the center of gender neutrality, all politics and theory aside, is that we want what’s best for Droidlet. And what’s best for Droidlet is what makes him happy, whether that falls inside a gender line, outside of it, or somewhere in between.


  1. My mom tried to raise me & my brother the same way--of course, there were frilly dresses for me, but she tried to encourage me to play with Hot Wheels and get dirty. Some genetic thing turned in me though, and I played with dolls and hated getting dirty (still do!). My brother dressed up in heels & my dress-up clothes, played with my Barbies--friends questioned my mom, and her answer was "He's a kid, he's having fun, what's the harm in that?"

    And so, my dear, what I'm trying to say is you're right! He's simply a beautiful baby, and there's nothing more to it, and there shouldn't be. :D

  2. Exactly! It's all about the options being there - whether the options are taken or not. And thank you, so much. He'll be excited to see you this weekend!

  3. I don't know, I think I may draw the line at cargo pants ;) But you know gender neutral aside, you're excited for the baby pomp and cuffed jeans he'll undoubtedly sport at some point.

  4. Haha, JR. I think that's what's great about gender neutrality is that the choice is left up to him and in the mean time I can put him in rocket leg warmers and orange hats OR grease his hair back and have him rock the cuffed jeans and converse. No matter how hard Funk fights me, Droidlet WILL have a pomp at one point or another!