As a nanny, I get exposed to kids recognizing gender nearly every day. It’s interesting to me, as someone who walks around relatively genderless (in my own mind), to hear things like whether or not something is a girl or a boy, or how certain body parts make you one way or the other. And in some cultures, how other things can differentiate you from one and another. It is because of a kid’s innate curiosity that makes being a nanny so much fun and rewarding. The questions they ask, can be many, but the answers you say can be so important.
One practice that is absolutely mind blowing to me are gender reveal parties. Why is it so mind blowing? Well, think about it this way. First, you purposely look for your fetus’ genitalia on an imaging device. Once you discover the form in which your baby’s genitalia takes, you declare it a girl or a boy. Sure, maybe you believe in choosing a name for a baby based upon the genitalia, months in advance. Perhaps, you also decide to throw a party celebrating the genitalia of your child in the form of stereotypical representations of gender.
Is it weird for you yet? Some people believe in not telling kids the correct terms for their genitalia, and prefer to leave them in the dark about sexuality. Yet, they will throw a whole party about whether or not they have one genitalia or another.
This is so problematic. Regardless if you believe that gender is inherent in the genitalia you have or not. The view that your genitalia can simultaneously matter and not matter at the same time is worse than Schrodinger’s cat. It’s worse because eventually you can open the box and find if the cat is dead or not. People’s views, however, don’t have such a lovely resolution, especially if they aren’t willing to look into that box. Perhaps they don’t know that that box exists. The cognitive dissonance is so great that people don’t always realize the hypocrisy in their beliefs and practices.
If you are one such person, please take a look into that box. It may be scary, but you might find that you have different beliefs than what you thought.
That being said, kids who have discovered their own genitalia tend to start connecting gender with it, most likely due to the fact that they learn that not everyone has their genitalia, and noticing the stereotypical differences that society presents them. Some kids wear dresses, and are declared girls, others don’t and are declared boys. I’ve watched as a 2 year old discovered his own genitalia and go from assuming everyone has one, to learning that not everyone does. He’s now in the stage where he questions whether or not someone is a boy or a girl, and whether or not someone has a penis, or not. These are two separate questions for him, most likely because he is learning whether those are the same or different. I feel like this is where some parents enforce that genitalia equals gender. I don’t know what his parents tell him in response to these questions, or even if he asks his parents the same questions. But I tell him that not all boys have penises, and not all girls don’t. I’ve seen him question his siblings’ genders and genitalia. And even, at one point he declared his older brother as a girl with a penis. The truth is that there’s gray area no matter whether or not you want to believe it. You may have asked these same questions at 2 years old, and your worldview has been skewed by the responses you got.
I’ve been asked whether or not I am a boy or a girl. Many kids associate short hair for boys, long hair for girls. Nail polish is for girls, rough-housing is for boys. I’m watching one little boy grow up thinking he can be free to pretend to be a girl at home, but there are rules at the temple. I’m watching his older sister feel like she can’t play with her best friend because they’ve grown old enough where they have two separate groups (boys and girls) at temple. Every time I walk them to temple, I get odd looks from others who are attending. I’m just dropping them off, but it is clear I don’t belong there. The last time I did this, it was all worth it for the questions I got from another girl at temple. Claiming how unfair it is for boys to get to have short hair and wear pants. Saying how at 25 years old, I should be married, and in the same instance declaring that if she were a boy she’d marry me though she is a bit young at 10 years old to be doing so. With conversations like that, I believe I am doing some good in the world. Knowing how trapped one can feel with what we’ve been taught to do and be. Knowing what it was like to experience representation outside of what I thought existed. Knowing that there are more options than just boy and girl and the stereotypes associated.
It’s like being a missionary for destroying the patriarchy. Teaching kids that you can be neither a boy or a girl, or you can be a boy and still wear nail polish, you can be a girl with a penis, you can be a girl and wear pants, you can be a boy and pretend to be Elsa. Kids aren’t born confined to a gender based on their genitalia. It comes from people scolding boys for playing with “girl” toys and girls scolded for rough-housing. Our genitalia doesn’t define us.
Regardless if you feel like one’s genitalia determines their gender, do you see how weird it is to celebrate a baby’s genitalia? It may seem indirect, which is why it isn’t obvious. I understand that there is much excitement in learning new things about a baby. Just like when you find out their likes and dislikes, how they will laugh, what their first word will be. The truth is that they are just too young to tell you whether or not they are a boy or a girl or someone in between.
I’m hoping that the kids I have an influence over in my life feel comfortable telling me anything. I hope they know that no matter how society defines them, they have the choice on what truly defines them. It is up to us as an individual to choose what defines ourselves: to take the good out of situations, to learn from experiences, to be a well-rounded individual. In my opinion, that’s where we go wrong as a society. Put the responsibility on the individual to define themselves, and the world will be a better place. If you don’t think so, challenge me on it. I’d love to have a discussion.
If you get anything out of this post, I hope that you will teach your kids an open mind about gender, and that their genitalia doesn’t define them. You don’t have to enforce a nonbinary approach, but you can let your kid know that no matter what, you will love them. I hope you have an unconditional love for your children, and a fierce passion for who they’ve been, who they are, and who they are going to be.