We’ve all seen those hideous baby videos of expectant parents bursting balloons / cutting into cakes / firing guns (yes, really – just take a look at Etsy). Blue frosting is boy, pink frosting is girl, but take a moment and think about what those gender-reveals are saying.
Picture it (Sicily, 1922). The balloon bursts. It’s pink. This either means: “My baby has a vagina! Let’s all applaud the vagina! Yay for fannies!” or it means: “My baby is now on a very specific path, and woe betide the bitch if she veers!” The former is hideously creepy (seriously, why are we so obsessed with children’s genitals?) and the latter is just sad and limiting. I don’t ever imagine I’ll have children but if I were ever to spread my seed (gross) and subsequently throw a gender-reveal party I would ensure the powder inside the balloon is black and made of cocaine and I’ll shout “I don’t care what fleshy love junk they have between their legs – my kid is gonna be badass!”
You’d be right in saying that babies are often born with genitals. They’re also often born with hair, sometimes disabilities and are rarely, but sometimes, born with teeth which is, frankly, terrifying. One constant, however, is that when babies are born they’re blank canvasses. Loud, hungry, and squishy, with a Play-Doh mind; and as soon as babies are born the process of assigning gender to sex begins. For the cheap seats in the back let me quickly define “sex” and “gender” for you.
Sex – This indicates a person’s reproductive system. Penis and testicles / Vagina and womb / Macaroni and cheese (if you’re really unlucky).
Gender – This is how somebody identifies. Someone may identify as male if they have more masculine traits, as female if they’re more feminine, or neither, or both. Contrary to popular belief accepting someone’s gender identity does not open the door to people identifying as a toilet brush or a horse – those people are mentally unwell and need to see a Doctor.
Simples. A Doctor takes a gander at your baby’s junk, and POW – you’ve got yourself a label. One of two labels which may very well determine your baby’s journey in life. However, consider that 1 in 1,500 children are born without a determinable sex (meaning not even Doctors can properly define what sex they are.) Surely, that throws off the theory of “only two sexes” and therefore “only two genders”. Your beloved baby has a vagina, but also has two undescended testicles and no womb – what do you do then?
Ding-dong or va-jay-jay; whatever bits your kid has down there should only indicate the anatomical pros/cons of having whatever they have down there (e.g. standing/sitting to pee). Their personality and identity should come much later following whatever experiences your child has in life. Sex and gender are separate things, sometimes they align (see: cisgender) and sometimes they don’t (see: transgender), sometimes for whatever reason they float in between or nowhere near the two (see: genderqueer / non-binary). Ask a newborn which one they are and I bet £10 they’ll ignore the question, blow a spit bubble, then crap in your hand. They can’t make the decision, so why should you?
To help with this some people choose to raise their children with a neutral gender – which is something I agree with fully (and I don’t even own anything made of hemp!) I’m not encouraging anybody to deny their children anything, and raising your child gender-neutral does not mean painting them grey and dressing them in potato sacks (although, what a look!) It’s essentially just listening to your children and giving them a choice rather than enforcing our own ideals to have the child you’ve always dreamed of; you’re raising a human, not a Barbie doll. It is well documented that giving children choice is important; we wouldn’t shy away from asking a baby if they want a chocolate or strawberry yogurt so why is it any different to taking your child into a toy store and letting them choose the aisle rather than leading your daughter straight to the Tiny Tears and your son to the fire trucks.
Children are like sponges and can easily learn and form their beliefs and opinions from whatever they see or hear – especially with what we teach them (why do you think radicalisation is so common?) Teach your children how to respect people, how to make a lasagne, and how the chuff you get a mortgage. Don’t teach your son that crying is a sign of weakness after you’ve pressured him to change his Christmas list to include a workbench rather than a kitchen. Don’t teach your daughter that she should aspire to be a Mummy, and that when boys are horrible to her it’s because they like her (they don’t, and you’re teaching her to accept abuse). Teach them to risk assess, but not risk avoid. Team them to love and be loved. Teach them to be proud and comfortable with their bodies, but please also teach them that it may not be appropriate to sit naked on the arm of a sofa and play with themselves when you have guests visiting (I did this as a young child, in case you were wondering. My parents encouraged me not to but have you seen willies? They’re hilarious!)
Teaching your children that there are strict rules of what it is to be a boy or a girl (when there aren’t!) is likely to be problematic later in life when they inevitably encounter traits that contradict their rules either in themselves or someone else. Humans are programmed to fear the unknown and if your child has grown being told that women are circles and men are squares, then what are they going to do when they meet a triangle, or discover that they are a triangle! Fight or flight kicks in and who suffers? The poor fabulous triangle. Pythagoras is turning in his grave.
You may have heard of the term “toxic masculinity” (or hegemonic masculinity) and it’s very real. Everything we see in the media/as a consumer in association with being a man is extra tough, powerful, and dominant (homework: find me any male grooming product which describes itself as soft and gentle). What do women get? Soft, flowy and pure limpness; delicate, fragile and weak. Culturally, certainly in the UK, we instil these ideals in our newborns and who are they to disagree? Toxic masculinity and the enforced ideal that men are powerful can lead to boys developing an inability to express emotion and an inflated sense of superiority and dominance (I’m looking at you, Harvey Weinstein). Why would we want to teach our kids that? Boys strong. Girls weak. Not on my watch.
There was a recent news story about a 15 year old boy who was attacked at school by another student who incorrectly thought he was gay because he was a dancer. A boy, doing a girly thing? Abhorrent.
Twitter account @DaddyFiles posted a heartbreaking thread earlier this week. If you have time please have a look below. His 5 year old son wore nail varnish to school, without any pre-programmed social context. He was bullied for being different and doing something that girls do.
Either his parents are in the wrong for allowing him free expression of himself (how awful of them), or the other children are wrong for bullying him. Only one of those options has a 100% bully rate, just sayin’.
Gender neutral children will grow up with a greater understanding of themselves as they will never have to try and break out of the box you’ve made for them – for most of us coming out of the womb was hard enough! Acceptance and encouragement of free gender expression will allow children, who perhaps do not find that their gender identity aligns with their physical sex, the opportunity to safely explore that without fear or judgement. The transgender community would have less murder and suicide if they grew up in a world where people didn’t give a crap.
Why don’t we all follow in the footsteps of the already existing parents who raise their children without the limitations of gender. It might just allow people the luxury of being able to navigate this already wild and complex world without also having to worry about what does or doesn’t dangle between their legs. They will grow up with a rounded gender experience which will surely reduce the “us and them” battle of the sexes (see: feminism). The kid who beat up Jaiden might have joined in the dance rather than thrown the punch. 5 year old Sam might have fearlessly taken his purse to school the next day. 17 year old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio, might have felt supported enough by her parents to not feel like she needed to walk into that road and end her life.
Let your sons cry if they want to cry, let your daughters develop an obsession with woodwork if they want to. When people can truly live happily as their authentic selves who needs the elixir of life? (What? Considering the title of this blog I had to relate this back to the Philosopher’s Stone somehow!)
Love you, bye.