Six years ago, yesterday, at some time after two in the morning, I was cradling the phone between ear and shoulder and watching a bloody, slimy, slippery new human emerge from my wife. It was just the two of us, in the living room of our little house. It was very cold outside, but we needed to have the front door open so that the ambulance crew could get in when they arrived. I can tell you this much, newborns slide, and ours damn near slid out of my hands. It all went swimmingly, and our youngest entered this world quietly and without much fuss.
It was shortly after this major life event that the excrement began to interact with the rotary ventilation device, and for reasons that none of us had predicted.
To cut a long story short, I didn’t do a post yesterday because it we were celebrating a birthday.
And on to the point of today’s post. In the last few days, I have happened across a couple of articles relating to on of this blog’s recurring themes, namely gender, what it means and what others do about yours.
Although I saw the article second, I will start with this one on HuffPost Parents. Given the headline “Why am I so sad about having a boy?”, I had dialled my hopes down to low as I began reading the article, “it’s a baby with a penis, not necessarily a boy, you haven’t had a chance to ask the child about eir gender yet”. I was hugely gratified when I got down to the bit where the author concedes that the ultrasound scan says nothing about the gender of the baby, and can only make a suggestion at the child’s sex (I have waxed lyrical on this subject before). The author then goes on to open their mind to the possibility that even a child with a penis might love ballet and having their hair braided or having long conversations in the coffee house.
Gender is all around us, and it seems that Western society is, very slowly, beginning to wake up to the fact that there are more than two genders in humans, and that ones gender is not always correlated with one’s genital arrangement.
I bristled every time I was asked what my baby “was”, whilst still in the womb, and it annoys me every time someone else rolls their eyes when the say that their own child is “a boy”, inviting me to infer all kinds of chaotic energy, mud and boistrousness from that simple expression. The fact remains that there is a vast range of expression even within the two traditional categories of “boy” and “girl” even before we start to consider intersex people and people whose gender simply doesn’t correlate to the apparent sex of their bodies.
Which brings us neatly on to the other article that interested me (found via Nonconforming Mom‘s excellent blog). I have heard (and used), many times the statistic that “80% of gender-nonconforming children grow up to be happy, healthy, cisgender adults”. It is a thing that gets thrown about in most conversations about transgender and gender-nonconforming children and is frequently used as a bat to bludgeon parents who have chosen to support and affirm their children’s right to self-identify. We are accused of forcing a child into whatever clothes they are wearing, or of setting them onto a path that will, inevitably, lead to medical intervention, surgery and other major, irreversible interventions. At age eight.
There are many things wrong with that argument, of course, the first being that supporting a gender-nonconforming child pre-puberty involves the radical irreversible steps of hair-styling and clothing. And, maybe, adjusting the pronouns and the name someone uses.
I once knew a guy called Rob, who had changed his legal name to Rob by deed poll. No particular controversy there. When a child changes their name, even when they don’t change their legal name, it is seen as a permanent step, and one that cannot be reversed. It is the first step down a path that will inevitably lead to a boy having his balls cut off.
Sorry for being blatant about it, but that is the though process that occurs in some people when they see a gender-nonconforming child, and that is a route that some people see is their duty to divert someone away from. What if the child is only going through a phase? What if the boy just likes dresses and pink and would grow up into a man who likes dresses and pink? Is that a reason to cut his balls off?
The problem I have with knee-jerk reactions like this is that they are based upon scant observation and a boat-load of speculation and assumption. The assumption that upsets me the most is the one where the irate outsider simply believes that you, the parent, have just sauntered into your decision based on personal whim without reference to the child and without considering the future. Oh, how easy it would be if that were the case. Today, I’m going to put my boy in a dress and send him out into the world, and I’ll call him “she” as well. Just because I want to.
So very far from the truth.
We, as parents, spend months and years worrying and researching and crying and deliberating before we decide to stop trying to protect society from our children and, instead, switch to trying to protect our children from society as they live out their lives in the identity that they, themselves, control.
One of the problems in the past has been the complete lack of scientific studies of gender-nonconforming and transgender children who have been allowed to live as they choose to. There have been a number of studies of children who have been forced to live an identity that others have imposed upon them, but none about letting the child guide their carers about their own identity. Until now.
The TransYouth project, based at the University of Washington is seeking to collect data from children who identify themselves as nonconforming or transgender and watch how they develop over the course of many years. Their research will provide critical information about how best to cope with children who transcend society’s gender norms, and will allow future generations of gender creative children and their parents to feel a lot more normal than we do just now.
Kristina Olson, director of the project has written a piece for Slate outlining their work and what they hope to achieve, and I sincerely wish them well.