(Photo courtesy of Steve Russell/Toronto Star)
By now you have all heard the news about little Storm, the Canadian boy or girl whose parents have decided not to reveal his/her gender after the baby was born. The parents explain their decision as an idea in support of “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …)”. While that is certainly a lofty and notable goal (for many of us, anyway), I think they have gone about it in the wrong way.
To me, choosing to hide their baby's gender from the outside world is putting a huge value on that quality, thus essentially making the argument that gender is the most important thing about a person. This is exactly the opposite sentiment of what the parents were trying to promote.
Those of you who actually read this blog regularly (I know for a fact there are at least three of you ) know that I am Team Noneya — completely against revealing my fetus's gender to the outside world (and, in the current case, even to myself). I hate the all-blue/all-pink traps people fall into, and the last thing I wanted was a monochromatic baby shower with sometimes impractical and practically identical gifts. However, I have no problem telling people after my child is born that s/he is a boy or a girl. The fact is, prior to birth, there is no personality to which to ascribe my unborn child. There are also no physical traits to dictate which colors or patterns would look best on it. After my child is born, however, it's easy to tell which colors look better with its skin tone, hair color, eyes, etc. And after my child gets older (usually around age one is when the preferences begin to be expressed), I can buy things for my child that s/he actually likes. Not to mention, the gifts are less frequent at that point, and it is a lot easier to reject one impractical or ugly frilly dress or football jersey than it is twenty. It is also easier to just begrudgingly accept that one gift and stick it in the back of a closet until it makes it into the Goodwill pile than it would a dozen. [Yes, people, I don't keep every unsolicited gift you give me just because you like it]
Pop Culture Toddler has clear preferences about things. She has had these preferences since she was only a few months old. Given a choice of eight differently colored but otherwise identical toys, she always went for red, purple, or pink. The only way to get a guaranteed smile out of her at six months old was to give her a feather boa and let her go crazy. Now that she's older, she demands to wear bows and tutus. She talks about being a princess or a ballerina. She loves carrying baby dolls around the house and playing Mommy. She is a dainty little flower who cries at the drop of a hat (and goes into histrionics just as easily — drama queen). When we let her choose three colors for her new “big girl” room, the colors she picked were yellow, purple, and pink. She is, without a doubt, a girlie girl. In spite of this, however, the girl loves dinosaurs and cars (and Cars).
I was the opposite as a child. Given the choice, I wanted Matchbox cars over Barbie. I would cry any time someone put me in a dress. All I wanted to do was climb trees, run, play basketball or football, and wrestle. I thought He-Man and Transformers were the Second Coming of cartoons. I was most definitely a tomboy. My mother and aunts always tried to curb my preferences, because girls “shouldn't play” the way I wanted to play. I had more Barbie dolls than I could count — with the pink Ferrari, Dream House and pool to match. I would cut that bitch's hair off and pull off her arms. It was not my thing. And there was nothing my mom's family could do to change that. I never denied that I was a girl; I just didn't want to play with toys or wear clothes that I was told were what girls are “supposed to like.” My preferences for playthings had nothing to do with my sex or my sexuality.
My friend has a son who likes nail polish and girls' clothes. He's not quite at “princess boy” level, but he definitely likes some things that would make lesser parents squeamish. My friend lets her son be who he is. Maybe the slight cross-dressing is a stage, and maybe it isn't. But she has decided that her son will be himself — at least at home. He does not deny he's a boy. Never has, and I doubt he ever will. In fact, some day, he will probably make a very good and sensitive husband for some lucky young lady [not that there would be anything wrong with him being a good husband to a lucky young man].
The thing is, my friend didn't have to deny her son's gender in order to let him be himself, just like my aunts and mother did not need to force specific toys and clothes on me to reinforce the fact that I am a girl [hear that, Pop Culture Nonna???]. We are who we are; it's just a biological fact. But if we start acting like denying biology is a way to gender equality, that's just wrong. By saying that the only way you can allow someone to be him- or herself is to deny a basic biological fact is placing a higher importance on that biological fact than I think is necessary.
Put another way: I am black. I am obviously black, there's no doubt about it [even those who mistake me for Dominican or Puerto Rican would acknowledge that I clearly have a large presence of African genes]. Had my parents somehow wrapped me in a shroud and “hid” my racial identity, it wouldn't change the person I am. However, it would send out a clear message that somehow my parents thought that my racial identity was the most important thing about me. It's not. Sure, there are some bigots out there who treat me differently because of my race (and I'll acknowledge, some because of my gender), but these people should not dictate who I am and what type of life I decide to lead. Ignorant people will always be ignorant; but should we live to cater to them or hide from them? Of course not.
Now, on the subject of ignorance… I will admit that I have seen some pretty ignorant comments relating to the Storm controversy. Most of these ignorant comments were to the tune of “parents should force girls to act a certain way and boys to act a certain way” and “let the child choose his sexual orientation later.” I am certain these ignorant commenters were the kinds of people the parents had in mind when they made the decision to hide Storm's gender. However, no matter how many comments I see on the Internet, I refuse to believe that the majority of people with whom these parents associate on a daily basis think this way. I know I certainly don't associate with these people unless forced to, and I'm willing to bet it's a lot easier to meet people of this mindset in Texas than it is Toronto (yes, I'm stereotyping).
Now for someone who actually reads my blog who thinks that way [though I can't imagine, with my opinions on these kind of topics, who would have possibly stuck around this long who feels that way], let me tell you why this thinking is ignorant:
(1) There is no one way to “be” a boy or a girl. By imposing one societal view of gender on your children, you are not necessarily raising them to be better children. In fact, there is a good argument that by suppressing their natural preferences to things [as my mother and aunts tried to do with me], you are actually doing more harm than good. Where would the world be if girls were taught that the only way to be a girl was to wear pink, love to cook, and raise babies? And where would boys be if they were told the only way to be a boy was to be extra-tough, wear blue, and love sports? Not somewhere I'd want to live, for sure.
(2) Lack of identification with/preference for stereotypically assigned gender qualities is not an indication of sexual preference or even gender identity. There are plenty of “red-blooded,” heterosexual men who like the color pink [in fact, did you know that not even a century ago pink was the color “assigned” to boy and blue to girls?], just like there are plenty of feminine, heterosexual women who love football and wouldn't be caught dead in a dress.
(3) Sexual orientation is not anything one “chooses.” Yes, you can choose whether or not to act on sexual preferences — history is replete with examples of gay men and women who have lived in a closet to avoid social persecution — but whether or not someone acts on their natural sexual urges is not an indication of their sexual orientation, any more than your sexual orientation was in limbo when you were a virgin. Regardless of what those idiotic “Ex-Gay” people promote, you cannot change your sexual orientation, any more than I could make myself Asian. And for those of you who for some silly reason still don't get it, ponder this: What exactly would it take to “turn” you gay? Nothing? Then why in the world would you think someone else could be “turned”? And further more, why do you care? Trust me, if your child is gay, there's nothing you said or did that made them gay (other than providing their genetic code). And once people get over their ignorant assumptions about sexuality, then maybe we can get to a place where people can stop preaching hate, bigotry and intolerance against others simply because of the simple biological difference of their sexual orientation. However, since we have not even gotten close to getting that way with race or gender, I won't hold my breath.
In any event, I am actually a little bit in awe of how this became a major news story. Yes, it's pretty odd and different; but really, is it any stranger than many of the other parenting decisions people make on a daily basis? And by focusing so much attention on this and the speculation of whether Storm is really a boy or a girl [personally, I don't know them and even if I did, I don't really care one way or the other], aren't we somehow sending a message (one I think is a wrong one) that gender is grossly important?