Monday, August 23, 2010

Gender neutral is complicated.*

God love my husband, but it turns out I'm better at dressing a little girl than he is.  This is not a slight in the least, I'd be uncomfortable if this statement weren't true.  But I giggle a little inside (or outside) when I pick MJ up from daycare and she is wearing a dress that he put on backwards. 

As a consequence, she frequently looks like a boy when Dad dresses her.  This is not his fault, this is a consequence of the fact that if a baby isn't wearing pink then said baby must be a boy.  I think this is true until teen years, at which time girls wear things much too short for them so it's clear they're a girl.  This presents a much larger problem, which I thankfully won't have to worry about for at least a few years.

On this particular day, MJ looked like this:
Which is utterly adorable.  But Tim at the ice cream shop understandably thought that she was a he.  And I didn't correct him, because when you correct someone's mistaken gender assignment of a baby they get all flustered and embarrassed.  So I've gotten in the habit of just smiling and nodding, because I don't personally care if they think MJ is a boy.  She doesn't seem to care either as she licks sand out of the crack in the sidewalk. 

But what I thought was going to be a 10 second conversation turned into a 10 minute conversation as the line snaked through the ice cream shop on the 98 degree day.  And Tim was a very nice old man, rather fun to talk to.  He didn't notice at first as hubs used female pronouns to refer to our daughter, he continued to think "boy".  And then he asked what his name was, and we were too far in, so I just said "MJ" (never before realizing how convenient it is that she has both a she- and a he-name.)  So  hubs started using male pronouns realizing there was no way out.  But then Tim introduced MJ to a cute little baby girl, saying that when they're older they can date.  And then I think hubs realized the absurdity of the whole situation (not that he hadn't before, I'm sure), no longer cared about humoring my plan and reverted to female pronouns.  And started using her given, very she-name. 

At this point, Tim looked confused.  And his pity for our daughter was clear, thinking that she was the product of two overly liberal parents who don't even know (or care) about the gender of their child.  Or maybe we're just raising Pop.  The role of gender in a child so young is intriguing to me.  It seems like there shouldn't be, but our daycare staff claim that often a strong attachment forms between a baby boy and a baby girl that will carry on through toddlerhood, but that they've never seen one form between babies of the same gender.  Which leads me to wonder, if you had a daycare completely filled with the children of gay and lesbian couples, would the same statement be true?  At this young age, how much is instinct and how much is conditioning? Though probably the most shocking thing to me about raising this child has been how little say we get in her personality.  I was always more of a "blank slate" proponent, but after raising MJ I can no longer follow this train of thought. 

I currently dress you in a lot of pink, little girl, trying to get my fill before you are able to assert your opinion.  But know that you are free to choose whatever orientation you want when the time comes, even if it means confusing old men like Tim.

*And another instance when matching outfits are adorable.

1 comment:

  1. Oh we've had several interactions where Annie is mistaken for a boy. Probably because we don't throw those stupid headbands on her, or glue bows to her head. Sometimes she's even WEARING A DRESS, or pink! Her name sounds very similar to Danny though, so even the name doesn't help... sometimes even using female pronouns doesn't help. Oh well! Little Danny it is!