When I found out I was pregnant I didn’t want to be told the sex of my baby. It felt…irrelevant. I gave birth to a male and he is now a cisgender, six year old boy. Cisgender meaning someone who exclusively identifies as their assigned birth gender. The baby shower rained down blue blankets and onesies that said things like “chicks dig me”. And later when my son went through a phase were he would only wear his cousin’s (who’s a cisgender girl) clothes, people made comments. When we let his hair grow long, people in the supermarket commented (snidely) how he looked like a girl. When my sister bought him a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas, relatives voiced their concern by saying “you’re going to let him play with dolls?” I could give thousands of small and large examples of people’s (relatives and strangers) obsession with my child’s gender and what it should look like.
What is it that drives complete strangers to look at my child with disdain when they feel I have deviated from gender norms such as when my son wore a purple coat with pink hearts? We could go on all day about the silliness of “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys” but that’s too rudimentary. I’m more interested in what is lurking beneath the surface. How can the sight of a 3 year old boy in a “girls” coat drive people to anger and disgust? It’s what dwells in this deeper place that frightens me. I believe this behaviour speaks to larger issues such as sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Recently, a woman told me that she painted her son’s nails and when her husband saw them he “freaked out.” She said that her husband told her that boys DO NOT paint their nails and that doing so would “make him gay.” This is problematic for many reasons. One, you can’t make someone “turn” gay. Two, the husband’s reaction clearly indicates that he feels like his son being gay is something to be avoided. This line of discourse is ridiculous, hate based, or can be perceived as a lack of education. Sadly, it’s commonplace. Even the woman who told me this story didn’t seem alarmed by it even though she recognized that at its core, her husband’s language was homophobic.
The question I ask myself constantly is, “how do we create change?” I don’t have a definitive answer but I believe educating ourselves and our children is imperative. All children should be free to be exactly who they are, even if that doesn’t fall on the socially constructed scale of gender normativity. We MUST dismantle this scale and place our focus on acceptance.Then society–especially cisgender, heterosexuals–must stand up against hateful words and behaviour. Think about it…the sight of a small boy with long hair elicited rage from a complete stranger. We must do our part to support the LGBTQ+ and genderqueer communities. Let’s stand up to the stranger in the supermarket by telling them to educate themselves and informing them that their problematic behaviour will not be tolerated any longer. And the same should go for anyone–stranger, family, or friend–attempting to needlessly gender people. The idea that it’s harmless to quietly follow the rules of the gender scale is a dangerous way to think because within those rules lies a much darker, complex problem. So the next time you reach for the “boy” or “girl” product, think long and hard about what you are really buying into.
Written by Nikki.