… or, “Why the Valentine Episode Touched a Particular Nerve”:
Almost everyone who knows me well enough to meet — or at least be aware of — my kids eventually hears the anecdote about how Stuart, my four-year-old, was “supposed to be a girl.”
What happened isn’t all that uncommon. The technician administering my level 2 ultrasound had a little difficulty compelling cooperation from the 20-week fetus (imagine!). When he was finally able to achieve a view that allowed him to determine (“with 99.9 percent certainty”) the baby’s sex … well, Stuart must have been feeling a mite demure.
“See those three lines?” the technician asked. “That means it’s a girl!”
To this day, I have no idea what those three lines were; I only know that they weren’t labia. Because, when Stuart James (neé “Vivian Lucille”) was born, in the words of our midwife, “I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute: that’s a scrotum’!”
After we managed to convince my parents-in-law, who weren’t present for the birth, that, no, we were not, in fact, joking (this wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for Cullen, by the way. When we were discharging from the hospital, a nurse’s aide asked him if Stuart was his first baby. Cullen responded, without missing a beat, “The first that I know of!” while prompting her to give him a high-five. She looked kind of uncomfortable), we quickly got used to the idea of having a boy. Frankly, new parenthood was such a shock to the system that I couldn’t really think clearly enough to differentiate between boy, girl, and small wombat.
The questions we got the most, both then and when I retell the tale today, were, “What about the baby’s room? Did you have all kinds of pink clothes already?”
In response to the first point: Stuart didn’t have a room. Not a room of his own, at least. (Negative points to me for not cultivating a Virginia Woolf baby?). We were living in a one bedroom apartment at the time. He did have a crib and mobile and junk (I was gung-ho about bed-sharing; Cullen, uh-uh), and my main concern, with that arrangement, was how we could integrate it into our existing room decor. Fascist, I know. Baby Stu had a poster from Blue Velvet hanging above his changing table for the first six months of his life.
As for his clothes, though? Ooohhhh, the pinkspolsion. “Rose” to “ballet slipper” to “Pepto Bismol” and every shade in between. All perfectly acceptable garments from perfectly well-meaning friends and relatives: nothing that we’d dismiss out of hand for a child, regardless of sex. Not ones to turn up our noses at the thoughtfulness of others, and facing the very practical issue of needing to clothe our newborn … Stuart just wore the “girl” clothes.
When I would show acquaintances pictures of Stuart in get-ups like the one above, or have to correct strangers in the grocery store who assumed he was a girl (most of the time, I didn’t bother. But I was often cornered into showing my hand when faced with the question, “What’s her name?”), I heard nary a disapproving word. I did hear a lot of, “Oh don’t worry, he still looks very handsome. Wearing pink doesn’t mean that he’ll be gay!”
First of all, score one for Team Pointing Out the Obvious. You mean the color of clothing a child wears before he or she even has a sense of object permanence has no known correlation to their adult sexual orientation? Tell me more!
The main thing that continues to irk me about receiving “reassurances” like this is the 800-pound-gorilla-of-an-insinuation. It is the insinuation that I would be concerned if my child was gay (not to even broach the topic of how I’d feel if my boy-who-was-supposed-to-be-a-girl started articulating that he actually was a girl). As my husband has mentioned, we might be concerned about how he would fare in a world that is not currently readily accepting of people who don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. But concerned to the point that we would actively interrupt or steer the formation of our child’s identity? Not on your life!
I was recently directed to the seemingly prescient post “My Sons Are Gender Conformists” at Blogging While the Baby Isn’t Looking. Heather’s sons, as you can probably gather from the title of the post, are currently into stuff that traditionally skews “masculine.” But she writes, astutely,
If and when this masculine phase comes to an end and they decide to start wearing body glitter and cute skirts, I’m okay with that, too! And not just because it would probably be a phase, not just because it probably wouldn’t mean anything, and definitely not because I think that would be super freakin’ cool, but because even if it DID mean they were gay or transgender, those are not bad things to be.
Moreover, comments like, “It probably doesn’t mean anything [… with regard to sexual orientation or gender],” betray such a narrow comprehension of sexual orientation and gender and the confluence — or complete diffraction — of these and myriad developmental activities.
It’s why (and I know this will be an unpopular stance to take) I’m even somewhat cautious about efforts like the Born This Way blog. While the stated objective (“a photo/essay project for gay adults (of all genders) to submit childhood pictures and stories (roughly ages 2 to 12), reflecting memories & early beginnings of their innate LGBTQ selves”) is a beautiful one, and so many of the photos and essays are extremely poignant, humorous, and otherwise moving … I wonder if it is, even just a little bit, furthering the idea of a one-to-one equation and unintentionally delegitimizing a host of other narrative voices.
(I need to take a moment for digression, here, and stress that I am not, not, not suggesting a corrolary movement: like “Born Straight” or what-have-you. Let’s just get that cooptative silliness out of the way).
What I would like is for me to tell about the “ultrasound follies” with Stuart and have it received with a wry chuckle and no additional commentary. Or for it to act as a springboard for a real conversation about this very topic: people’s deeply-ingrained ideas (including my own, certainly!) about sex and gender and just what those impute. Because, uh, clearly I’m not at all opposed to that!
Maybe, just to be contrarian, I will start reminding parents of infants who are dressed in ways we perceive as normative for that child’s sex, “You know, that doesn’t mean that your baby will be straight and cisgender.”