I knew my sons were boys four months before they were born. For each, a penis was visible on the twenty week scan. They were not, shall we say, “modest”, which is just as well, because I wanted to know in advance. I wanted to be able to prepare myself, by which I do not mean purchase a vat of blue paint and a range of suitably gendered toys. I wanted to know what, in a viciously gendered world, we’d be up against: the conditioning that tells my children to be violent, unfeeling, dominant, unable to admit to vulnerabilities, or the conditioning that tells my children they must be passive, self-effacing, nurturing, mere objects for the purpose of another’s self-definition. I wanted to have time to think about how to protect them (but there’s never enough time for that).
My sons are boys because they have penises. They are neither female nor intersex. They are male. They are not boys in the gendered sense of the word: their character, emotional life, intellect and world view are not shaped by the fact that they have magic boy brains. I am not, however, naïve; I know that much of what is shaping their experience as human beings comes from the fact that others believe such boy brains exist and will treat my children accordingly. This is why, as a feminist, I am against what gender is and does. It might be a hierarchy which implicitly positions my sons at the top, on the arbitrary basis of reproductive difference, but it is one that harms them, too. They are unique, creative, wonderful little people, not “a gender” (what is that, anyhow? How many genders would we need to allow them to be utterly individual? 7 billion? What, you mean like having no genders at all? Don’t be such a bigot!).
Sometimes having male bodies will make a difference to my sons’ lives. They are likely to become bigger and physically stronger than their female counterparts. They cannot menstruate or experience pregnancy, breastfeeding, abortion, miscarriage, ovarian cancer, menopause etc. There are other, non-physical things they are unlikely to experience, for instance, the expectation from birth that they will be life’s carers, always prepared to take second place. People will expect other things of them: that they do not cry, that they are good at maths, that they are natural leaders, that they do not talk about how they feel. All of these expectations are unfair, arising from a conservative belief that we must – absolutely must – maintain a gender hierarchy otherwise the whole world would fall apart (for the record, I don’t believe it would).
Queering gender has, as we know, never protected a woman from violence, abuse and subjugation. It is a sticking plaster at best. Pretending reproductive difference cannot be taken into account while gender must be maintained at all costs is patriarchy’s dream. This is why articles such as this one in Slate – disingenuously claiming infants are assigned “gender” at birth simply because their biological sex is identified – are so harmful. All children are individuals. All of them. Their bodies and needs should be respected at no cost whatsoever to their potential as unique human beings. To argue that gender is a valid means of categorisation for them at any age is abusive, regressive bullshit.
What burns most about pieces such as this is the self-congratulatory backslapping from traditionalists who seem to think they are being progressive:
We tell our children, “You can be anything you want to be.” We say, “A girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse,” but why in the first place must this person be a boy and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant. Your baby knows nothing of dresses and ties, of makeup and aftershave, of the contemporary social implications of pink and blue.
Guess what? BEING MALE OR FEMALE HAS FUCK ALL TO DO WITH DRESSES OR TIES, MAKEUP OR AFTERSHAVE BLAH BLAH BLAH. That’s why feminists challenge gender, not sex. That’s why they’ve been doing that for decades and that’s why it pisses them off a great deal when people pretend withdrawing the language to articulate biological realities is a solution to the cultural prejudices reinforced in the passage above. The article goes on to seriously state that “no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, infant gender assignment has effects that will last through their whole life”. Except my children do not have to adopt a gender identity. Why should they be limited in this way? Because pseudo-liberationists who cling to patriarchal principles say so? Screw that. My boys do not have to choose between pink, blue or non-binary posturing. They can have whatever colours they like, whenever they like, or rather they would be able to if articles like this didn’t push the same old stereotypical crap in their faces every day.
The article claims that “most children will still turn out like we’d expect”. That’s great, is it? That we have a minority of trans kids to whom patriarchy has magnanimously granted permission to opt out set against a majority of girls who know their place and boys who can’t ever show signs of weakness? This is bullshit, utter bullshit. I didn’t ask for this world. My children didn’t ask for this world. Let’s stop playing around, repainting the walls of the cell in rainbow colours, and tear the whole thing down.