I can’t remember when I first realised my son was a person. I guess as a mother you always know these things. Right from the moment he was first placed in my arms I sense there was something person-y about him, almost as though he might be an individual with his own consciousness, fully capable of developing a sense of himself which was not inextricably linked to gender stereotypes. Quite why this should be, I couldn’t say, but now that he’s older, I believe more and more that I was right. Nonetheless, like any mother, I have moments when I still wonder if I’m failing him.
From an early age my son has liked things. Some of them have been pink and some of them have been blue and some of them have been other colours. He has also liked activities, some of them boisterous and aggressive, some of them gentle and caring. Sometimes he goes through phases of liking more pink things than blue things, or doing more gentle things than aggressive things. A more attentive mother might have sat down with an excel spreadsheet, listed the number of boy activities and preferences in one column, the number of girl ones in another, and come up with a suitable gender for such a child. I never did this. I just looked at him and thought “ah, a male person, albeit one growing up in a world full of crappy categories arbitrarily linked to sex difference. Oh well, we’ll do our best to ignore them”.
A lot of people find this difficult to accept. Many have accused me of imposing my own views upon him, forcing him to be a human being against his will. They ask me why me and my partner didn’t settle on at least one of the Facebook gender options by the time he was three, or perhaps get him to choose by reading them out and seeing which word he liked the sound of. After all, how much more personhood does anyone need? I’m sure my son would, at the end of the day, have made a good go of being femme or non-binary or two-spirit. We’d have bought him all the right accessories, made sure he always knew his identity was “fluid” in a way that doesn’t actually make any logical sense unless one means “fuck all to do with gender and more to do with being a sentient human being who has varied individual responses to stuff”. I guess if we’d been better parents that’s something we’d have been getting in place from the moment he first expressed an interest in anything a rough ‘n’ tumble, boisterous boy isn’t supposed to like. All the same, it never really felt “right”.
Parents and friends have often found my son’s personhood hard to accept. His grandparents refused to let him wear his Queen Elsa wig until I assured them that he was only pretending to be Elsa so that he could viciously, aggressively kill people with shards of ice.
“So he’s not a person, then?” they asked, anxiously.
“No,” I reassured them. “He’s a stereotype. Relax. We’ve checked with all the experts and that’s all he’ll ever be.”
I hate lying to them but my parents are old. I can’t bear the thought of them worrying about whether he’ll ever learn to dance badly, down pints until he vomits, pretend to be good at maths and science, make sexist jokes, leer at women and all the other things a stereotype is meant to do. The thought that he might do some of these things and not others, despite having a male body, might just kill them off (I’ve told him never to mention his life’s ambition to work with horses in front of them. The might think “jockey” or they might think “Barbie gymkhana”. The risk just isn’t worth it).
I do of course worry about the future. What if one day he turns round and resents me for imposing my TERFy “you can like whatever you want to like and no one should tell you otherwise” intolerance on him? What if he hates me for not seeking professional help the moment he wanted to play with girls while wearing a Disney Princess dress? I just don’t know the answer to this. He knows, for now, that I don’t actually give a shit what he wears, what pronouns he wants to use, whether he changes his body in future in order to feel more comfortable with himself – none of this matters as long as other people still see him as a human being. He also knows that gender exists (we couldn’t shield him from this if we tried; it’s hard to avoid an oppressive hierarchy when it’s shoved in your face every day). But beyond that? I just can’t say. There is less and less space for personhood, it seems. I hope he enjoys it while he can.