As most of my clients know, I am pregnant and due in January 2016; although let’s be real…this baby will come whenever they please (yes, there’s only one…just trying to be gender neutral)! Aside from the many different pieces of advice, things to know and read and become “experts” on, as well as the “You’re going to do what with my what?!?” moments, it’s been pretty great so far. My husband, who is not a counselor, has also schooled me on a few things.
We spilled the proverbial beans about a month ago, and he has had many conversations and questions asked by his co-workers that got him thinking about gender and our child. As many people do, his co-workers have asked him, “So, are you finding out the gender?” This got him thinking, and his response was, “We’ll be finding out the sex”. When he was relaying this story to me, one pregnant sleepy evening, I said “That’s great honey”, not recognizing the profound statement he made in his male-dominated and more conservative work atmosphere. It wasn’t until the next morning when it hit me upside the head, the gravity of his minor, but significant change in verbage from “gender” to “sex” when it comes to finding out about our child. I, at first, was floored and proud, that my husband was educated enough to know the difference (I guess I can take some credit for that). Then my pride turned to shock (at myself) for not seeing the significance of how we, in our society, mix the words gender and sex so fluidly, without recognizing the vast differences in the words.
When I work with my trans clients, I emphasize to them the importance of sharing their own stories, educating their friends and family members, and also recognizing that people will “mess up”. But this time, my husband educated me! When it comes to the sex vs gender argument, the very simple answer is a “parts vs thoughts” definition. Sex is defined by the types of parts (genitalia) that we have externally, and gender is all about what types of thoughts we have as an individual, and how that relates to our “male-ness” or “female-ness”. So when I’ve been saying the gender of our baby, what I should have said was the sex of our baby. We will be finding out the sex (parts) of our child, but the child will have to let us know their gender beginning at ages 2-12. As both my husband and I are considered cisgender (we identify with the parts that we have as indicative of our thought/identity patterns), we will assume, unless stated differently, that our child will also be cis. If our child wants to play with Tonka trucks, but has girl parts, then that’s fine! If our child wants to play with Barbie dolls but has boy parts, that’s fine too (although my husband prefers that either gender will play with Legos). Bravo to Target for recognizing this fact, and for more parents in our society not getting so up in arms about the types of toys their children play with. It was not that long ago that “kick the can” was a part of play, and that has nothing to do with gender.
Being blessed with a healthy child is all that we want as parents, and knowing that not all children are born, and remain healthy, it is our duty as parents to begin to recognize when things may be affecting them mentally/emotionally, and not just physically. A staggering statistic that I have shared with many trans persons and parents of trans youth is that 41% of trans-identified people have attempted suicide. Yes, you read that correctly. 41%. That is 9 times the national average of persons who attempt suicide. If parents could learn to accept their children as people, not as damaged, wrong, or immoral because their inside doesn’t match the outside, that number could come dramatically down. I impress upon parents of trans youth that being trans is not a death sentence, but denying a trans person support, love, and help to confirm their gender identity could be, this usually gets their attention to look past the confusion, and learn to love the person that they’ve created.
We do not yet know the mechanism by which a person’s gender identity is formed in the womb, but we do know that it is not a choice, like where to eat lunch, and where to go to college. Being a parent of a child who is not yet here helps me see things a little differently, and just wanting a child who is healthy is more important than the parts or thoughts they have. There are many resources for people who are struggling to understand what their child, partner, friend, or co-worker are going through related to gender identity and transitioning, and I invite you to school yourselves on appropriate language to use, questions to ask (and to avoid), and how to support those who need your love.
Thanks to my husband for being the inspiration for this post (and to his lovely parents, who raised him well!), and for all of my trans and gender-nonconforming clients who continue to show me their courage and strength!