Scott Sharplin is raising a young boy who sometimes likes to wear dresses while he plays with his toy tools.
The first time my son was color-coded, he was less than five minutes old. Mom was passed out, recovering from a c-section, so it was up to Dad to escort the new arrival to the maternity ward, where a nurse dressed him in a hypoallergenic onesie and laid him in a padded plastic crèche. Then she went to fill out an ID card for his tiny bed.
“Oh drat,” She said aloud, not really to me. “We don’t have any blue cards left.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. It was 4:30am, following 48 hours of labor. Nothing mattered, except that the worst was past.
“Let me check the back of the drawer,” She persisted.
I watched, bemused, as she passed over stacks of pink cards. “Really. Pink is fine.”
“No, it’s not. I’ll find him a blue one.” She said, with professional resolve. Eventually she did, and so Baby J got his first taste of gender discrimination.
Maybe discrimination is too strong a word. And we can all agree that J is not going to be scarred by the experience; as a newborn, he lacked the optics to distinguish pink from blue in any case. But, as a freshly-minted, sleep-deprived Dad, standing shakily in witness as my child was denied something through no fault of his own, I felt as if a switch had been thrown inside my mind. A pink switch.
About two months before Baby J got the blues in that Nova Scotia hospital, a genderless baby was making people see red. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker had named their third child Storm, not knowing how apt that choice would be in presaging outrage and controversy. Storm was born with a biological sex, but they decided to keep the details a secret; their hope was (and presumably still is) that Storm will have the chance to choose their own gender, free from cultural impositions like pink and blue.
I expect Witterick and Stocker were taken aback by the force of people’s reactions. But our culture takes babies and parenting very seriously – to the point where plenty of pundits, parents or otherwise, have no trouble telling others how to raise their kids. In this case, most voices seemed to be advising the couple give that kid a gender ASAP. Some objections centered on Storm’s social well-being (won’t this screw them up? Won’t they get teased? What will people buy them for Christmas?); but it seemed to me the anxious subtext of their comments involved the threat of a genderless society.
Myself, I quietly envied Storm’s parents for their convictions. I never would have lasted; when you take your infant anywhere public, you get asked, “boy or girl?” incessantly, and I lack the energy to defend my principles when I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in months. So J was a boy – at least most of the time. Soon I learned the next rule in the gender game: if I took J out wearing blue, people might still inquire, just to be sure; but slip a pink toque onto that bald pate, and no questions asked.
And so began our own gender experiment, my imperfect Storm: raising a full gender-spectrum child, and not merely in his wardrobe. Now 26 months old, J selects his own clothes before going to daycare. Once every week or so, he’ll ask to wear a dress; he owns four or five, some pink, some not. His toys include a toolset and a kitchenette. And I’ve tried to my balance my own adulation of Indiana Jones with a cordial respect for Dora the Explorer. It took me two years before I was man enough to pink us both up for the Pride Parade.
So far, I can see that all my efforts are a mere blur in his periphery. But he’ll wake up one day soon and gender will be a big deal, a puzzle or threat or – Daddy Fail – a strict rigid binary for life. Who knows? Like any parent, whether we admit it or not, I am full of doubts.
Won’t this screw him up? Maybe; but when I read statistics and news reports about acts of sexual assault and gay-bashing, perpetrated my men who (I’m willing to bet) didn’t get a lot of pink in their youths, I wonder how much worse “screwed up” could get.
Won’t he get teased? Not yet, at an age where kids find new angles of discovery each day. Someday, yes, of course there will be teasing and bullying, about pink or who-knows-what; but what if J’s daycare couture helps to defuse one or two potential bullies early, having seen that boys can wear dresses and nobody cares?
What will people buy him for Christmas? Whatever he asks for. Once J gets a handle on social constructions of gender, he’ll decide what’s right for him. I’m not going to force him to wear a dress to his grad. All I’m doing now is showing him the range of options – because maternity nurses and pundits be damned, it’s the 21st century, and the gender buffet is wide open. Even if he settles on an identity we’d consider traditional, or even conservative, he’ll grow up knowing the options exist. Maybe someday he and Storm will cross paths; this way, even if they turn out to have different plumbing, they might still find some common ground.
Photo Credit: Pixabay