It starts early, the need to define children by their gender. The pink or blue cards on the hospital bassinets, the color coded baby blankets and onesies. My 9 pound baby boy was described as a “linebacker” and my 9 pound baby girl was simply a “big girl”. The hospital is only the beginning…the assumptions people make based on gender never end, the need to categorize people continues throughout life. Because of all of this, I believed that the environment was the primary determinant of gender expression. I believed that, in the absence of gender expectations, there would be no absolutes. Then, I had children. When we saw that penis in the ultrasound, we were excited by the opportunity to raise an incredible man to send out into the world. We believed that our son, raised by two lesbians, would be free to express himself in any way he chose. We would encourage him to wear pink, to slap on a pair of fairy wings, to flit about in meadows and to play with dolls. Our son would be strong and sensitive – he would take on the world but be able to process his emotions with the best of ‘em. When we allowed him to express himself, however, he became a different person than we imagined. There are no fairy wings – there are basketball jerseys and soccer uniforms. There is very little flitting about on tip toes - there is running and jumping and shouting. He doesn’t want to wear pink – he likes bolder colors. People see him out in the world and say he is “all boy”. We cringe because we know he fits the stereotype. He is the strong and sensitive boy we hoped for, though the image of what that looks like has changed for us. Ultimately, he is just Miguel. This is who he is.
When I got pregnant the second time, we assumed we would have another boy and I was excited to have a shot at a different boy experience. That was not to be – we had a girl. Zeca is only 16 months old and we don’t know who she will become. For now, she is chubby cheeks, brown eyes, strong legs and a stout package of determination. In public, people refer to her as “he” and it’s hard to know if it is the lack of hair or her way in the world. I fight the urge to tell people that she is not actually a “he”. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter because she’ll be put into a box soon enough. For now, we choose her clothes and her style but someday that will change and we no longer pretend to know what she will look like. We hope for certain things but prepare ourselves for others.
Gender expression is so much more complicated than nature versus nurture. The two can never be separated. I have come to realize that if I truly want my children to be free to express themselves, I must allow all possibilities – not just those that fit with my politics. It’s hard. I still picture that sports-shunning, fairy boy and I can’t help but hope for a girl that frowns at the frills and bows but, ultimately, they are my children and I adore them in all of their complexity.