The Gift of Gender Non-Conformity, and How to Receive It, by Kelly Green
I wish I could go back in time. Most people want just one more day to squeeze their toddler and whisper I love you. Maybe to hold their infant and nurse them for one last time before they move to a bottle or a sippy cup. I remember someone telling me (when the kids were younger) you never really know when the last time you’ll take them to the park and they’ll actually want to play on the playground. The last time they wake up and want to sleep in your bed for the night. I wish I could go back for so many reasons but mostly because I wasted so much time worried about the wrong things.
When I look back at my journey to be a parent, it seems that almost everything was cloaked in gender. What are the first questions people ask you about your family planning?  Do you want to have a boy or a girl? What will you name the baby if it’s a girl? If it’s a boy? If you already have two boys, are you trying for a girl? Talk about pressure. Something that’s decided in a split second in a Fallopian tube becomes the entire narrative of your birthing experience.
I remember wishing and hoping for a boy. Now I ask myself why would that matter? I ended up losing my first baby at 10 weeks. No one had talked to me about how common miscarriage is for first pregnancies. And once I lost the baby, it was like I was never pregnant. All the questions around the pregnancy just stopped, and no one spoke of the loss. It is an unspeakable loss that most couples have to suffer in silence. It’s taboo to bring it up— and the guilt and shame it puts on the person carrying the baby is tremendous.
I had already purchased gendered clothing and planned to paint the room baby blue. Without even knowing if the baby was going to make it into this world, I was already putting societal constructs in place. And to what end? I should have been focused on creating a loving and nurturing environment, how to create traditions that would tie family together, how to make time for myself in the midst of chaos. Instead, I was focused on a baby blue layette and a nursery themed with dinosaurs.
My husband was married before me and had two amazing daughters with his previous wife. When we started planning our family he talked about how badly he wanted to have a son. Since he was a boy, he always wanted to have a son named David. Think about how much weight that is to carry. For him, a son to carry the legacy of his family name. For me, as a new wife (a second wife) the weight of bearing a son for a husband he so desperately wants, and that his first wife ‘could not give him.’ What an unfair objective for me, and how unfair to his first wife. She brought two unbelievable beings into this world and was made to feel that it wasn’t enough because of their assigned gender.
So then you’re pregnant. It seems like ages until you find out the sex of the baby. Of course, there are all of those other tests, too— never talked about and coming to the surprise of so many pregnant woman. Genetic testing, chromosomal testing, diabetes testing— before I hit my doctor’s office I hadn’t heard about any of these tests, but I definitely knew that I would find out the sex of the baby at 16 weeks. I knew that I should eat something sweet or drink a sugary drink to excite the baby enough to see what genitalia we could derive from the sonogram, but I hadn’t considered what genetic testing and chromosomal testing would uncover, or how to process it. For my first child I found out that I was a carrier of Tay Sachs disease, which commonly affects Ashkenazi Jewish people. The condition is usually fatal by around 3 to 5 years of age, often due to complications of a lung infection (pneumonia). My husband had to be immediately tested and that week of waiting on results was emotionally devastating. These are the conversations around child-rearing that we need to have— how we grapple with all of the things that come our way.
For some reason we have bought into gender being the most important thing about pregnancy and birth. The only thing I can garner from that is that it feeds into our capitalistic consumerism. Once we know the gender, we are buying, buying, buying. If I could go back what I would’ve been doing was reading about actual parenting. Techniques for behavior modification. The presenting characteristics of autism, signs of depression, ways to help a struggling reader, skills to refine parenting approaches, how to stop your child from self-injury. How to be a better person. I would’ve dealt with childhood trauma because I know now as a parent that any trauma you haven’t dealt with is coming right back to teach you and instead of being able to grow from it on your own you now need to help guide another soul through it while you’re handling it beside them. It’s like watching a mini version of yourself making the same mistake and trying to help them tread water while you’re drowning.
Once you know the sex of your baby it seems like it’s all anybody talks about. You plan your baby shower around it. Some people even do gender reveal parties. You’ve chosen names by gender, often they carry the emotional weight of honoring a passed loved one or a name that you have had chosen since your childhood and as soon as your child is brought into this world the hospital starts to affirm their assigned gender at birth. Pink caps for female assigned at birth and blue caps for male assigned at birth. So many pictures to remember these moments. Never once did I stop to think that one day I would have to take all of these pictures down, never once did I really think about gender as a spectrum. Never once did I realize that I might have children that would look back at these gendered versions of themselves and feel dysphoria, or pain, or even a need to injure themselves to escape it. How could I have inflicted this on them? Because I didn’t know better and neither do many parents today.
There are parents who don’t accept their children when their children tell them who they are. I AM NOT SPEAKING TO THESE PARENTS. If you are the type of parent who can look at your child and say to yourself, “If they ever came out as gay or trans there would not be a space in my home for them,” or “I would not accept them for who they are”—then this is not meant to speak to you. This is only meant to speak to a new parent who would look down at their child and think to themselves, ‘whoever you are and whoever you love, I love you and I will do everything I can to make this world a better place for you.’ These are the parents I’m speaking to because you will hear me when I tell you that you shouldn’t be worried about what sex your child is assigned at birth. You shouldn’t be consumed with ‘it’s a boy’ baby showers or decorating your nursery was pretty pink flowers. You should be consumed with the possibility that your child might not fit into the binary. The spectrum of gender is so expansive that this could mean so many things, and having a child that doesn’t fit the gender binary is illuminating and exhilarating. Once you deconstruct your own conformity it allows you the gift of examining all the societal constructs that you have played a part in and shaped, that you continue to fit into, and that you have the ability to cast off.
What should worry you is that you may be inadvertently adding a layer of pain and trauma to their past without fully understanding it. You may be removing your ability to reminisce about your birthing experience, their young childhood, without being able to share those memories with them and others. If I could go back and take every gendered article of clothing off the hanger I would. That could mean that my child would look back on their infancy without being triggered by the pain of being assigned the wrong gender. And further, if they had conformed to gender expectations, what they were wearing wouldn’t matter because they would feel no pain or dysphoria from it.
Do you understand what that must be like, to never be able to look back at your past without dysphoria? Everything that says to the child about the importance of what gender means? I wish I had focused on making my child feel that anything was possible, and that whoever and however they identify and who they love is just another piece of them that I love, and that I support and embrace. I wish I had been willing to receive the gift of gender nonconformity by preparing from the moment I was pregnant with an open heart and home. Learn from this, learn from my mistake. Be the person that keeps the door open for that conversation by clicking ‘unsubscribe’ to gender norms.