Friday, 2 January 2015

Discovering a Baby's Gender

How do we Know a Baby's Gender? 

The Wisdom of Hindsight

I am a trans man, and my wife is a trans man's wife - that gives us a distinct advantage when thinking about the complexities of sex and gender.

When a baby is born, most parents rely on the midwife’s cursory glance to tell the baby's sex and gender – but having seen 4 babies born, I can tell you that it is a very cursory glance, and we should be careful before we trust it.
The midwife certainly does not check whether a baby has testes, or a vagina, or uterus or ovaries. They check whether there is a penis of a certain length or not, and then they say “you have a boy (or a girl)”. 

When our oldest children were very young, and our twins were tiny babies, my son (aged 3 and ½) asked: 
"Mum, Dad, how do you know the babies are girls?". 
I looked at Sarah, thinking I have just been asked the most important question of my life and I don't know the answer ... but like  a knight in shining armour, Sarah rode to the rescue, and replied 
"Well ... you see we don't know whether they are girls. What we do is make a guess.
"We know that most babies born with vaginas will grow up to be girls, and most babies born with penises will grow up to be boys .... but as you know from Dad, and his friends - Christine, Jonathan etc. that isn't always the case.
"As the baby’s parents we make a guess - but it is only a guess. When the babies get older, if it turns out to be the wrong guess, and either or both of them  have grown up to be a boy, they will tell us.
"And then we can make the changes they would like us to make."
Son’s response: “OK”.

It really is that simple – we don’t know a baby’s gender.
We make a guess  - and it may be the right guess or the wrong guess.

As it happens, the girls grew up to be girls, and my son has grown up to be a boy .... so far. 

But we are not so blind as to believe that either their gender or their sexual orientation was sorted by the time they were born.  

They grew into their gender identities somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5, and being currently aged 18 (the twins), 20 and 22, they are  growing into their sexual orientations - a process that may well take some time, and be dependant upon who they ultimately fall in love with.

Throughout the developmental periods of our children's lives, I insisted upon saying "When you have a boy friend or girl friend .... "  

One daughter  - she was 14 at the time - asked why I insisted upon doing that when she knew she was straight 

My reply:
 "I was lucky enough to find a person whom I fell in love with at first sight, and whom I am still in love with 30 years later.
"I would like all of you to find the person you will fall madly in love with at first sight - but that is only likely to happen if you keep the whole world in your sights.
"Shut out 50% of the population and you might, sadly, miss them altogether - which would be a terrible shame?"
Let's be thoughtful parents and give our kids a better set of choices in life than the one's we had.

The Promise of Being a Parent

Being a parent  is a huge responsibility - and most of us try hard to get it right. 

But what happens if a child grows up and is not  the person a parent had either dreamed of, or thought they might become. In fact, they seem the antipathy of that.

Sarah has spoken to many parents who have been distressed because their child has turned out to have different gender identity to the one ascribed to them at birth - and this is what she says:
 "Do you remember the day that tiny baby was born, and you held them in your arms and you made a promise. 
 "A promise that you would give your life, not for them to be rich, or famous, but simply for them to be happy. 
 "Well - today is the day you have to make that promise come true. You are not being asked to give your life, but simply a smile of approval. Thats all. 
 "So -  pull yourself together, and smile."
Like all parents, I can get irritated with one, or more, of my kids - but with luck I remember the promise I made, smile, and ask them what's up.