It’s weird to be pregnant again. People ask me the sex of the baby all of the time, and I say “girl,” and they say, “Oh, and how about your other kids? Boys? Girls?” And when I’m not in the mood to give a thoughtful response, I say, “a boy and a girl,” and then they offer kind platitudes and that is it.
But when I feel like being thoughtful, I reply, “One girl and one boy who is very girl-like.” But that’s not even the whole story.
My child, who was born a boy, tells me he is “a boy/girl.” This is OK most of the time, because we are mostly happy and mostly secure and have wonderful, supportive friends and family who don’t see gender as a barrier. These people care about us and about our kiddo because we value kindness, and being genuine, and acceptance is extremely important to us.
More than six years ago I gave birth to my first child, a boy, who has always danced to the beat of his own drummer. When other kids started to care about gender and separate themselves accordingly, he didn’t care. He continues to play with the kids he likes (mostly girls). He rejects clothing he doesn’t like to wear; he’s most comfortable in sparkly shirts, colorful leggings, and princess dresses.
Some people in our lives have offered that it is typical for children to experiment in this way. While I know that, I have also known for years that my son is special, and a little different, when it comes to gender identification.
Very recently, he and our younger daughter, who is 3, were playing “family.” Soon he came crying: “Mommy,” he said, “Sister told me that she gets to be the mom, because she is the girl, and I have to be the dad, because I am the boy.”
(And, yes, because they have a heteronormative model — my husband and me — I was not surprised.)
“But I am not just a boy,” he said. “I should get to be the mom, because I am also a girl.”
I listened. “Mom,” he said. “I am not just a boy. I am a boy/girl. I am both.”
I held him as he cried. I told him it didn’t matter, that it was OK to be both. I told him his sister doesn’t know that yet, and we have to help her understand. I told him that we all loved him so much and we are going to take care of him.
I promised these things to him, and I meant them. But I don’t know how to do it.
Sometimes I go places where people don’t know our family and I get questions which come from a good place but they are hard to answer: Is he a BOY or a GIRL?
What are you going to do when he hits puberty?
Shouldn’t you be telling him who he is instead of allowing him to figure it out? He is a child.
Does he have a gender disorder?
The answer to all of these is: I have no idea. He deserves to have parents who love and protect him and these are questions I don’t have answers to. I care, and I don’t care — if he cared then I would, too. But because answers to these questions don’t currently matter, my husband and I are following his lead and we let him be who he is, a sweet delightful kiddo who has a lot of trouble mediating a world that doesn’t always jive with what he needs.
But you know who (or what) does have a gender disorder? Our society. My child should get to be himself — and whichever box he wants to check, or whether or not he even wants to check a box at all, should be his choice.
Sometimes I feel judged. I think the older generation has much more trouble with gender creativity than then parents who are currently raising young kids. The best advice we have received is to follow our child, and that is what we are doing.
Traditional Judaism also falls short and doesn’t offer much to a child who doesn’t know what box he fits into. But that is also okay, because we have embedded ourselves in inclusive Jewish communities who are fully accepting and don’t demand an answer to the question: Is he a boy or a girl?
This is not the person I thought I’d become as a parent, but we don’t have much control over these things, do we? Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be struggling with these issues — my husband and I are so normative. I didn’t seek to become a family that’s an outlier, but here we are. Control over who our children are is an illusion, and I’m glad I learned this lesson early.
I am so happy to be bringing this third little person into our family. Yes, we will probably dress her in pink, with ruffles and a bow. I like that stuff. All of the kids will be excited about dressing up their little sister like a baby doll. But who she will become? Who knows. We are expecting only abundant surprises.