IT'S A BABY, THAT'S WHAT IT IS, or: we are having a tiny human real soon and we're not telling you what it is then either
“Do you know what you’re having yet?”
Friends, the way we see it, you don’t know what you’re having till the kid is old enough to tell you what they are.
To my surprise and pleasure, most people I’ve said this to have chuckled and agreed. And I mean, random people like neighbors and cashiers. Not hand-picked friends and loved ones.
(The latter have also been awesome; all of them we’ve told have been like, “that makes perfect sense,” or “I would expect nothing less.” Which is why they’re our friends.)
I do wonder how people will react, though, when we have the baby, and still won’t tell them “what it is.”
I thought this would be a good time to brainstorm what that means to us, and how we’re going to handle it.
The first and foremost thing is:
- There are a ton of good, solid studies that show that when people are told a baby is a boy or a girl, they talk to it differently and even hold it differently. Without even knowing they’re doing it.
- In a very nutshell: people hold babies they think are boys less closely, and talk to them in ways that are less nurturing, and less responsive. Even when they don’t have any intention of doing that.
- People tend to treat babies they think are girls with more emotion and nurturing. But also praise them more for being quiet and looking nice, while praising boys more for their actions and strength.
- no thanks
- Sure, statistically it’s probably “safe” to assume the baby will identify with whatever gender we think it is.
- although I don’t think those statistics are as high as we tend to think they are
- The risks in just picking a gender for the kid, and hoping it’s right, are comparatively low for that majority of kids where you ARE right.
- Basically, there are no negative consequences if you’re right, EXCEPT for the negative consequences of people’s unconscious baggage around gender roles.
- But they’re VERY high for the minority of kids where you’re wrong.
- And we are lucky enough to live at a time when we have access to lots of stories from people who tried to tell their families at a very, very young age that they were a different gender.
- So we now know that even when kids do get listened to and get to live as their correct gender at a very early age, they suffer intensely before that. Including when they’re too young to put their feelings into words, but are being gendered at every turn.
- It seems to us, after much consideration, that there is zero risk in not gendering the kid. In using gender-neutral pronouns, and letting them wear whatever they enjoy.
- And letting them know, as they learn to speak, that we can call them by any pronouns they want, and that they can change that for any reason.
- Just like any parents, we assume that we’ll hit that preschool age where they have a lot of questions, and often have picked up a lot of weird ideas, about boys and girls.
- Just like any parents, we’ll do our best to answer their questions, probably mess some things up.
- And we’ll work, ahead of time, to bring lots of different types of people, and lots of different people’s stories into their lives. Not just around gender, either, of course, but around race and class and religion and types of families and disabilities and everything else we can think of.
- Maybe the kid will tell us early on, emphatically, what they are. Maybe that will still change. Everyone has to explore with their gender means to them over their whole lives, even cis people; what’s important to us is that we support all our children in their journeys.
- Here are some specific strategies we’ve thought of. @rivergst, please add anything else you want to!
* Using they/them for the baby until/unless it wants something different
* Having scripts ahead of time for how we tell strangers about this when they go, “what a cute baby! is it a boy or a girl?”
* In my mind, I would say something like, “We don’t know yet!” and (a) smile real big and wait, (b) smile real big and leave, © go on to explain that “we figure that you don’t really know till the baby is old enough to tell you, and we know that people treat boy and girl babies differently without even meaning to, so we want to wait.” Depending on how i feel at the time.
* I assume that I’ll adapt this script over time as I start to see how people react and what questions or opinions they have.
* I want to design some onesies and/or baby shirts and/or hats and/or baby-safe decorations that say “they/them”.
* I figure we will need to put something about this on the baby announcement, and/or have boilerplate we send people.
* I might design a business card or postcard that I can hand people with a short version of this post on it. Or a website?
* Not gonna lie, if I get too much push back I’m gonna be SO tempted to bust out with the neopronouns. “O rly? Well now the baby’s pronouns are glitter/glitterself!! BETCHA WISH YOU HAD GONE WITH THEY/THEM NOW HUH”
* This is not a slam on neopronouns, I would love to go by gem/gemself
* Feel free to use that for me
* If people struggle with they/them or are somehow opposed to this whole thing, they are welcome to just use the baby’s name all the time
* Diaper-changing and alone-with-baby privileges will be restricted to people who have earned them by successfully using gender neutral pronouns for the baby
* Honestly I don’t even care if you use “it” for the baby, but there is definitely a point where that becomes disrespectful and I don’t really know what that age is. River may also disagree on this idk
- I’ve done this successfully before; when I was co-parenting Connor, we talked at like age 3 about how “pronouns are what we call people, like she, he, they, and others, is there one you would like us to use for you?”
- in that case, we had gone with “assigned at birth” pronouns before that. Connor picked something else and I ended up having to just never use pronouns around the birth mom, who was a dick about it. I got really good at it.
- We have an advantage, in that we’ve both already done a lot of learning around gender stuff, and have lots of people of unusual genders in our lives. And have hand me downs for lots of different genders. And know of good stories about this stuff that are age appropriate, like the story of baby X, and what’s the amazing Jay one Rebekah just gave us? I’ll put some in the comments.
- But I’m learning, too, that my default online might be to call people they/them unless I know what they want, but irl my mental default is actually to assume people are she/her. Thanks, Mills 😂 and I do get autistically stuck on matching pronouns with people’s names or presentations even when I know better.
- my strategies to counteract this with the baby are simple: give it a gender neutral name, and think of “physical sex” as simply being “does the baby have an innie or an outie?”
- bonus strategy if somebody is too pushy about knowing “what the baby is”: react as though we already live in a world where all of the above is the default, and say, “why do you want to know about my baby’s genitals?!”
- that handy and versatile line can be delivered with outrage, horror, or humor, depending on how much I like the person.