Questioning Gender

BlogHer Original Post

Before we dig into the latest gender news, be sure to read Rita's post, Transgendered Children. It's important that you hear that story before you dig into the story of Pop, the child being raised without gender.

Pop’s parents, both 24, made a decision when their baby was born to keep Pop’s sex a secret. Aside from a select few – those who have changed the child’s diaper – nobody knows Pop’s gender; if anyone enquires, Pop’s parents simply say they don’t disclose this information.

Stop and think about that for a minute and compare this child to the one Rita blogged about.

We have one child who was born with genitalia that do not match her gender and another child being raised to ignore gender.

A long time ago, way back in the late 90s, I entered into a long debate with friends about the benefits or risks of raising children in a gender neutral world. My argument was that raising a child to deny gender is just as bad as raising a child in the wrong gender.

Look at this comment on Reddit, in response to a link to the story about Pop. Someone whose parents tried to keep her from female stereotyping.

Bad experiment though. At some certain point when I got old enough, I started to feel like a total outcast. I couldn't fully identify with girls, and I also couldn't fully identify with boys. When I started going through puberty, things got way worse. I developed pretty early, and got really depressed. All I wanted to do was chop off my boobs because I couldn't figure out how to look good in clothes with them. I was highly discouraged from looking at girl's magazines or books, and since I had no close friends, my knowledge of how to deal with my gender was extremely limited. I always felt awkward around other people because I couldn't relate to anyone. At some point in high school, I tried really hard to make friends, and did for a while, but then after I graduated, everyone moved away to different colleges and other places, and for some reason, all the effort that I put into trying to make friends in college were unsuccessful. I ended up cutting myself off from everyone, and eventually settled into being alone because it was easier. Now I'm 27. I have pretty much no friends except a few that I had in high school, but none of them live nearby. I have a very hard time relating to, and feeling comfortable around anyone that I meet. My life is basically a mess.

Now go back and read the story about Pop again.

...the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

Is it really? If it is, then do those of us who believe transgendered people are born with the wrong genitalia for their gender need to re-evaluate our positions? Should transgendered people simply be re-conditioned? Do they just need therapy?

Emerging Women asks... do you think we can model healthy conceptions of gender to children? Is avoiding gender so as to avoid negative preconceptions valid? Is it possible to teach healthy perspectives in a world full of unhealthy examples?

I believe that society does stereotype people, based on gender and I'm firmly in favor of eliminating gender stereotypes.

-Stop buying pink and blue. Stop dressing infants in boy clothes and girl clothes.
-Stop talking about protecting little girls from potential boyfriends while encouraging little boys to be mini-Lotharios.
-Stop making assumptions about what little girls like and little boys like and let them develop their own interests.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen says...

As a parent, I too object to the color coding of infants. When Kana was a newborn, we received a layette containing a pink headband whose sole purpose was to notify strangers this bald infant was a girl. Kana is still bald, so strangers still frequently mistake her for a boy, and they always look mortified when my older kid corrects them. Why? Who gives a hoot?

In my opinion, denying your child the right to his or her gender, is not a solution.

Which leads me to the story of Caster Semenya.

Her father and grandmother say she's a woman.

Semenya's father, Jacob Semenya, pleaded: "I wish they would leave my daughter alone."

"She is my little girl. I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times," Semenya told the Sowetan newspaper.

Semenya's paternal grandmother, Maputhi Sekgala, also spoke in defense of Semenya.

"The controversy doesn't bother me that much because I know she's a woman -- I raised her myself," Sekgala told The Times, another South African newspaper.

"What can I do when they call her a man, when she's really not a man? It is God who made her look that way," Sekgala said.

Article after article, post after post, use some form of this phrase, "she looks like a man."

So if a woman looks like a man, that makes her a man? Or makes her gender suspect? Who decides what a man looks like and what a woman looks like? Should we just take her word for it?

But there's an ethical question here about which people seem to be presuming there's an obvious answer. Namely, if Caster Semenya is found to be intersexed, should she be banned from competition as a woman? Everyone seems to think the answer is a given - naturally, yes, she must be banned. I say, let's give it a couple minutes of examination before we rush to a conclusion.

Is race playing a role in the Semenya case?

“I say this is racism, pure and simple. In Africa, as in any other country, parents look at new babies and can see straight away whether to raise them as a boy or a girl. We are now being told that it is not so simple. But the people who question these things have no idea how much shame such a slur can bring on a family.

Which brings us right back around to the transgendered child and the child raised without gender.

Forced choice isn't a choice at all, is it?

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