03 June 2011

Can They Raise A Gender-Free Child?

People have been asking me what I think about the Canadian parents who are raising a genderless child--or, at any rate, one who is not specifically identified as male of female.

It's one of those ideas I like in theory.  Ideally, no one should be forced to conform to one set of rules or another concerning gender identity and expression.  If I do say so myself, very few people know better than I how it feels to try to fit into narrowly-defined roles based on factors you had absolutely no say in determining.  Not only are you trying to fit; others are trying to fit you into the notions they've received about how boys or girls should act.  I don't blame my parents:  I didn't have a language to express how I felt and, even if I did, I don't think they would have had any way to know how to act in accordance with the knowledge I could have conveyed.  

Even today, almost no parent has any clue as to how to raise a kid who doesn't feel the right gender was recorded on his or her birth certificate.  And, when I was a child, about the only transsexual anyone knew about was Christine Jorgensen.  Although a lot of people still, unconsciously, see her as a sort of archetypal transsexual, some of us--including me and, I assume, my parents--have since come to realize that she was not typical of anything.

Given the environment that existed then, I can only imagine what it would have been like if I had been raised as a girl.  We've all heard the horror stories about the boys whose parents or guardians made them wear dresses and long braided hair (although, interestingly, we don't hear much about girls who were forced into being boys).  Even if I didn't break down from being made fun of and getting beat up every day, I would have incurred a lot of stress that  might have led to other problems, both for me and my parents.

Plus, given that gender roles were even more narrowly defined than they are now, I don't think it would have been possible to raise a "genderless" or "gender-free" child. 

And, while some people--particularly the young--take a broader view of gender than people in past generations did, everyone is still expected to conform, at least in some fashion, to the gender to which they were assigned at birth.  And parents are still expected to raise kids to do so.  This means that, in the end, kids are still expected to be readily identifiable as their birth genders.

Mind you, none of this has anything to do with "confusing" the kid, as many people would expect to happen.  In fact, the boy who is sent to school in dresses has problems later in life, not because he is "confused" but, rather, because he knows what he is.  Whatever is done to them, nearly all kids eventually decide on what manifestation of gender is right for them.  I've read about parents who had kids of both genders and who, instead of giving GI Joe to the boys and Barbie to the girls, buy those toys and let the kids decide which ones they want to play with.  Almost invariably, the boys go for the GI Joe and the girls for the Barbie.  

Of course, the parents who are not letting their kid--or anyone else--know what gender the kid is are allowing exactly that to happen.  And, in a more accepting world, the kid would make choices and become, and would live happily ever after, as the story goes.  However, we don't live in that kind of world, at least not yet.  

So what, exactly, is a parent--or kid--to do?