Although we’re only at 11 weeks (tomorrow), Molly and I have had multiple conversations about if we should find out the sex of our babies. The ultrasound to find out fetal sex is usually performed between 18 and 26 weeks. What’s interesting is that if you Google “when can you tell the…”, Google will populate the rest of your question with “gender of a baby.” This is in contrast to “sex of a baby.” These two questions are completely different, and in fact, it is impossible to tell anybody’s gender by an ultrasound.
Sex is the designation of “male,” “female,” or “intersex,” as assigned at birth. This assignment is usually based on the presence (or absence) of a penis and testicles. The designation of intersex is often made at birth for those born with ambiguous genitalia that isn’t obviously traditionally-female or traditionally-male. Gender is how we identify ourselves in terms of “man” or “woman.” I am an example of someone where my sex and gender didn’t match – my sex (as assigned at birth) was female, and I identify my gender as a man. Starting in 2003, I chose to take medical steps to change my sex to male by taking testosterone, having chest reconstruction surgery, a hysterectomy, and lower surgery to create a phallus and testicles. So, I am a female-to-male transsexual (FTM), though I prefer to identify as a “man of transsexual experience;” my sex is now male and I still identify my gender as a man. In this way, both sex and gender can be conceptualized as being fluid, or dynamic, with either or both having the ability to change over time.
Anyway, Molly and I have differing opinions on whether we want to find out the sex of our babies or not. I feel strongly that I do not want to find out, because there are so few real surprises left in the world, and I don’t want to begin creating expectations for my children before they are even born. Molly, on the other hand, feels that finding out their sex(es) would help her more fully form images/fantasies of life after they are born and may help her bond with them before birth (instead of thinking of them as weird little aliens growing inside). We don’t think it’s possible for just her to find out the sexes, because she (like anyone in that position) will most likely “slip up” and accidentally tell me.
For now, we’ve decided not to find out the sex of our babies. I think the major difference in Molly’s and my opinions is that I don’t think it is necessary to find out, whereas finding out is necessary for her to fully form her fantasies. But these very gendered fantasies are the ones I had to fight against, that broke my parents’ heart when I came out as a transperson. However, in a way, I wonder what it even matters – we’re going to find out the day they are born, so what is the difference between me subconsciously creating gendered expectations for them starting the moment they are born versus a few months before they are born?
Ultimately, I want what is best for the babies, and if that means finding out so she can feel more bonded with them, then that’s what is best. At the same time, Molly has already offered to not find, out as a kind of “gift” to me and what I want. I’m still so torn about the decision.
I would love to not find out their sexes before birth and, in addition, not have the delivering doctor, other medical personnel, or anyone present to announce the usual “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”….or both in our case! The very assignment of sex to babies by the medical establishment is something that has hurt a lot of intersex infants who have had genital “normalizing” surgeries performed on them (obviously without their consent). I attended a training to become part of the Speaker’s Bureau at my graduate school, and one of the trainers told me that she and her partner had a very specific birth plan that included no one announcing the gender of their baby when it was born – the agreement was that they would look at their child and make their own determination. After I heard this idea, it sounded awesome to me! Molly and I are still learning how we’re going to navigate the entire pregnancy/birth process within the medical community with me being a transman…in most ways, it shouldn’t matter to them if I am the biological father or not. And even so, this shouldn’t affect whether we create a birth plan that includes not announcing the genders of our children – anyone, trans- or not, should be supported in making such a request. Of course, the operative word being “should.”
It’s been very interesting to see people’s reactions to telling them that we aren’t going to find out the sexes of the babies. People are generally very offended! Like personally offended! They just can’t understand why we would do that. Which is totally weird to me, because I just don’t see the point of finding out. I knew that gender was important to people – I live every day in the reality of noticing all of the ways that gender is integrated in every aspect of our lives – but I didn’t anticipate how much the gender of my babies matter to others. It just proves exactly how integral attaching societal expectations to gender is so ingrained in every fabric of our lives.
If for some reason we do find out the sexes, either by accident or on purpose, we’re definitely not going to tell people; we don’t want to end up with exclusively-pink or exclusively-blue items, though this is something I’m sure we’ll be also be fighting from the moment they’re born.