I thought long and hard about if I would post something like this or not, and, obviously, I ultimately decided to post it. Early on in the pregnancy, Molly and I decided to try to not find out the sex(es) of the twins (and so far have succeeded in not finding out) before birth for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we didn’t want to begin having gendered expectations of our kids before they are even born. And second, there are so few true surprises left in the world, and there really is no other greater surprise in life. After trying to conceive for a long time, we have now been blessed with the privilege of even having a choice to find out or not – and how lucky are we to have double the opportunity!
If you read my blog, you should be aware of the difference between sex and gender. Gender (man/boy or woman/girl) is something that is usually assigned to babies based on their sex (male or female), and we all know that sex is usually designated at birth by the presence or absence of a penis. Hence, the traditional trajectory in our culture after a baby is born is:
Anatomy –> Sex –> Gender
penis visible –> male –> man/boy
no penis visible –> female –> woman/girl
I originally was going to post a poll where people could guess or predict what we are having. Everyone asks, so why not make a little game out of it? When I was considering doing a poll in the first place, I thought a lot about if this type of poll damages the trans* community by reinforcing the idea that genitals determine identity. I hope not as that certainly is not my intention. I decided I would go ahead and post the poll, even though I was torn on the trans*-related issues that may be involved…
There is large group of people who believe that someone’s gender should not be designated simply based on their sex, because genitals do not determine destiny. I am a perfect example – I was born female (sex) but later identified as a man (gender). I have taken medical steps to change my sex from female to male, and I now choose 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. Many in this group may choose to raise their children in a gender-neutral way; although I consider myself to be one in this group of people who believe that gender shouldn’t be based simply on sex, both Molly and I are of the personal opinions that it is unrealistic to raise our children “gender neutral” or completely devoid of gendering in our society. We, like almost all other parents, will assign a sex to our children after observing their genitalia and will use the gendered pronouns associated with that sex. We will also attempt to provide a wide range of gendered and non-gendered toys, because, in the event our children do feel like a different sex or gender than what was assigned to them, at least they’ll have room to explore that.
Still, while a case can be made that assigning a gender based on sex may be damaging to the trans* community, is this very act of assigning a sex also damaging to the trans* community? Many would argue yes – there is a second group of people who believe that not only gender, but also sex is a social construct that should not be designated at birth at all. Certainly, if I were a member of this group that believes we should all live in a realm of undefined and free sexual and gender identities, then sure, I would think that assigning a sex is damaging to the trans* community. I am not, however, in that group.
My reasoning is that whatever “damage” to the trans* community one claims may come from assigning sex is actually not done by the designation of sex at birth but rather by the expectations that are put on people according to that sex designation. The community that has experienced the most repercussions (not only emotional but also physical) from sex and gender designations at birth are intersex people, many of whom have been victims of bodily changes made without their consent as babies, small children, even teenagers. And yet even the ISNA recommends assigning a gender to children with intersex. While Molly and I will assign a sex at birth, we will also do our best to help them understand that the societal expectations that are applied to them due to this sex designation are not rigid boundaries. We will help them learn the difference between what is expected of them and what feels best to them (if those things are indeed different). We will foster open communication with them so that if those gendered expectations do not feel right to them, we can talk about it and help them figure out what feels best.
In terms of the posting a prediction poll, really I just thought it would be fun to see what people would guess. First I thought the poll options would be boy/boy, girl/girl, or boy/girl, hence it would be a “Guess the Gender(s) of the Twins” poll. But as I made the poll, I realized that instead of their genders, which really only they’ll be able to tell us, maybe I should make the poll options their sex (female/female, male/male, female/male options), because that is really what will be assigned to them at birth. Then came the issue of whether or not to include intersex in the poll options; we’ve already beaten many odds to get where we are today, and there is nothing that makes us any more immune than anyone else to having an intersex child. According to the Intersex Society of North America, between 1 in 1500 and 1 in 2000 babies are born “so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in.” If you don’t know what intersex is, read this short page.
With all of these reasonings in mind, I had settled on making the poll options about guessing the sex of the twins, not their gender. I would hope that the first group of people I mentioned would be accepting of a poll to guess the sex of the babies, while recognizing that sex is not necessarily dichotomous; however, I would expect the people in the second group to be horribly horrified at the poll and even at the thought that we are going to “assign” a sex to our babies at all. And although I recognize that we are moving towards a time when identity models are being described more as circles with an infinite number of designation possibilities within the circle and less on a linear spectrum between two extremes, for the purposes of the poll, I was going to ignore that. I also was not going to include a write-your-own-in spot because I thought too many people would write in something asinine about how you can’t really “determine” sex because that is also just a social construct, etc. Perhaps that all makes me a bad trans* person. Perhaps thinking about posting this type of poll in the first place makes me a bad trans* person. But I thought it would be simply for fun and a chance to get others to think about gender and sex designation issues…and how those two things are different.
So, after thinking about all of that and rationalizing to myself why I was going to have the poll options be about their sex and not their gender, you’re probably wondering why then there is there no poll where you can predict the sex(es) of the babies. After discussing it with Molly, I then realized that what that poll was really asking was to guess what kind of genitalia our children will have. I don’t particularly like it when people talk about my genitalia, and I assume most others feel similarly, so why am I asking perfect strangers to talk about my kids’ genitalia? So, sorry, no poll to predict the sexes. Or genders. But don’t worry, if you’ve read this far, here is your reward – a poll where you can still predict what we are having:
For the birth, we’ve asked our OB not to announce “It’s a girl!” and/or “It’s a boy!” and instead just hold up the twins so we can see for ourselves and make our own determination. I think it’s pretty high hopes that it will actually happen like that, despite trying to tell everyone who will be in the room, but if it does happen, it will be great. We were concerned that in the event of a C-section, they may only hold the babies up so I can see them before wrapping them up and bringing them around to see Molly. Molly said it was alright for me to look at them, then tell her if they are boys and/or girls (ie. she just didn’t want the doctor assigning a gender), but I really struggled with the thought of that. As I said, we will assign a sex, so I feel OK about looking at them and making a determination of male or female (or intersex), but I also feel like it would not be right for me to then assign boy or girl. Who am I to do that, just because I am of transsexual experience? So I finally figured out what I could say (instead of boy/girl) – I’m going to say, “It’s (female name choice 1) or (female name choice 2)” or “It’s (male name choice 1) or (male name choice 2).” That way the first way we are identifying our children is by their names, exactly what makes them individuals. Similarly, if you ask me after the birth, “What did you have?” I’ll likely either answer with “babies” or “(name 1) and (name 2).” Admittedly, we have chosen fairly gendered names so don’t panic about not ever finding out.
Of course, despite all of these efforts, our kids will probably decide they like the most-gendered toys, dress, etc. But it’ll be worth the effort.