How things have changed since I was young! I remember when my first child was born, way back in 1964, fathers were not allowed — or certainly not told they were allowed — to be in the delivery room. The mother, however, was allowed to be there, in fact, encouraged. Not only that, but they weren’t doing ultra-sounds, so you really didn’t know the baby’s sex until it was born. And if you were the dad, you’d have to wait until the obstetrician told you. In my case, as I recall, the news was delivered (if you’ll pardon the expression) by a phone call, and the doctor’s words were “It’s a boy and he has all his parts.”
I don’t know if this was the doc’s standard way of imparting this information, or if he varied it from parent to parent, sometimes saying, “It’s a child with a penis,” or, “It’s a girl and she is the complete package.”
All I know is that to be in the delivery room for the birth of my next two children was definite progress. For my second child (1974), we didn’t know the sex beforehand, but it was immediately obvious when he was born. And for child #3 (1981) we knew ahead of time that this baby would be my third son.
But even having children across enough of a time span to experience the differences in how the baby’s gender was treated gave me no idea of what was coming down the pike. And like many issues of parenting today, there are people at the extremes on both ends.
Have you heard about “gender reveal parties”? Knowing your baby’s gender before it’s born is no big deal now; it’s estimated that at least 50 percent of prospective parents choose to do this (it’s generally pretty obvious on a sonogram when the fetus is between 18 and 22 weeks). But, as described in a New York Times story in April 2012, some parents-to-be have the ultra-sound technician not tell them, but rather put the information in an envelope, which the couple brings to a baker, who then bakes a cake in pink or blue, covered by a neutral frosting.
The couple then throws a party, where they, their in-laws and friends can scream with delight as the cake is cut and the gender is revealed. Of course, some of this delight may be feigned, as when either member of the couple or any of the prospective grandparents are disappointed by what they’ll be getting. I suspect at least occasionally at these events, there are some suppressed utterances of that standard English profanity — “Oh, sugar plum!” — expressing such disappointment.
But then, at the other end of things, are the parents of Sasha Laxton (in Britain), who raised him without telling his gender to anyone except family members and a few close friends until Sasha was five. I don’t know what they told Sasha itself, since developmental psychologists tell us that most children are aware of their gender by the time they reach the age of three. Did they swear it to secrecy?
Actually, there is at least one other couple that is doing the same experiment on their child. Canadians David Stocker and Kathy Witterick are raising their little one, Storm Stocker, without sharing its gender. Personally, I’m not crazy about this experiment with one’s child, but I love the name Storm Stocker!
I guess the gender-reveal party and the parents’ decision not to reveal the gender could be combined. Imagine the party, where people cut through the frosting of the cake only to find that the color is neither pink nor blue, but rather a neutral purple.
“What’s going on?” the confused guests might exclaim, to which the parents could say, “We have decided to raise our child, Leslie, without telling anyone its gender until it is 18, although we realize lots of people might guess by then.”
Believe me, I am not making light of transgendered people, for whom gender identity is a difficult issue. But for most people, the gender with which they identify matches up with their anatomy, and I do have some issues with parents keeping it a secret.
And what’s next? Has anyone heard about “namism,” namely, the fact that your first name can really make a difference in how you are treated by the world? Actually, I have never heard of this, but without even Googling it I am sure it exists. (I did read long ago that children with more common names tend to be more popular in school.) So is it fair for parents to name their child Pumpkinface, knowing full well that he is probably going to have a very different life experience from one named Michael? But who knows what problems even a name like Michael could cause. Isn’t the safest thing to do not to name your child at all? What a joy it would be to raise a genderless, nameless child!
Of course, when the kid reaches, say, six or seven, and people ask, “What’s your name?” he or she will say something like “Beats me.” To which the asker would then say, “Beetsmee? What a cute name!”
But the ultimate in political correctness isn’t about gender or names, but rather species. The most evolved of us know that there is no reason we should think of ourselves as more important than any other species, and what better way would there be to put this into practice than by not telling your genderless nameless child what species it is? Or that there even is a concept of species.
Then, if the child gets upset when a mouse runs across the room, its mom might say, “Don’t worry, darling, that’s your cousin.” And if you have a dog, your child could become bilingual, by learning to bark as well as to talk. Unless, of course, it identifies with the mouse and prefers to squeak as well as to speak.