When I wrote this, I was 21 weeks pregnant, having found out Snappy’s (binary) gender at 17. (Snap has definitely grown a bit since!) I didn’t have the gut feeling that many women speak of; some friends and family had made guesses based on old wives tales, symptoms, and cravings, but I honestly had no idea going in to the ultrasound. Snap (who at some point on one particular week, was the size of a snap pea) moved around a lot, had long legs, waved, had a thumb to suck, and definitely did not want to give us a reveal for a while, but we got there in the end. My first reaction (aside from “Kevin was right!“) was a really interesting feeling, and though initially I was slightly disappointed I wouldn’t get to use the one name we both really loved, primarily I was overcome with wonder – yet at the same time, was reminded of something really important: life’s possibilities don’t have to be determined by gender.
As I thought about it more, the more I realised that traditional “gender reveal” activities, though fun and well-intentioned, could potentially be harmful. I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t want anything to support the “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” notion. There will be no party where guests bite into cupcakes to reveal pink or blue filling; no balloons will be popped, surprising everyone with a certain colour of confetti. Not that I believe this sort of thing has any negative intent – if I were invited to such a party, I’d be fully supportive of the couple – and who doesn’t like cupcakes? But I do believe the expectations that accompany traditional gender reveals, as well-intentioned as they may be, may sometimes set people up for failure.
I’ve worked, lived, volunteered with and known enough wonderful people to know that gender is a) not determined by genitals and b) not binary. In the former camp, genitalia is allowed to override a person’s sense of self: their gender identity. In the latter, men and women are placed on opposing ends of an artificial scale that enforces the idea that if you fall on one end of the spectrum, you have opposite sets of gender identity, expression, roles, privileges, and disadvantages. It’s important not to reinforce this idea, and remind ourselves that everything that keeps this notion going is actually subjective. Of course girls can love curling their hair, nail polish, and makeup. Boys are certainly allowed to admire Batman and garbage trucks. But let’s introduce them to more than just what’s designed for their gender. Boys can wear dresses if they’re more comfortable. Girls can play with trucks. Men can become ballet dancers and women can become executives of corporations. I love Obama for so many reasons, but a standout one would be the time he broke down stereotypes when sorting Christmas toys for boys and girls.
The way we talk about fertilization itself is inherently flawed: the “one sperm to rule them all” was faster and stronger; the winner over all others after a fast-paced race that valiantly penetrates the egg as if conquering a foreign land. In reality, the egg exhibits the strength, reaching out and clutching its chosen sperm.
Traditional gender reveal photos and parties kind of tend to promote a socially constructed binary that excludes the full range of possibilities of what could be, and can also set expectations that can lead to parents and other family members questioning what they did “wrong” when a child grows to express themselves to be who they truly are, and not what everyone expected them to be. We can start to prevent this and promote acceptance, encouragement, and inclusion of our kids from birth by letting them be whatever they want to be, play with whatever they want to play with, work in the industries they want, kiss whoever they love, and dress however they desire. We should love each other for who we are, and not what others expect us to be.
I remember going to university with, and becoming quite good friends with someone I, at the time, had a crush on. He was in all my medieval history classes and drama classes, and the group we became friends with loved musicals. I remember after about a year, he came out as gay. He had such a hard time with it, because not only did one of his best friends at the time, a strong Catholic, shun him, but so did the church they went to together. He started questioning if he was not worthy of forgiveness and grace. It was heartbreaking. A few years later, I found myself needing a roommate. After a few interviews, we found the perfect person: a student, new to the city, who blogs, plays an instrument, and loves cats. He was kindhearted and shared so many of the same interests, and I was excited to be gaining a friend in the process. Curious, I found his blog – which was a series of video diaries of his journey transitioning from not only female to male, but straight to gay. To this day, he remains one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known, and I hated that people struggled with and found it so hard to accept his story. A few years ago, I joined my then-workplace’s LGBTQA network, volunteering to promote diversity and, luckily, getting to experience the Out and Equal Conference that year in Maryland. People asked my supervisors behind my back why I was involved. Was I a lesbian? (Did it matter?) Why should an administrative assistant be chosen as one of a dozen people from across the company worldwide to accompany senior leaders to an international event? Those leaders fought for me to go, and the experience was enlightening, inspiring, and also saddening – to see just how much work there still is to be done in terms of acceptance and inclusion. The discrimination still exists toward wonderful people who are punished or shamed for simply wanting to be who they are.
I didn’t want to place any gender expectations on Snappy before even coming into the world. Traditional pinks and blues used to reveal gender may, in a way, put inadvertent expectations into place. This could affect how others view potential and capability, which can very much also affect how the kid will reflect on themselves. We meet the little girls of friends and relatives and compliment them on their pretty hair or dresses. What if all that little girl wants is to talk about the castle she just built out of Lego, or brag about her battle scars from climbing trees? She may grow to feel the things she loves are wrong, and later in life, that there is something wrong with her. No child should have to feel ashamed for liking or wanting what makes them happy just because as a society, we’re not quite there yet.
So, I promised you a “gender reveal.” My true revelation is that while Snappy will be born without a penis, her gender can be whatever she grows to feel is right for her. If she wants to grow up wearing ruffles and flower crowns, playing with dolls and wearing skirts, we will embrace her inner princess. If she wants to help dad with house repairs and wear baseball caps, she can 100% do that, too. We decorated her nursery in grey and white, not pink and purple, with books on display and dreams to grow and explore. My hope is that she’s exposed to the enormous diversity this world has to offer, that she learns to explore and accept a wide range of gender types and feels free to explore without judgment. I hope she’ll feel happy and safe bringing anyone home for dinner, and will learn to see that humans are humans, people can be whatever they want to be, and that being yourself, whatever that happens to be, is never wrong.
We’re just over halfway to welcoming you to the world, Snap. I hope you know that whatever you do, whatever path you follow, whatever toys you want to play with and whatever you choose to become, you’ll be supported 100%.
Congrats!!!! Thanks for sharing Emily. 🙂
I was deeply moved by such a set of kind, open and beautiful sentiments. You will be an amazing mother, and Snappy will be a better person for having such great parents and for having the good luck to be born into an environment of such love. Congratulations Emily.
Congratulations to both of you. Great things are about to happen, am sure 🙂