I was explaining how popcorn works to my friend’s youngest daughter; an extremely curious 5-year-old. We watched the kernels hop around until they suddenly popped. I told her about the tiny amount of water inside that expanded with heat and exploded. Pretty cool concept for a kiddo to wrap her mind around.
For some reason the whole thing reminded me about gender-reveal parties.
Parents have created a celebration around revealing the gender of their impending human. Fireworks, cupcakes, chalk dust—all used to indicate if a boy or girl is expected. I’m all for parties that combine explosions and frosting, and I don’t want to be a buzzkill here. But gender isn’t an either / or destination.
Celebrate the child, not the assumed gender. Or go all in and have a blood-type reveal party as well. Have guests scramble arranging placards with “A”, “B”, “negative”, “O”, and “positive” until someone gets the correct combination. High-fives all around. Plus, the cupcakes would be epic.
Placing that much importance on a gender category creates a narrative about who (and how) that child will be. It communicates how people should interact with future kiddo, as well as how they might interpret themselves in the world. All based on the configuration of the bikini zone.
Our culture views gender as a binary (male or female) and then segments expectations differently for both. That’s where social attribution comes in. Social attribution includes the labels, limitations, and expected behaviors assigned based on one’s assumed gender.
Gender becomes important because people often use that attribute to decide how to treat other humans. The ‘F’ or ‘M’ indicator on a birth certificate influences quite a bit about that human’s future. Think about that for a minute. Acceptable behaviors, emotional expressions, even the degree of personal agency—all of these are largely determined by which tick box a child occupies.
Assigning a gender at birth is different than clinging to that label at the expense of your child’s well-being. Think of it as a belief system. You made a determination based on the information available. Once these kiddos provide you with new info, it’s time to adjust. As the inhabitor of that skin—they own the final say.
While they grow and develop the vocabulary to express themselves, your role is to listen. Whether it’s left versus right handedness, orientation, or gender identity—that kiddo’s innate sense of self belongs to them alone. Supporting them, learning from them, and helping to navigate—that’s all you.
Originally published at goodmenproject.com on August 21, 2018.