There was a time, not too long ago, when I believed that gender mattered. When my husband and I discussed our future children, I wanted to have 3 little boys. I worried that little girls would be like me: stubborn, opinionated, and bossy. God only knows that I did NOT want to raise a mini version of myself and I did not want to raise a child with a “princess complex.” For some reason, I naively thought that boys would be immune to this behavior.
When I got pregnant, I was convinced that I had a little boy in my belly and every day I hoped that my mommy intuition was right. At my 20 week ultrasound, I was nervous. What would happen if the baby wasn’t a boy? What would I do if it turned out I was having a little girl? I cried when the ultrasound showed the baby was female, but not for the reason that you expect. I cried tears of happiness because I was so excited to see my beautiful baby on the ultrasound. It didn’t matter that for years I had dreaded the words “it’s a girl.” It didn’t matter that my child didn’t have the genitalia I so desperately wanted them to have. All that mattered was that that baby on the screen was mine, and she was healthy.
That ultrasound was the “ah-ha” moment for me; the moment that pink and blue really stopped mattering.
For the next 14 weeks, my husband and I prepared for the arrival of our daughter. We were determined not to socialize our daughter into a stereotypical gender role; we painted her nursery green and blue (with big flowers) and we requested that grandparents refrain from overwhelming us with princess themed goodies. I never wanted A to feel as though she had to conform to the girly-princess mold. Eventually she did migrate that way herself, but more than princesses, we were obsessed with fairies. For me, the important point is that she chose that direction, it was not forced on her in any way.
Flash forward to pregnancy #2. Having already come to terms with the unimportance of what was between my baby’s legs and with no plans to gender stereo-type a nursery, my husband and I chose to keep baby 2’s gender a secret that only baby 2 would know. After all, I knew that I didn’t care either way and I was excited to have a surprise waiting for me at birth. Throughout the pregnancy we referred to the baby as “Newt,” both because I felt like I had an alien growing inside of me (see Aliens if you are confused to the reference) and because some newts can change their gender under the right circumstances.
When Newt was born, the doctor told me, “it’s a boy.” I’m not sure that I really registered this though. I had a brand new, beautiful baby to hold. Why on earth would I be listening to the doctor at this point? Newt was just Newt.
Newt started in hand me down clothes from my nephews, but having a fancy big sister definitely rubbed off. The two of them would play dress up together, and even though I had purchased dragon costumes and other “boy” garb, Newt enjoyed wearing tutus and twirling around with big sis. I couldn’t blame them, we have some AWESOME tutus. Around 2, Newt started asking to wear dresses out in public as well. They were just clothes, so I had no problem with it; the kids were always in charge of picking out their own outfits and I wasn’t about to strip them of their decision making power over a dress. At the start, the dress wearing was few and far between; really Newt only wore dresses when big sis did. Even when Newt wasn’t in a dress though (and even before Newt wearing dresses was a thing), 95% of the time, people assumed that I had two daughters. It didn’t matter if Newt had short hair, a truck shirt, and camouflage pants, Newt was a girl. I didn’t openly correct, I just used the right pronouns in my talk and people sometimes figured out their mistake… sometimes.
By the time Newt turned 3, they had decided that they didn’t want to cut their hair again because they really liked pony tails and of course wanted hair like Rapunzel. The dresses in public became more frequent, and instead of just hand-me-downs from male cousins, Newt was also asking for A’s old clothes. At 3½ I knew that this was more than just copying big sis. By this age gender-creativity was supposed to naturally fade and children were supposed to be copying parents of their same gender. Instead, Newt was copying the female gender more and more. I began to read books about gender-creative children, which directions it led in life, how to handle raising them, etc. Newt was expressing themselves how they felt comfortable, so I had nothing to complain about. I was of course still being complimented on my “two beautiful girls” but Newt never corrected people, never complained to me or even questioned me about why they said that. That should have been a huge flag for me, but I never gave it a second thought; I operated under the belief that when Newt was ready, they would be comfortable correcting the mistake. Three months before their fourth birthday, there was a shift. Where I would have in the past that Newt was mostly “boy,” we seemed to be switching to mostly “girl.” We wore fancy hair clips every day, Newt experimented with my make-up, wanted to try on my bras, and paint their nails fancy colors. My husband and I began to prepare, assuming that we were looking at a child who was most likely on the LGBTQ spectrum. We would be supportive of either, after all I am bisexual myself.
Sure enough, less than a week after Newt turned 4 and daddy was away on business, Newt asked me to call them K, my little girl. While I was prepared in theory, it had been a really long trip for daddy and I wasn’t quite prepared for this bombshell at that exact moment in time. This was an important moment for us though, so I looked her right in the eye and said, “of course honey.”
Even though the books tell you that you absolutely cannot make a child transgender, I will probably always have a little doubt in my mind. Could our support of gender-creativity have promoted this? Almost all of me knows that the answer is no. I know that the support served to allow our child to freely express themselves and to know that mommy and daddy will support them in any gender choices that they make. We made it easier for K to become who she was meant to be: a happy, funny, smart, beautiful little girl… with a penis.
This is our journey.