queer parenting

What to do about babies and gender

[Content note: reference to adult-child related sexual creepiness]

As a person who intends to have kids at some point, and as someone who is very aware that you can’t tell what a person’s gender is (/what their gender is going to be or whatever) when they’re born, I have to deal with the question of what I’m going to do about my future babies and gender.

I mean, hopefully it’s obvious that I have no intention of imposing any sort of gender norms or expectation on any kids I have. And I will listen to them about their own gender as soon as they are able to tell me about it. But there is still the question of what to do about pronouns etc until they’re able to do that.

In an ideal world, I would lean toward using neutral pronouns – either the perennial ‘they’, or something specific as more of a placeholder (I remember reading a long time ago about someone who referred to their fetus using the ‘ou’ pronoun, and I like the idea of using something that isn’t so clearly linked to non-binary/genderqueer identities, since that may carry a lesser version of the baggage involved in traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns.)

But living as I am in an entirely un-ideal world, I’m not sure this is what I will actually end up doing. I may very well wind up simply using the pronouns assume the baby is cisgender (unless they’re intersex, in which case, gender neutral pronouns it will be until I can hear otherwise from them), as a sort of default/educated guess (since there is a high likelihood that they will be cis), for a few reasons.

The main one is, I just don’t know that I have the energy to have all the conversations that would be involved in refusing to gender my baby. Although I am not going to adhere to gendered expectation with clothing, toys, etc with them, I know that people would push back harder against gender neutral pronouns than other things, simply because it makes them uncomfortable to use them. Which is a terrible reason, obviously, but still. I have enough work on my hands doing this for myself, and people are more upset by gender neutral pronouns when they are applied to children, and more prone to inappropriateness or downright violence (or trying to get me to lose custody of my children even, probably) than I am prepared to deal with.

Which, on some level I feel like maybe I should not have kids unless I am willing to fight for that for them. But on the other hand, I don’t think that placeholder pronouns alone are going to harm a kid who is otherwise raised as much as possible without gendered expectations. I don’t think that ‘he’ or ‘she’ is somehow inherently a more harmful placeholder than ‘they’ or ‘ou’ could be anyway.

My other fear, though, is not about me and my own energy, as much as it is about my child. A baby who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns may attract some really unsavoury behaviours from people who really really need to know the baby’s ‘real’ gender. I am quite sure that refusing to indicate a binary gender for my baby would make a whole lot of people suddenly really interested in changing that baby’s diaper, or helping them with their bath, or something. And that level of creepiness is not something I want a baby or toddler subjected to.

I am also afraid that being quite to obvious about my gender neutral approach to parenting would result in other adults trying to over-compensate for that, and my children being subjected to even more over-the-top, explicit gender policing than they otherwise would.

So, I dunno. I don’t know what the least harmful route to take, really. I’m just going to do my best and what feels right, I guess.

Moving forward, writing a new story

So, part of the story I was expecting my life to be has changed – a partner I had expected to raise kids with isn’t going to fulfill that role in my life. Which, that’s life, really. It doesn’t ever really do what you’re expecting it to.

It’s been interesting for me, the process of figuring out how to move on from this, how to reorganize my life to still have the things that I want it to have, as much as possible. And figuring out which parts of the old plan are necessary to me, and which ones can be rewritten.

I was surprised, when I started talking and writing openly about the changes in my relationship with my partner-formerly-known-as-spouse-person, as how many people asked me if I had considered/was considering going the single parent route. The truth is, I never really had. The truth is that without giving it too much though, I’ve always thought that would be too difficult, that I was not up for it. My picture of my life has always included at least one other adult in a parental role in the family I want to build.

But, it turns out, lots of people who know me (and who know me well) seem to think that I had what it takes to go it alone. To them, it is an obvious solution to the dilemma I have found myself in. To them, I am strong enough, and the challenge is not too great.

And that is an incredibly flattering thing, in a way. But also, I realized that they’re probably right. And I’ve started taking stock of my life differently, now.

The thing is, my life is really great. There are so many people rooting for me, and ready to go to bat for me in so many ways if I need them to. I am loved, and I am cared for, and I have a really, really strong support system in place.

When I think about what I would want in a co-parent, what it is that makes me think I need such a thing, I realize that I don’t want anything like what I used to. I’m not at all interested in making new romantic love connections right now – I am content and oh-so-very fulfilled with what I have, and I’m not sure I have that much capacity for another relationship of that kind.

My ideal co-parent, if I wind up with one, would just be a really good friend and someone that wanted to share the adventure of parenting. Someone I could live comfortably with, and someone I have solid communication with, but really not anything more than that. And honestly, this just seems like an all-around easier and more stable arrangement than entangling romance with child-rearing. Like, it’s a stressful enough thing without also throwing romantic and sexual needs onto each other in addition to the demands of parenting. So, even if my current romantic situation changes, I still don’t think that I would want that kind of all-in-one relationship anyway.

More importantly, though, I’ve come to terms with the idea that this is definitely not something I can force. Either I will find a relationship like that, or I won’t. Or maybe I will find something I never even imagined and it’ll work in a completely different way. For now, though, I’m choosing to focus on figuring out what I, as an individual, need to do and the things I need to get set up in my life, to feel ready to be a parent, with or without anyone else’s involvement in a parental role.

The thing is, there are plenty of people in my life who will be able to lend me plenty of kinds of support in this, without taking on a parental role. Any child of mine will unavoidably have an awesome networks of aunts and uncles and sparkles and god(less)parents who care about and for them in all kinds of ways.

And what more could I possibly hope for?