As a first time parent-to-be, pretty much everything about the becoming a parent process is new and bizarre to me. Sure, I have sisters who have had children, and a couple of friends have gone the same way. However, things are so very different from the outside looking in!
Take, for example, the question I have chosen for the title of my post: “what are you having?”. Isn’t this just the most odd question to ask someone? I mean, pretend for a moment that you don’t already know exactly what the question behind the question is, and revel in the brain-frying incomprehension of what the bejeezus this person is asking.
“What are you having?”. A baby. Maybe more than one baby (not in my case; or, to be more exact, the mother of my child’s case) but unless we’ve been subject to some kind of secret Government human-animal hybrid experimentation, another member of the distinguished species of homo sapiens currently resides quite happily in the womb of my beloved. A bit too happily actually, baby is now a week overdue.
Of course, the question behind the question is “what is the sex of your child?”, and it is, apparently, both fundamental and ubiquitous. After all, people need to know what kind of card to buy. And some people will want to buy presents; how are they supposed to do that without knowing whether baby has the pink or the blue chromosome? Sure, people could give a pink gift to a boy or a blue gift to a girl, or indeed branch out a little to something that is neither pink or blue, but then the poor thing will grow up to… to…
To what, exactly? Most people leave the consequences of not sticking to a strict application of blue-boy, pink-girl unspoken, hanging in the air with all the sinister presence of a fart no one wants to admit to passing because it might just qualify as a terrorist attack. Confused seems to be the best consensus I can find for the fate that awaits the child of parents who engage in sex-colour-transgression (see the comments to this article about a boy raised without gender stereotypes for a fairly typical example of this kind of discussion).
This is clearly a powerful social need, and one that has driven the creation of creative ways of announcing the sex of one’s baby. For your viewing pleasure, here are “six awesome baby gender reveals on Youtube”. Please do comment with your immediate reactions to each!
Now, I love, love, love the creativity that has been expressed in all of these ideas, and the emotional responses are a joy to behold. The energy needed to go to this effort, in particular of having a doctor find out the sex of your child and then arrange for a baker to bake a cake with an appropriately coloured sponge, speaks of the expression of a powerful social need. Maybe I could spin that as society’s need to make the individual conform to social norms. Or more cynically as a baseline business need to create an essential difference that can then be monetised for profit.
Instead, I suspect that the answer lies in that vague consensus that the child who is not initiated into the world with sex-appropriate symbols will grow up to be confused. And after all, what fate could be worse in a culture that itself suffers a crisis of identity. Wouldn’t it just be kind of comforting to know that if I have a boy/girl and dress him/her in blue/pink and buy him/her sex-appropriate toys and encourage sex-appropriate behaviour, that he/she would grow up to know exactly who he/she is and not suffer that most post-modern of existential crises, confusion?
In my opinion, confusion is an essential and fertile transition period between certainties, and is better embraced than resisted. It is the resisting of being confused that causes suffering, rather than confusion itself which is really a giddy kind of freefall. In so far as I can anticipate what I will actually be like once the little one is a squealing bundle of immediate reality, I intend to allow my child to unfold. Hopefully with a good enough balance between not enforcing rigid social norms concerning sex and gender, and not putting up an over-protective wall between the reality of the existence of those norms and my child.
After all, the little one is going to do what it wants anyway, right?