Is it a Boy or a Girl?

That’s the first question people ask about a newborn baby. It’s what determines nursery themes and the attendant comments of well-wishers.

She’s got her mama’s good looks; you better be careful! (Insert jocular ribbing.)

Get a football in that kid’s hands. He’s a big one!

These are obvious gender-stereotypical comments, especially when made in reference to a newborn. But what about the more insidious stuff? What about all those memes about women shopping to relieve stress and men acting like just another child for a woman to take care of? It’s like an extension of the “boy or girl” question. We act like every behavior hinges on gender.

The memes are funny. I know I’ve laughed at them, but as they’ve gotten more pervasive, I’ve started to get an ominous feeling. It’s like we’re extracting ourselves from our old stereotypical gender roles and building ourselves new ones.

Instead of the “yes dear” housewife, we have the eternally exhausted shrew who does all the household work, complains about it and continues to enable her family by doing everything for them. Instead of “Father Knows Best,” we have the idiot husband who is oblivious to everything that goes on around him and, despite living an adult life, is helpless to fix his kids’ hair. It’s not a flattering picture for anyone.

These dichotomies do exist. It’s why all the memes are so funny to us in the first place. But as time goes on and the memes become more pervasive, we as a society start to assume everyone is just like that and has no nuance or depth to them. And then, we start to fit ourselves into those roles, or we feel weird that we’re not like everyone else.

We humans seem to be good at extremes. A person can be a boy or a girl. Men can have all the power and women can have none, or women can be smart and men can be stupid. Middle ground, people. It exists in many of my day-to-day interactions with friends and neighbors but not so much in advertising or on the internet. It’s like we can be nice to each other, but we can’t acknowledge it.

Ultimately, I’d like for the world to get to a place where “boy or girl” isn’t foremost in our minds, whether we’re talking kids or adults. Yes, gender differences exist, but they are not as concrete as we treat them. Gender is more of a continuum than a set of diametrical opposites, and we are all so much more than the set of behaviors and traits society assigns us according to gender.

What if kids’ clothing stores didn’t have “boys” and “girls”? What if they had a pants section, a dress section, a shirt section, so kids could choose what they like without feeling constrained by their biological gender? Adults clothes are trickier because our shapes vary more, but I could work with something like a “shirts for people with boobs” section. This isn’t just semantics; There are people with boobs who don’t identify as female.

I know it may take us several generations to get there, but I hope we evolve into a society that asks what a person is like, what a person can do, and gender becomes more of a sidenote. I’m pulling for it — true person-first thinking. Then, we could all stop bickering about who is better and who should wear pink and get to work on the world’s bigger problems.

LGBTQ – Get Comfortable

30358074 - happy gay couple watching sunset on the beachI’ve got something to say, and I’m kind of angry about it, so, warning: this is a bit of a rant. Recently, I have had several interactions with folks who are somewhere between uncomfortable and blatantly judgmental about people who are LGBTQ, and I’m about all done being nice about it. One person told me they were “not ready” to talk to their children about gay marriage, though their children had asked about it. Well, honey, you better get ready, because LGBTQ people aren’t going anywhere, and they and I are sick as hell of them being denied basic rights because of whom they have romantic relationships with or their gender identity – sick of being treated as less than, as something you have to “have a talk about” with your kids.

I know a lot of people in my community are not so much prejudiced (though there are those) but simply uncomfortable with people who are gay or trans, and there is nothing wrong with that. If it’s not something you’ve been exposed to in your life, discomfort is understandable; I was once a little uncomfortable myself. But, your job is to work at getting comfortable: read, learn, talk to people who are LGBTQ.

Our neighborhood consists mostly of cisgender, white, straight people in two-parent families with kids. Most people in our community chose to live out here to be by the lake, to have access to hiking trails and to send our kids to quality schools. We didn’t move out here (or at least I HOPE no one did) to avoid diversity. In fact, I moved out here despite the lack of it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find more variety in people than I initially thought I would. There are people here of many different nationalities, abilities, ages, cultures, religions and yes, sexual orientations.

Statistically speaking, some of you have children who are gay, though you may not yet know it. If you ignore the fact that gay and transgender people exist, how is your child going to feel? Even if you never say anything blatantly prejudiced, they will know it makes you uncomfortable. Wouldn’t you rather your child know that, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity, you love and accept them and think they’re great? Wouldn’t you rather them be exposed to same sex couples in the community, so they can see that as a normal, valid path? So, when your child asks, “are they married?” of a same sex couple (assuming you know they are) say, “yes they are.” And that’s it. No long-winded explanation needed. Your kids may or may not ask questions at this point. If so, answer them as honestly and simply as you can. Trust me, they’re more open-minded than us adults. And it’s okay if you bungle it up a bit. The fact that you’re trying is the point.

Perhaps you have some guilt, as I have, over your privileged position in society. I long felt queasy about how easy my life was, being white and straight, until I listened to an interviewer ask a person in a social minority group, “What can we, as people of privilege, do to help?” And the response was, “use it.” Use your privilege. Advocate for those who need it – in this case, the LGBTQ community. Don’t feel guilty; feel empowered. You don’t necessarily have to march on the Capitol; just talk with your friends about it when the subject comes up. Or maybe just stop ignoring the lesbian couple at the pool or the girl in your child’s class with two dads. All of that takes steps towards normalizing homosexuality, which is a good thing, because, duh, it IS normal. Use your privileged power for good.

Look, if you’ll just take the time to admit you’re uncomfortable, and then go about fixing that, you’ll find out that people who are gay or trans are not that different from you. They worry about their kids, they take care of their families, they work, play, laugh and cry, same as you do. A funny thing happens when you get comfortable with other people; you also feel better and more accepting about yourself. Do it for you and for your kids. It’s high time we people of the world rise up together and discover we are better than all of this discrimination nonsense.

You’ll notice several terms in this post are clickable, so you can discover their definitions. Even if they are words you already know, reading the definitions can be enlightening. Knowing the terminology that pertains to LGBTQ people and other minority groups is one tiny positive step towards understanding. What will your next one be?

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