I received the following message this morning, in response to a post I wrote several months ago, called “Life Transitions: My Son Wants to Wear Dresses”. My reply follows.
First time reader here and I felt the need to comment because I was really digging this post and like [another commenter] said above, the way you were addressing your son’s concerns and his questions.
And then you went off into some very TERF-Y territory by saying “You are a boy, Horus. You are a boy, a male, simply because you have a boy’s body: a penis, testicles, and other male parts. You will never become pregnant, or give birth to a child, but you may one day decide to be a father when you’re much much older.”
You talk so positively about gender and how you approach it in your house and have been raised yourself and yet then go into such a rigid definition of it for your child. We know that our bodies don’t always dictate our genders or our sexuality. THIS IS A FACT. By saying these things to your child are you not making him gender-biased against anyone who identifies as not cisgender (trans* or a* or genderfluid)?
You say you will love him regardless of what he wears and who he loves, and hope that he will always love his body the way it is. What if he doesn’t? What if at some point he didn’t love that body anymore and felt it was a betrayal to who he loves on the inside?
I swear I was right there with you for 80% of this post Y, and then I don’t know… you really lost me.
I think this might be my first and last read of your blog.
Dear First Time Reader,
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It’s interesting to me that you seem to take offence to my pointing out biological facts about my son’s body. He does indeed have a penis and testicles, that will, at some stage in his life (I assume, as all signs point to his body being healthy and functional) produce sperm. My understanding of science is admittedly rudimentary, but he is clearly a male human and as such, he will never become pregnant through sexual intercourse, or give birth spontaneously to a child. How could such a simple observation be contentious?
And I’m really not sure what you mean by “TERF-Y”. I have heard that this is an acronym for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. Who exactly am I “excluding” by observing the material reality of biology? I cannot fathom.
I agree entirely that the body does not always dictate our gender–this is, in essence, the underlying point of my original article: “Gender” is simply a set of social conventions and societal attitudes that inform, suggest, and sometimes even enforce, through subtle and not-so-subtle pressures, notions of masculinity and femininity. “Gender” conventions shift and change from era to era and from place to place–that which is considered masculine at one time or in one culture, may be considered feminine in another. “Gender” and what this means also varies greatly among individuals. There is no metric to measure or quantify “gender”, and every human is “gender-fluid”–incorporating elements of that which is considered masculine and feminine, to some degree or another.
I also agree entirely that our bodies do not dictate our sexuality. I see evidence of increasingly compulsory heterosexuality in our society, and that troubles me. I want my children to be free to love who they love whether they are attracted to people of the opposite sex, or the same sex as they are.
What our bodies *do* dictate, however, is our sex. And sex is significant because it in turn dictates our reproductive capacity. And sadly, it is on the basis of sex roles, and reproductive ability and vulnerability, that females are oppressed and discriminated against in this world in which males hold and enforce so much privilege and often oppression, over females. My view is that sex and gender are distinct, and as I mentioned above, humans are mammals, and almost all humans fall into one of two reproductive biological sex categories: male and female. Of course, there are a small percentage of people on the planet who are intersex, or who are born with genitals or secondary sex characteristics that are very different from the more usual variations among individuals. And that’s fine! But this doesn’t negate basic mammalian reproductive biology, just as those humans who are sometimes born with missing limbs do not negate the rule that generally humans have two arms and two legs. THIS IS FACT.
And no, I am quite sure that by saying these things to my child, I am not “making him biased” towards anyone–no more than teaching children that the world is round, rather than flat, will “make them biased” towards those who believe otherwise. I am actively teaching all my children that every person, whatever their belief system, their religion, their appearance, or their self-described “identity”, deserves kindness, compassion and basic respect.
I will indeed love my child regardless of what he wears and who he loves. I will also love my child regardless of whether or not he loves his own body. Just as my own mother continued to love me when I stopped loving my body; when I felt that my body was a betrayal to who I felt I should be “on the inside”. When I was sure, “on the inside” that I was 98 lbs, and I starved myself in order to attempt to fit that self-concept, my mother continued to love me. (This is not to say that she enabled or encourage my delusions, and thank goodness for that.) When I went through a period of believing that I would truly be happy and fulfilled if only my physical body matched the image I had in my mind of myself as a woman with visible breasts, rather than the totally flat chest I actually possess, and I seriously considered plastic surgery (going so far as to visit a plastic surgeon for a consultation), I know my mother would have continued to love me had I gone ahead with that surgery, although I also know that she would have been devastated (to put it mildly) had I actually paid someone to have my healthy, perfect, functional female body cut open so that bags of silicone could have been sewn into my flesh. That my mother would have found that to be a horrifying ghoulish, macabre form of self-mutilation and self-harm would never negate her love for me, nor would her assessment of those procedures have been a judgement of *me*, but simply an opinion of what those procedures constitute, in and of themselves, from her perspective.
So…What if? What if my son grows up to hate the body that he inhabits, that is himself? I would be sad. I would be very very sad. And I hope that is never the case. But if it is, (and let’s face it, it is for so many people–and I tend to think that the very idea of “gender” has much to do with why) my love for him would remain undiminished, and I would recognize that as an adult, his body is entirely his own, to decorate, and to adorn and modify, and even to harm, as he sees fit.
And you know, I was right there with you, N, for about 10% of your message, but you really lost me there for the majority. So, all the best to you, stranger, and take good care.