My two little guys got their hair cut today, Charlie for the first time. They hated it. No amount of toys or singing would keep them from batting at the lady with her scissors and her comb. Charlie confiscated the comb. The lady gave us an envelop with his little scraps of hair in it.
The Intersex Society of North America (which apparently has disbanded) recommends avoiding infant surgery and picking a gender in which to raise your child, later letting your more grown child make his or her own choices. This rough paraphrase is from memory based on information I’ve learned at the shows of my friend Thea Hillman, whose book Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word was released this month from Manic D Press.
When I first heard these ideas expressed, I fancied myself a gender-radical, formed by the brilliant work of Kate Bornstein and Judith Butler and others who challenged the very notion of a dual-gender system. I was disappointed in the idea of conforming to the dual-gender system, of raising your children in it, especially those whose bodies already seemed to lean away from it.
These days, I spot Judith Butler, her equally brilliant partner Wendy Brown, and their tall son at my local farmer’s market, where I am wheeling a double stroller while Angie feels up the pluots. But I guess what’s changed most is that while I’d still like the world to be a radically different place, I do not want to put my kids on the front line of the revolution. I actually think that imposing my own resistences to gender norms on them would offer no more secure a place from which they might begin to find their own way.
It’s true that as often as I imagine them growing up to be heterosexual men, I imagine them growing up to be gay men, or women of various persuasions. I’m guessing this is a little unusual, but when you’ve met the range of people I know, you’ve heard some nightmarish childhood stories about parents’ painful and limiting assumptions and the struggles to reconcile a budding sense of self with those external directives.
So I’m following ISNA’s advice. I’m picking a gender to raise them within (more or less, in a Berkeley sort of way). I’m aware that this is based on the fact that they have male genitalia. Unlike the experience many parents describe, I do not feel hit over the head with the inate gendering of my little guys. Our baby sitter has an eighteen-month-old daughter who is apparently a spit-fire, and compared with taking care of her, adding in our two boys is easy peasy. They are “mellow” and “follow instructions” and so forth. (Yeah, yeah, their donor must be a zen monk . . .) If the genders of these kids were switched, everyone would be attributing her energy and zeal to the fact that she was a boy, and my little fellows’ relative calm to the fact that they are girls. Instead, these get to be individual qualities, having nothing to do with gender.
Meanwhile, if you are getting tired of What to Expect: The Toddler Years (or if, like me, you can’t find your copy), check out a couple of books all parents should have on hand. Thea’s book Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word has at its core–I think–her relationship with her mother who, surprisingly, diagnosed Thea at a very young age. There is a lot to this little book, and Thea’s characteristic candor etches layers of pictures that might change the way you think about people and the world.
Kate Bornstein has an amazing little book (these are both just small–Kate’s in shape and Thea’s in width–powerful books) called Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.
Also, if you ever get the chance to see Kate’s theater–grab it up. What’s the adjective for “circus-like transcendent magnificence”?
I will say that when Leo got his first haircut, I cried. There is something shocking about your larval little primate (mixed metaphor, I know, but right in this instance) emerging from the chrysalis of your own body and encountering . . . this world. This unchanged world, which is suddenly both gorgeous and dangerous, fatally flawed and dazzlingly alive. Unrevolutionized, but evolving. Leo held onto a little red metal train car during that earlier haircut, clutching it in his baby hand, and he loved that little train. About a block after we left the store, I realized it was still clutched in his hand. I knew it wasn’t radical or even right, but I let him keep it.