The Body Electric: Oh, Baby Binary!

Thomas Page McBee
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The Baby Gender Mentor (I kid you not)  was in the news this past June when six moms sued its maker after its apparent lack of accuracy in predicting the sex (more on that in a minute) of their babies. The New York Daily News reported that one of the women felt her marriage ended because the Baby Gender Mentor predicted she would give birth to a girl, and her husband wanted a boy. To that little disturbing nugget of sexism, I say: WTF? But on a deeper level, I think it's worth examining the obsession over gendering babies in the first place.

The difference between  sex and gender is relatively simple, linguistically--but the implications for keeping that difference in mind are far reaching. Sex is a term of biological categorization based on physicality (the imperfect but purely physical binary of male/female, which doesn't actually encompass the intersex population). Gender is the behaviors, attributes, and other social material assigned--in a reductionist model--as masculine or feminine. For many people--trans or otherwise--gender and birth sex are not closely entwined, if they are related at all. So why do people keep insisting on gendering their babies before they've even met them?

In a developmental psych class I took a few years ago, a professor shared that he'd read a study that found that most people hold baby girls facing inwards and baby boys facing outwards. That's pretty scary stuff. Beyond the obvious ways that "boys" and "girls" are treated differently, how does removing a child's ability to gender themself take away an important aspect of their emotional development?

It seems to me that gender is a deeply personal, incredibly spiritual dimension of one's personality. It also seems to me that I don't know a single person who I can say experiences zero cognitive dissonance when it comes to gender expectations around their birth sex. For trans-born babies (and that includes all of us who fall under the umbrella of transgressively gendered), the gendering that takes place at birth can take years to untangle.

And regarding people who eventually do end up identifying more on the end of the gender binary that matches their birth sex: I can't figure out how pink or blue nurseries and baby clothes--or the expectations of the parents that insist on them--serves those folks in the long run, either.  


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1 Comment Has Been Posted

Boo on the Binary!

As someone who has had the accident of enjoying 90% of the behaviors and expectations associated with my sex and assigned gender, I agree! The gender binary serves no one. Unearned and arbitrary privilege generally speaking makes people less smart, less resourceful, and less compassionate. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I think receiving constant validation from society on how you present your gender can be crippling in a way -- with the constant crutch of outside validation, you may never learn to self-validate based on your core value as a person.

Not to pull the "oh poor privileged me," I am fully aware that philosphizing about the drawbacks of gender privilege is a luxury that trans-bodied are not afforded, and that I am not in the same physical danger as those who are obviously transgressively gendered. But for reals, the gender binary is bad for us all. Thanks Page, for another insightful post.

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