Sunday, August 28, 2011

When gender binary is just easier and what can we do about it?

Marley is nearly four.  And like most of my other kids when they were around that age she has a fascination with sorting things.  She takes the shapes out of her pattern block set and piles them up: circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, ovals.  She take food out of her play kitchen and lines it up along the floor: produce, cartons, meat products.  She also has a fascination with taking about body parts: how we poop, can we cut our hair.  Bringing the two together we end up having a lot of discussion about the genitals of various folks.  Marley has a vagina like mom and [naming her brothers and various friends] have a penis.  Like any good three year old this must be followed by "why?". It is in these moments that I long for the days 14 yrs ago when my oldest was this age and I just didn't think about such things because then, the answer was easy. "Why? It is because boys have a penis and girls have a vagina". That's it, end of story.

By Debs (ò‿ó)♪ on Flickr

But we know that isn't it.  First we have to consider the fact that regardless of the fact that they are often conflated gender (boy, girl) and sex (male, female) are NOT THE SAME THING. Gender is a social construct, sex is a biological one - and there isn't just two of either one. I'm not going to go into listing and discussing the various labels that are currently being used because frankly I don't know enough about it, but I do know enough to know that I could easily end up giving out-of-date or offensive information so it's best to just not go there.  For the purposes of my life with my children I am most concerned with marginalizing those with assorted gender variant experiences.

It is difficult though, because brains at this age aren't designed to handle nuance. They feel most comfortable with "the sky is blue" not "the sky is sometimes blue, sometimes purple, sometimes green, and sometimes black. Really it depends on the air quality and diffusion of light through the atmosphere.  I think it might have something to do with the weather patterns too." Most kids stopped listening five words in and are happily skipping off with their answer to the next thing.  And for the simple answer to the simple question of "why?" I've satisfied Marley and myself with "Well some people have a penis and some people have a vagina. And there are a few people who have something a bit different." It is almost short enough to hold her attention and it satisfies my need for honesty.  It also hints at the "more" out there which I think is essential when giving simple answers to ultimately complex questions - because if they don't know there is a "more" then when they are ready for it, they won't know to go looking.  For me, leaving gendering concepts out all-together is easiest at this point.  Later we can talk about how a person's genitals relate to their social experience.

Is this something that you consider when having these discussion with your children?  If you do (or are wondering about it now) how do you incorporate all of our wonderful diversity?

1 comment:

Terri said...

I have the same question from my 3 year old. However if I even hinted at the 'more' I'd get a hundred questions about this and it's a road I'm less than willing to go down for it's complexity!