Four days ago, a royal child entered the world in a hospital wing in London. It didn’t take long for bloggers across the pond to start fighting about it.
Here’s that happened: blogger Heina Dadabhoy, who writes for the feminist-minded secularism/atheism blog Skepchick, pointed out on Twitter how Prince George was neither born a boy nor a girl, but rather assigned a sex at birth based on his perceivable genitals.
She is correct, of course. To be clear, the definition of “gender” refers to socially constructed classification, while the definition of “sex” refers to the medical designation based on genitals, hormones, etc. Every baby is typically assigned one out of two categories from the gender binary, regardless of whether as an adult they identify as a “he” or a “she” or both or neither (“agender“) or something else entirely. All of us are given a gender and sex at birth, although our sex identity and gender identity may change throughout our life. Dadabhoy was using the opportunity of George’s birth to encourage people to challenge their assumptions that penis means boy/male/masculinity.
But at the same time, my reaction was … kinda … ‘Come on.’ Wedging this point into the joyous news of a newborn baby’s arrival into the world feels like it goes beyond challenging assumptions, and makes people uncomfortable, to suit a purpose I’m not quite sure is totally useful: “It’s a boy!” “Actually … maybe it isn’t.” Awkward pause. Is that really necessary? For one thing, you’re kind of speaking for the baby in the exact same way you don’t want those doctors to do; while I understand that being assigned a gender straight off the bat is the source of difficulty for non-gender conforming people, but no one, not even baby George, knows whether he is non-gender conforming yet. It’s one thing for an adult or a child to say, “I identify as ___, please call me ___ and use ___ pronouns.” That is their right and you’re a douchebag if you give them shit for it. (Ahem, Gawker, I am looking at you and your xoJane gender neutral pronoun debacle.) Raising skepticism on the gender of a world-famous newborn baby (and presumably every newborn baby) just to make a point? It feels like a knee-jerk “You’re wrong!” reaction.
I imagine that the blogger at STFU, Parents, a blog that mocks parents who behave obnoxiously on social media, felt the same way as I do. She, however, expressed it more glibly in a tweet:
The STFU, Parents tweet linked to a page on Tumblr collecting tweets by people making the same point as Dadabhoy. Here’s just a small screen grab of some of them (but you can link to the full page here):
Now. All these people collectively have a point. (Though I wouldn’t agree that merely assigning a gender equates to “impos[ing] gender roles,” but that’s a much longer conversation.) But I’m still surprised at the way people feel it’s their business to speak on behalf of the baby, by writing things like, “Of course the royal baby might not even have a binary gender.” The truth, people, is that the baby doesn’t even know that yet! The baby is four days old. Can’t we all just let George be a baby for now? All this stuff will be figured out later — not can be, but will be, because all of us, every single one of us, figure out our gender and sexuality issues slowly over the course of our lives.
Gender and sex are tricky conversations to have and STFU, Parents was too dismissive. As the SkepChick blogger Heina Dadabhoy wrote in her post about all this, ”[S]ome of [the tweeters] are trans* and spoke up and out about their pain and struggles. This, apparently, renders them just plain hilarious in the eyes of STFU Parents and its readers.” But upon further thought about all this, both sides are wrong for trying to simplify something that’s just always going to be inherently complicated. (I’ve written about my own struggles to label my sexuality, for example.) Sometimes they feel overly complicated. Do these tweeters think Buckingham Palace is actually going to stand in front of the hospital with the child wrapped in a yellow-and-green blanket and announce, “The child has a penis dangling between its legs! We shall call it George for now! Stay tuned for another announcement in two- to 18-years for a gender!” That’s never in a million years going to happen, nor should it have to happen in order for society to become more accepting of the rich panoply of genders a person can be. I think you can give a baby a name and identify a gender at birth based on what’s perceivable and also allow that child flexibility and fluidity on gender throughout their lifetime.
Ultimately, it’s sad that an occasion which should just be a bit of fluff — a baby! a prince! hurrah! — has caused hurt feelings.
UPDATE: The blogger behind STFU, Parents has weighed in on Twitter in a response to me: “I didn’t comment on it, create the collection, or say another peep about it,” she wrote. “I just like social media patterns and collections of ‘trends.’ Also, several of those tweets were riffing on Monty Python (it was pointed out to me).” Duly noted.
UPDATE: Heina Dadabhoy has always weighed in on Twitter, telling me “To be clear, in my initial tweet, I never took issue with the “It’s a Boy!” announcement, just the misuse of the term “gender” for “assigned sex.”
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[Image of a baby via Shutterstock]