Most people don’t even realize that the violence experienced by trans and gender-variant people begins as early as the moment someone becomes aware of our existence. From the hopes and desires of parents, to gender reveal parties and baby showers, our lives are decided for us without any consideration for our own desires. Often before we are even born we are treated more as objects whose function is to provide familial satisfaction – to feed into the limited and stereotypical heteronormative nuclear family – and to fulfill the wants, dreams, and aspirations of our parents and those who raise us. People develop these grand ideas about raising their children, and often impose their own ideologies, desires, and stereotypes on their children based on nothing more than the results of an ultrasound, their desires as parents, and their assumptions about their child’s gender.
This violence continues through to our birth, and as I mentioned in a previous article, a doctor took one look at me in the hospital and decided that it was appropriate to coercively assign me an identity before I could even comprehend what that would mean for me in the future. In that moment, as a vulnerable and unaware infant, I was dependent on others to make decisions for me. I never could have imagined that someone would make the decision to imprison me with a label meant to regulate how I traverse the world. Most wouldn’t consider this an act of violence, especially because assigning a gender to children at birth has become such a central aspect within our culture; a supposed way to know how we should celebrate and prepare for the child’s arrival, but is our society not aware that we are removing our children’s self-determination?
A phrase that I repeat often within conversation is that gender is both a galaxy and a prison. As infants, we know nothing about gender and our potential for self-discovery is as limitless and expansive as the cosmos. However, the moment we assign a gender to a child at birth, we immediately imprison them within a concrete and immovable set of expectations and stereotypes. Perhaps the child has been assigned male at birth? From this imposed identity parents might develop ideas about raising the child to become a doctor, engineer, or similar STEM related professional. Or perhaps the child is assigned female at birth, and the parents develop these ideas about the supposed beauty of their child and their capacity to bear children and nurture a family in the future. In other words, there is an inherent assumption about the activities, desires, interests and behaviors of that child that comes directly from this imposed gender identity.
These assumptions are reinforced in the various ways parents raise their children. It can be seen in the clothes they choose for their child, or the toys and entertainment they provide the child, and even right down to the basic treatment and care of the child. In essence, if you were assigned male at birth, then parents are far more likely to enroll you in sports and hands-on activities, whereas a child assigned female at birth might have less access to those activities due to their parents assumptions about what it means to be a little girl. Another example of this is the fact that our society associates action figures and toy cars with little boys, and dresses, dolls, and tea sets with little girls. Doesn’t that sound absurd? Why can’t any child enjoy dolls and action figures, toy cars and dresses, sports and tea sets? Why do we have to imprison children within a binary framework and limit their potential for self-exploration; their opportunity for discovery and growth?
This whole process of assigning a gender to our children at birth echoes throughout their entire lives and throughout our society as a whole. Gender, as a social construct, is something that we learn, and the issue is that the dichotomy of male and female as a limited binary framework is so embedded in our societal imagination that we often can’t see past our own assumptions about gender in order to give our children the freedom to discover who they are on their own terms. This creates a perpetual issue where harmful stereotypes about gender are further embedded and supported within our society. Issues like toxic masculinity and the assumption that the feminine is always subordinate to the masculine are things that we learn from birth, all because our parents and society as a whole failed to mention that we are limitless, and that our experiences are more diverse and beautiful than could ever be described by an imprisoning and rigid dichotomy.