Most people don’t even realize that the violence experienced by trans and gender-variant people begins as early as the moment that someone becomes aware they are pregnant. From the hopes and desires of our future parents, to gender reveal parties and baby showers, and even throughout our childhood, our lives are often decided for us without consideration for our dreams and desires. Oftentimes, before we are even born, we are treated much more like objects whose function is to provide parental satisfaction and to further perpetuate the outdated and stereotypical notion of a heteronormative nuclear family structure. Future parents will often develop these grandiose ideas about raising their children into their own image, and will often impose their own ideologies, desires, and stereotypes on their children based on nothing more than the very limited results of an ultrasound, their desires as parents, and their assumptions about their child’s gender.
This violence continues through to our birth and also into our childhood. For example, a doctor took one look at me in the hospital and decided that it was appropriate to assign me a gender identity based on nothing more than the appearance of my genitals 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. The reality is that most people don’t consider this an act of violence, especially because assigning a gender to a child at birth has become such an integral aspect in our culture. It’s supposedly seen as a way to know how we should celebrate and prepare for the child’s arrival, and to possibly know who that child will become, but in the process we are removing our children’s self-discovery.
A phrase that I repeat often within conversations is that gender can be both a galaxy and a prison. As children we often know very little about gender, and our potential for self-discovery and growth is as limitless and expansive as the cosmos. However, the moment that we assign a gender to a child at birth we are imprisoning them in a concrete and immovable set of expectations and stereotypes. Perhaps the child has been assigned male at birth? From this imposed identity there will be parents who develop ideas about raising their child to become a doctor, engineer, or STEM professional. Or perhaps the child is assigned female at birth? From this imposed identity there will be parents who develop ideas about the beauty and innocence of their child, and also their capacity to bear children and nurture a family in the future. There is an inherent assumption about the desires, interests and behaviors of that child that comes from this imposed identity.
These assumptions are reinforced in the various ways that parents raise their children. It can be seen in the clothes that 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. For example, if you were assigned male at birth, then parents will be much more likely to enroll you in sports and hands-on activities, whereas a child assigned female at birth will often have less access to those activities due to their parents assumptions about what it means to be a delicate little girl. Another example is the fact that our society associates certain toys and activities with specific gender identities. For example, action figures, toy cars and sports are more often associated with little boys, whereas dresses, dolls, tea sets and nurturing activities such as childcare with little girls. Doesn’t that sound limited and absurd? Why can’t any child enjoy dolls and action figures, toy cars and dresses, sports and tea sets, and why is it expected for girls to be nurturing and prepare for parenthood later in life? Why do we have to imprison our children within a binary framework and limit their potential for self-exploration and their opportunity for discovery and growth?
This whole process of assigning a gender to our children at birth echoes throughout their entire lives and also throughout our society as a whole. Gender, as a social construct, is something that we learn. By assigning a gender to children at birth we are perpetuating the same social issues that exist in our society due to limited and toxic gender ideologies. The largest issue that I see with this is that the dichotomy of male and female, as a very 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 in our society. Issues like toxic masculinity and the false assumption that femininity is somehow subordinate to masculinity are things that we learn from birth, all because our parents and society as a whole failed to mention that we are limitless. Indeed, our experiences are more diverse and beautiful than could ever be described by an imprisoning and limited dichotomy.