I Had Gender Disappointment: It Didn’t Last Forever
A Personal Story From (nsfmg) Founder Alexis Barad-Cutler
My kids ask me every once in a while to tell me about the day they were born, and what I was thinking they “would be” before I saw them each for the first time. (We had chosen not to know their assigned sexes for both pregnancies.) I told my youngest that I was sure he was a girl up until the moment the doctor held him above the blue partition during my Cesarean. The truth is, I had gender disappointment when I first laid eyes on him. I had been hoping for a girl.
Why did I feel so sad when I first learned I had given birth to another boy? I was pretty sure we would be done having kids after having two. Our goal for our family had been the cliche “one of each”, as ridiculous as that sounds to me now. I loved being a “boy” mom to our son Julien and I was excited for a completely different experience. When my husband helped lay my second-born on my chest, moments after he emerged from my belly, my initial thought was something like — “But I already have a Julien.” (I don’t tell my boys this part of the story, of course.)
You Could Be “Wrong Either Way”:
The most recent time the kids asked about their birth stories was just last weekend, after a day at our cousin’s pool. I told them the same story I usually tell them: How I had thought Julien was a boy, and he ended up being born with boy parts.
“And you were right, because he feels like a boy, too.” my youngest said. I nodded. “But when I was born, you would have guessed wrong either way because I’m non-binary.”
My son (now six) started to truly grasp an understanding of gender this year (we’ve been reading books and talking about gender identity since he was three); and when he learned what non-binary was, something clicked for him. This is the identity he claims: “Sometimes I feel like a boy, and sometimes I feel like a girl.” If you ask him if he’s a boy, most of the time he says yes. When he’s feeling comfortable, he’ll explain what he really feels.
The One Thing You Can Be Certain Of:
When my youngest son was born, I thought his sex meant I would never get to take a kid to ballet class, or play with dolls, or get to put my kid in a dress. My son, however, turned all of my expectations around being a “boy mom” on their head. He’s the only boy in a sea of tutus (surprising, since we live in Brooklyn), and covets any doll with big eyes, pouty lips or other qualities that reinforce everything I hate about the patriarchy.
This is not to put a Pink Frilly Bow on things (or frighten you, depending on your beliefs) and tell you that your hoped-for girl who is born with a penis will be a gender fluid kid that likes to play “makeover” with you. It’s just to say, YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING about your kid the day they are born except that they’re finally, amazingly, against all odds, HERE.
Gender Disappointment is Real:
We can still be disappointed — fuck, why not? Gender disappointment is a very real, and common thing. And as we have read in the conversations we’ve had on @notsafeformomgroup it’s not only about a desire to dress a baby in certain colors and accessories. It is about narratives that we create about our future families and the kinds of experiences we hope to have as parents.
You don’t know anything about your kid the day they are born except that they’re finally, amazingly, against all odds, HERE.
These narratives are informed by our own upbringings (including past trauma), our observations of families, societal expectations, and what gender means to us. And the disappointment often has much less to do with our baby themself, than with our own preconceived ideas and beliefs about an imagined version of them.
Some Further Reading About Gender Disappointment:
- Sad about having a boy not a girl? Your distress might be real but ‘gender disappointment’ is no mental illness