For me this spring, sex is in the air.
The sex of babies, that is. Will it be a boy or will it be a girl?
For the second time, my daughter and her husband have chosen not to know the gender of their unborn child. Their first child is a boy.
In the betting pool for the baby’s birthdate and gender, almost everyone has guessed “girl.” I take that as an expression of hope that the little family will contain “one of each,” which is what most Americans want.
A few weeks ago gender was in the news in an unrelated but fascinating way. Musician, writer and lesbian activist Chastity Bono — the only child of Sonny and Cher — released a documentary about becoming “Chaz,” a man. I caught him on “Oprah,” a short, very overweight 42-year-old man who says he is finally happy.
Chaz’ story loops back to my grandchildren because during that same week, I received an e-mail from my son-in-law in Wisconsin with the subject line (names changed): “Julie è Jim.” It turns out that my 23-month-old grandson’s primary babysitter, whom I know as a lesbian and I like very much, has been making the same transition as Chaz Bono.
Jim babysat for my grandson not long after announcing his change in gender, so I asked my daughter, “What did you tell the little guy?”
“Oh, we just told him that Julie has a new name. He learned it. No problem.”
So what is gender anyway and why does it matter?
The women’s movement had a lot to say about this in the 1970s, leaving their imprint on child-rearing for many years. Their dominant message was “there wouldn’t be so many differences between the sexes if we didn’t raise children to be pointedly pink or blue.” Parents were encouraged to buy unisex toys in order to raise girls with more gumption and boys with less swagger.
Out with the guns, in with the blocks.
Although I counted myself a feminist, I never quite believed that toys made the man — or the woman. When I had my children in the 1980s I tried to avoid stereotypes and sexist language, but I continued to believe that gender-specific behavior comes mysteriously from within the child. Although we’re on a continuum, females dominate the characteristics on one end, males on the other.
The genders do indeed differ.
My husband and I were among the lucky parents of two who got one boy and one girl, which gave us data that supported my views. My children had a lot in common, but they were also very different from each other, which remains true today. I love having one of each.
I feel badly saying out loud that I hope my new grandchild will be a girl, but I’d like my daughter to have once of each, too.
My prejudice is supported by a recent study in Britain, announced at bounty.com, where parents of one boy and one girl reported a high level of satisfaction with family life. They came in second, however, to parents of two girls.
Two girls is not an option for my daughter, and two boys is so far from my experience that I have trouble imagining it. I’ve noticed, however, that mothers of boys, especially those living like my daughter in a totally male household (hers includes a husband and a male dog), get to be queen in a way I never did.
In addition, male siblings can be very close, as if competition is diluted in the immediate family. A sibling is sometimes the only safe male for another male, making it an incredibly valuable relationship. I want that for my grandchild, although I also want dolls, ballet slippers and a potholder-making set for me.
I’m as mixed up as Chaz Bono growing up in what he calls the wrong body, except I’ve got the wrong head.
A person with the right head is able to accept people as they are with a full understanding that one of the most essential parts, one’s experience of sex and sexuality, will never be known by outsiders, no matter what the person’s gender is.
“Male or female” is both a superficial piece of data and a profound and mysterious thing. Feminists were correct that gender will color how a person is brought up, but many children — transsexuals like Chaz Bono being an extreme example — will divert from what they were raised to be.
I’ve read that the only fact people recall forever about each other is their gender, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.
I want my new grandchild to be healthy.
Marion Franck is a columnist for the Davis Enterprise. She is a part-time resident of El Dorado County.