Gender Confusion in Aisle 7


"Um..." a child's voice said over the paging system at the food co-op. "Do we have any pretzels?"

The next sound over the loud speakers was a fumbled click. I smiled, imagining how eager that kid must have been to grab the phone, press the "Page" button and ask a question.

"Pretzels can be found in Aisle 7," an adult voice replied. Then another click.

A few minutes later, reaching for some hummus at the prepared foods case, I stood next to a mom whose nine-year-old child was complaining there were "no frozen pretzels over there."

"You know what?" I asked, addressing the child. "Try paging again, and ask about 'frozen' pretzels this time."

The mom and I exchanged smiles at me as her longhaired darling, wearing a green hoodie, jeans and pink flip-flops headed back to the shoppers' floor phone. I was about to say how adorable her child was, but stopped short of actually sounding out words. I'd almost said, "He...," but didn't really know if her child was a boy or a girl. I couldn't really tell by society's typical markers of hair length, garments or colors.

Maybe I'm more sensitive to gender expression in kids, but I learned raising my own child that shoulder-length hair or pink flip-flops didn't determine whether a child was a girl or a boy. And why should it? What did it really matter, aside from which pronoun to use?

"Your child is adorable," I said.

"Thanks," she replied. Then she scrunched her shoulders. "Loves frozen pretzels for some reason."

I walked away not knowing if her kid was a boy or a girl. Her child was simply an individual, and a cute one at that. I didn't have to worry about getting the pronoun wrong and then apologizing. I'd witnessed that often enough when my offspring Harry was growing up. Harry used to like it when people mistook him* for a girl. And because he had long hair, that would happen whether he was wearing pink shorts, tie-dye and necklaces or his orange hoodie and black converse sneakers.

I wonder why we constantly have to analyze each other - young or old - with "Who, what and why?" Is the way we judge and want to label everything just the norm. I wonder if that's who we really want to be as a society, or can we learn to be more open? I think about how easy it might be for us all to get along if we could see each other as individuals first, with gender coming second.

When it comes to male and female, I think of my son Harry, as a perfect blend. He is both and neither at the same time. He so easily taps into the full spectrum of male and female characteristics that each of us possesses. Maybe he just knows so much more of his inner self that it's hard for him to pick just one gender. I like to imagine a future where we as a society could be as fluid and comfortable with all aspects of ourselves. A girl (or boy) can dream, can't s/he?

Tell me what you think.

*Author's Note: I often examine the personal pronouns I use for Harry. Sometimes when I'm writing I like to use Harry's Facebook pronoun "they." It does represent the perfect gender blend. But he's told me he really has no preference and doesn't care which pronouns I or anyone uses for him. If he ever asks me to use only "they," he and his drag persona Amber Alert would then always be "they."


This piece first appeared on Julie's personal blog, My Son Wears Heels. You can also find her on Facebook.