I’m having a boy.
When I found out I was about 12 weeks pregnant. As soon as I heard the news, I was giddy. I was stupid, can’t-smack-that-smile-off-my-face happy. I was more happy than when I found out I was pregnant. I could barely think straight. I left my office and paced the sidewalks outside, thinking a boy, a boy, oh my freaking gosh, a boy.
It actually had nothing to do with his gender. I felt pure joy just because. Because the little sea monkey in my belly suddenly had a gender, and with it an identity. A gender made him a person in my mind. It made me a mother in a way simply being pregnant hadn’t.
So, yeah. A boy. Not long after I learned of his gender, I began to think about all the things that exist in a boy’s world: circumcision, peeing standing up, hiding gross things in pockets, farting, etc. Then my mind shot ahead to a teenage boy’s world: penis, penis, penis, etc. His life path would be unique to his experience as a boy-man – an experience completely foreign to me and not just a little bit scary.
Riding this mental wave, I thought of all the shitty boys I’ve ever known, and all the shitty things I’ve ever witnessed boys do, and all the shitty things boys have said (to me). It got me real nervous about having a boy. I mean, there are a lot of boys (and men) out there doing shitty things.
I am mystified by the world of boy. I’ve spent my life tip-toeing in, making surprise entrances, or allowing myself to be seduced into the world of boy. I’m fine hanging out there but I don’t want to stay there for very long. Don’t get me wrong, I adore boys, but I can’t pretend to get them. And sometimes (and I know I’m not alone when I say this) I just don’t feel safe around them.
It got me thinking, if I could avoid gendering my child, I may be able to raise the kind of man I do feel safe around – the kind of man who is respectful of women and not afraid to call himself a feminist. The kind of man who doesn’t exist solely in boy world, but glides between genders with aplomb. Like Prince.
So, I let my family know I would not dress my baby in overtly boyish clothes. No footballs, no soccer balls, and nothing that says “All Star.” He will have an array of toys to choose from. Sure, he can have cars and trucks, but he will also have dolls and kitchenware to play with.
On these things I am still firm. Yet, since telling my family all about this gender neutralish fantasy I hoped to raise my kid in, I realized a gender-neutral world does not guarantee he will grow up to be a good man who wields his powers to help others.
Does giving him a doll to play with make him more sensitive? Maybe, but maybe not. His life experience will be defined by his gender (whether he identifies with it or not). For sure. But when I think of all the good men out there – and I have been blessed to know a few really good ones – I realize that raising a good man goes beyond gender.
I think it boils down to this: compassion, empathy, and vulnerability.
Embracing these three qualities is not reserved for one gender or another. These are things I would aim to instill in my child, girl or boy. The traits I admire in a man are the same things I admire in a woman. The people I look up to most in the world show strength of character, the ability to show kindness to a stranger, and the confidence to own their flaws while taking healthy risks.
I think raising a good man is really raising a good person. Because good people don’t objectify others. They don’t want to hurt, dominate, or belittle others. Good people see strength in differences and seek unification instead of opposition. Good people stand up for what is right in the world and become a part of the solution. Good people is what I hope our son becomes.
While I still intend to raise him in a somewhat gender neutral world, I don’t think this is what will make him a good person. It may help. But I think the most powerful thing I can do for him is lead by example and be the kind of good person I hope he becomes.