Friday, January 7, 2011

Pink and Blue: From the Mouths of Babes

So I take care of kids for a living. (This statement is somewhat facetious, as I am lucky enough to have parents that pay for a bunch of my stuff). So not really a living per say, but you could say it is my main trade. Childcare is one of my most accomplished and marketable skills. I have a ton of experience doing it, and have worked as a full-time nanny for the last two summers.

And it makes me twitch when I see the extent to which children are gendered. From their earliest moments, before they are more than wrinkle-faced blobs, kids are subject to adult assumptions of how they should behave based on the gender they are assigned at birth. And these tiny people have ears, and they begin to internalize what you say to them before they can speak themselves. Children are sponges, and this comparison extends far beyond the fact that both things are clingy and often slightly damp. At a very early age, you will find them trying to figure out how gender works in our culture.

One of my frequent charges, who for the purposes of the internet we will call L, is male (as far as I know), five years old, and possesses the largest, roundest, and bluest eyes you've ever seen before. He asked me something very interesting when I was watching him recently. He had been remarking, with a sage and furrowed brow, on the oddness of the fact that I was wearing boxers which were slightly visible above my sweatpants (it was 8 AM, so sue me) and the fact that I had short hair, yet I was referred to as female.

He asked me, "Do you think you're a boy or a girl?"

Now consider the wisdom in that statement, delivered to me from about three feet off the ground and from behind a large gap where two front teeth are missing. Behind that adorable face, the wheels are turning like crazy as he tries to figure out all this gender stuff. He doesn't even know the word "gender"! But- he used the word think. Did I think I was a boy or a girl? How did I feel about the matter? Never mind everybody else, what did I think, personally?

L. wanted to know how I felt about my gender, and that is more courtesy than most adults will give you. I speak broadly and I certainly do not speak for everyone, but I believe the average gender-variant/transgender/genderqueer individual would kill for that kind of consideration from the world at large. I consider myself to be somewhat genderqueer, though generally comfortable with female-oriented labels, and nobody would ever think to ask me this. I was stunned, and in the best possible way.

I managed to steer the question away from myself (as prescient as he is, the concept of genderqueerness is still a little heavy for a first-grader) and instead took the time to talk to him about how we are all allowed to like whatever we like, and how there is no "girl stuff" or "boy stuff" or even really sharp divisions between "girls" and "boys," but instead there is just "stuff," and "people." He took it all in better than any adult to whom I've ever had to explain the gender spectrum.

What I'm saying- "my point, if I had one," as my father would say- is that despite all the binary messages that children get from the world at large, they are sponges. They will listen if you speak! And if you tell them not to worry about boy/girl and pink/blue, then, when they grow up, we might find ourselves with a generation that is easy in their minds, in their bodies, and in their genders- whatever those genders may be.