Sex, Gender, and Not Knowing
Oscar photographed me this week in front of a friend’s house with umbrellas to keep out the rain that has been steadily pouring on Anchorage for the past 2 weeks. Using both the pink and the blue umbrellas was Oscar’s idea to signify not knowing our baby’s sex and not needing to for now. (This is just what we felt like doing; I don’t think it’s better than finding out. We’re going to find out when baby joins us on the outside. In the meanwhile, it’s a fun mystery, and we remind each other to use the trans pronoun “yo” to talk about baby, but more often just say “baby.”)
I have noticed, since becoming pregnant and talking about it, that the first question most people ask me is, “Do you know what you’re having?” or “Are you going to find out the baby’s gender?”
[Side note, because I keep hearing this, especially on pregnancy websites and forms and surveys: Gender and sex are not the same thing. An ultrasound can see a penis or a vagina, and certain blood tests can see XX or XY chromosomes, meaning that they can detect biological sex. And yeah, I know, sex isn't totally simple and binary either because there are intersex people and sex characteristics don't all fall out neatly, because women can be hairy and men can have gynecomastia (breast tissue), etc., but the simple things that an ultrasound can pick up tell you sex, not gender. As the World Health Organization explains it:
"Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
"Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women]
So, where were we? I’ve noticed that people often begin the conversation with sex and/or gender. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it strikes me that we are very focused on sex and gender in our culture (an interesting illustration of this is that a friend of mine was given simply an ultrasound photo of her baby’s penis at week 20, as though that were the primary and most important thing). It also strikes me that there are other things we could say to begin conversations with a woman about her pregnancy, perhaps. “How are you feeling?” is a nice one that some people ask. I always want to know about who someone’s care provider is or if they are getting midwifery care, if they are getting the kind of prenatal care and birth planning they feel comfortable with, etc., but this can be an awkward conversation to begin as well, and is not always appropriate.
What kinds of questions do you think are appropriate? Interesting? Affirming?
What kinds of questions did you want to be asked when you were pregnant or when your partner was pregnant?