One Monday morning, I drove Tim into work, so that I could pick him up after work and we would go somewhere together as a family. (To play Bridge like little old people, but that’s besides the point.) He asked me if I wanted to bring Sylvie in to be shown off to his coworkers. Since I have a couple of friends among them, I said sure.
Sylvie was wearing her blue footie outfit, and I did not bring the sling for this supposed-to-be-quick errand.
First, I visit my friend Matt. (Hi, Matt!) He knows that Baby Rocketship turned out to be female, and I jokingly point out that Sylvie is wearing blue. “Oh noes!” he said sarcastically. “She’ll grow up and be… butch or something, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes and made it clear that he thought that the color my daughter wore had very little bearing on much of anything. When another acquaintance of mine walked up and we began talking Doctor Who spoilers, Matt stuck his fingers in his ears and ran away saying “La la la!”
Then, another coworker walked by. He was carrying two dinners to the kitchen, one of which was intended for us, and the other for the other new baby in the office. We chatted for a while and he asked the typical polite new parent questions (how are you sleeping? etc.), and then asked, “What’s his name again?”
“Her, actually,” I said, flustered. “We got tired of all the pink, so my friend sent us this blue outfit. I rather like it. Sylvia, by the way, is her name. I mean, it shouldn’t matter. I mean, I wear blue all the time.”
“Yeah, but you have long hair,” said this coworker. “She doesn’t have long hair yet, that’s why I got confused!”
That’s a simplified version of the conversation. In reality, we talked over each other a bit as each of us navigated our own defensiveness and tried to justify our positions. But that’s what it came down to — he wanted symbols to tell him how to identify the gender of our daughter, we resisted the ultimate arbitrariness of those symbols, and he was mistaken. He was defensive as a result.
I wish I had handled this situation differently. I wish I had had something to say that taught a lesson about identity politics, how it’s important not to label people, how it is important to let people self identify. But it’s hard, at least in part, because I don’t have much of a stake in this. It isn’t personal — it’s a thought experiment.
But in other ways, this is practice for letting Sylvie make her own decisions. I’m the one making the decisions that take her against the norm, but I’m navigating them for her — and I’ll be sheltering her in the future from some (though not all) of the consequences of her decisions. I want to let her express herself and her identity however she would like, and to grow confident in it, before others tell her that she’s ruining their categories. If she chooses to wear plaid and polka dots together, I’ll be the one that cheers her on and then tells anyone who gives her the stink eye that she’s a visionary.
- Blue PANIC! My baby girl wears blue. (practicingempathy.wordpress.com)