When a grad-school professor told me I wrote like e e cummings on acid, I knew I was in trouble. In the depths of my despair, instead of pity, my dad offered an acronym: KISS- Keep It Simple Stupid.
In 2017 this does NOT apply to gender expressions. Ze. Zir. Pangender. Genderqueer. MTM. FTM. Androgynous. Trans. Cisgender. Butch. Femme. Butch Femme. Queer. Non-binary. Scratching your head? With a plethora of expressions openly expressed, to think gender is simple is, well, stupid. Despite its complexity, expectant parents have brilliantly appropriated the word and simplified it to mean something it simply does not. Case in point: Gender Reveal Parties!
Recently, I was invited to a gender reveal party where the excited parents shared the future baby’s gender to family and friends by way of a cake that, once cut, exposed either blue or pink batter. The atmosphere of anticipation was quite exciting; except, I kept imagining myself blurting out SEX every time someone gushed about the unborn’s soon-to-be-known GENDER. To avoid the title of party pooper, I bit my lip and lapsed into a conversation in my head with myself. Surely, I thought, they must know XX and XY (or a mosaic of both known as Intersex) are not categories of gender but determinants of sex. Is this party a prediction of how this unborn baby will express culturally constructed ideas about its soon-to-be-revealed sex, thus pre-determining its gender? What if the cake is pink and the baby ends up a purple baby that lives as a both/and or a non- binary ze? Doesn’t this demand a color-free batter? Dare they choose how the unborn baby express its gender without giving it time to emerge from the womb, learn the possible ways to express and then choose without judgment? I took a long swig of wine and relaxed when it dawned on me that these precious parents simply did not know the difference between gender and sex! I smiled and headed for the cake, relieved to know that this was all a huge, colossal misunderstanding of a word that has been hijacked by Pinterest and baby showers.
In “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis,” historian Joan Scott defines gender as “a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and…a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” Gender is not biologically determined, sex is. One is socially constructed, the other organic. Culture defines the meaning of one’s sex, and a baby does not exit the womb knowing gender, race or class or the power relations that extend from these cultural constructs. In the late nineteenth-century philosopher Henry Spencer lamented, “How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.” It’s not a gender reveal party PEOPLE but one that celebrates the sex of the baby! KISS (es)!