Trigger warning: The following contains references to PIV sex, gender, patriarchy, and cishets.
As a straight, white, cisgender male, I don’t face the challenges that many women, minorities, or genderqueer do on a daily basis. My life is easy. I benefit from a patriarchal system that lends power and privilege to individuals with my characteristics. While I didn’t ask for it, it is my duty to own it. I want to preface this article by acknowledging my privilege, and apologizing beforehand if I step out of line, or any of the following causes offense.
Despite my privilege, even I am faced with challenges. While my challenges do not hold a candle to say, my partner Gwendalin’s (though we are lawfully married, we prefer not to use the traditional identifiers of “man” or “wife,” as they carry connotations of patriarchal ownership and rape culture) even the most underprivileged in our societal system, who are victims of white corporate oppression, may sympathize. I’m speaking, of course, about the disappointment of raising a child who subscribes to the traditional gender binary.
Gwen and I, despite our best efforts, are currently the parents of a cisgendered son.
A Night to Remember
Firstly, I should note that Gwen and I did not plan on having children. We have always been careful, and have regularly used the birth control she fought so hard to keep the Christian Right from taking away. Despite all the precaution, mistakes can happen, and one night it did happen to us.
It started innocently enough. The local university was holding seminars about the gender wage gap, and Gwendalin was a guest speaker. Her feminine wisdom is beyond my comprehension. Naturally, I attended, not only to support my partner, but to learn. As the beneficiary of a system that has institutionalized sexism and racism, it is important that the males take every opportunity to educate themselves on the privileges they enjoy at the expense of others. What better way to check that privilege than by sitting down, shutting up, and submitting yourself to the knowledge of the women closest to you?
Watching this raw display of feminine personhood on that stage, however, began to awaken dangerous desires within me. I began to have the problematic feeling of ownership one has in sexually active relationships. I felt ashamed. Here Gwen was, educating future world citizens about a very prominent and real example of a systematic oppression of women, and here I was perpetuating rape culture by being sexually turned on by my partner.
It didn’t subside, either. Once we got home that night, I couldn’t help myself, and I approached her as respectfully as I was able in my weakened state. “May I kiss you?” I asked her. She looked at me in silence for moment, considering whether to give me permission. “Yes,” she finally said, and awaited me to approach her. Our lips met, and I could tell the night was going to be one to remember.
A Hope for Change
I’ll spare you the details, but that night there seemed to be no limits. I was overcome with a tidal wave of uninfluenced consent that celebrated and revered Gwen’s independent sexuality.
It wasn’t until some time later that we found out our consensual trist had gotten Gwen pregnant. I felt guilty. She had allowed me to participate in one of the most private and powerful aspects of her womanhood, and I had punished her for it with a child.
When we solemnly broke the news to our friends, they were sympathetic and caring. That night, the men sat quietly as the women discussed what Gwen was to do with the baby. Abortion was the logical choice, and it seemed they were at a consensus until Gwen’s gender studies professor friend arrived.
“Things won’t change until we create change.” she said. “Perhaps this child will be the first of many steps to making this world a more progressive, feminine place.”
The idea was simple. We were to raise the child in a gender-fluid, feminist environment. Xe would benefit from no privilege, and would live outside of the systematic controls placed on xer by society. Gwen loved the idea, and decided to bring the fetus to term. I was scared, but I trusted Gwen’s wisdom and power.
For months, we prepared for the baby’s arrival. We decided to give xer the name Pat, as we had yet to know what gender xe would decide on, and that would keep the option of Patrick or Patricia open to xer. We stocked bookshelves with bedtime stories like “My Princess Boy,” “Buddha at Bedtime,” and “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Somewhere between the organic diapers and the Liz Warren onesie, I started to feel excited, like a Progressive pioneer setting out to change the world as we knew it. Finally, I was effecting positive change in the world with something more substantial than a hashtag.
Another Opportunity to Triumph
When we found out later during an ultrasound that Pat was male-bodied, we were crushed. We had so badly wanted to have a girl. It wasn’t until our feminist professor friend reminded us that society was more likely to listen to a male-bodied person that we saw this misfortune as an opportunity. The universe knew what it was doing, and Pat was being equipped with the necessary tools to spread the message far and wide. While we were faced with the hurdle of teaching Pat not to fall into the trap of systematic patriarchy, our success in shaping him successfully would be that much sweeter.
When Pat was born, friends and family (at least members of the family who didn’t practice problematic traditions) welcomed him to the world with love. Pat heralded the arrival of a new era, not just for Gwen and me, but for the world. Things, I thought, would really begin to change now.
As Pat grew, we dressed xer in pink dresses. The toy room was littered gender-neutral toys (and some feminine ones for good measure) we would use to teach and play. It was an amazing time for all of us. Under Gwen’s direction, both Pat and I learned daily about not only the world, but ourselves. We were so careful not to allow any masculine influence into Pat’s life, and I thought we had done well, but, as when we were careful before, it wasn’t enough.
Unintended Consequences Yet Again
When Pat was two, we brought him to a friend’s house where she, a single mother who participated in in-vitro, had given birth to a young girl around the same time as Gwen. She was raising her child in much the same manner as we were raising ours, and it seemed only natural to put the two together, although Gwen and I were wary of the toys our friend had bought for her daughter—a toy workbench complete with power tools, little bulldozers and trucks, and sports balls of all kind. We decided, against better judgement, to allow Pat to participate in activities that encouraged our friend’s daughter to break from societal norms.
Things were going smoothly until Pat’s eyes locked onto the hammer at the toy workbench. Quietly, I watched as he left the company of the little girl where they had been playing with a soccer ball (due to the high number of homosexuals who play and enjoy soccer, we felt this was safe) and hobbled over to the workbench. Before I could put my wine down and leap across the room to stop him, he had picked up the hammer and was banging it onto a toy nail.
In that moment, Gwen and I watched as all our work began to slip away. “No!” I said, as I yanked the hammer out of his little hand. Pat looked at me, very confused, both of us unable to articulate just how awful what he did was. “Look!” I said, handing him an African-American doctor Barbie doll. He took it eagerly, and we all breathed with a sigh of relief. I walked away, confident that I had averted a crisis…until Gwen and our friend gave a terrified squeal.
I heard it before I saw it. The banging sound had returned, only when I spun around to look I saw with horror Pat using the African-American doctor Barbie as a hammer. Gwen did not allow me a second chance at fixing this. She tipped over the chair as she ran toward Pat. Yanking the doll out of his hand, she screamed “No!” repeatedly. We left quickly, not willing to risk any more male toxicity creeping into our child.
A World Shattered
We couldn’t believe it. Not only had Pat exhibited masculine traits despite our best efforts, he had done so by using a woman as a tool, and an African-American woman no less. He was only two, and not only was he already a sexist, he was a racist. On the way home, Gwen rightly placed the blame on me. I sat quietly as I accepted her righteous anger, waiting for her to finish before I would apologize repeatedly. Her amazing wisdom and intuitivity rocked my very core as she screamed and scolded me, and I had to remind myself that I needed it.
I had failed society once again. Perhaps I had been too sloppy. Too careless. Perhaps it was from the times when I brought him into the men’s restroom instead of the unisex room. Perhaps it was when I would take more groceries than Gwen when we were carrying them inside. Perhaps I didn’t wear dresses and skirts in the house enough times. Either way, it was clear that I had created, not a gender-fluid feminist, but a son.
As time went on we attempted to correct his behavior, but to little avail. He hates wearing what he pigheadedly calls “girl clothes.” Once, we caught him playing “army” with his dolls. In fact, just yesterday he informed us that he wants a toy gun for Christmas. It shocked Gwen, a steady and powerful rock, into tears.
Perhaps I am writing this as a warning to those who are considering having children in a non-binary household. Perhaps I am writing this as an apology for my failure as an able-bodied, able-minded father. Perhaps it’s both. Either way, I feel it important for you to hear this cautionary tale.
Both Gwen and I are ashamed, but working to accept our son’s choices. We hold out hope, as Sally Kohn does, that our child will at least be gay. Perhaps during his adolescent years he will discover Tumblr, and that community will get the message across better than we. Every parent has high hopes for xer children, even in the face of severe disappointment and failure.
I apologize for my reckless procreation, and addition to the oppressive system that disadvantages women and minorities. This was not my intent, and though Gwen decided to give birth to Pat, I take responsibility for how he came out. Every microaggression, every misogynistic word, and every trans or homophobic thing he does should be laid at my feet. I, a patriarchal oppressor, created more patriarchy.
Please signal boost this, and learn from my family. Learn from my failures.