Do You Assume Your Kids Are Cis & Straight? I’ll Admit; I Did.
My defense would have been, "Why put other labels on them?" But cis and straight are also labels. Maybe, though it’s hard, it's best to assume nothing.
My firstborn came out to us several times, which we now laugh about. The first time was early in high school, when they said they were bisexual. By the end of senior year, they explained that they felt nonbinary and switched to "they/them" pronouns. It made sense to me. Grace has such an open heart and mind. And I passionately believe that society places too much emphasis on gender.
Lately, though, Grace has updated their Instagram profile pronouns to also include he/him and to identify as a transgender college kid, which is tougher for me after I thought we had "agreed" that binary pronouns aren't necessary. (Maybe it was just me doing the agreeing.) But also, um, this is not a child who begged to wear pants in preschool or cut their hair short until they were 17. This is an ex-Disney-princess addict. But does that matter? Surely not.
Here I am, with a child I birthed having cycled through all the pronouns, and me navigating how to be supportive. Because, like so many of my parenting peers, I raised both my kids assuming they were cis and straight until told otherwise, and now I am playing catchup and adjusting as we go.
The Gender Reveal
"Is it a boy or a girl?" is absolutely the number-one question put to any pregnant human, often asked before, "How are you feeling?" Is it any wonder, then, that we parents end up constructing a world for our baby before even getting to know them? The government assigns our kids a gender at birth based on biology, we give them a name of our choosing, and we decorate the nursery in a way that we hope will match their personality before we've even said a proper hello.
People thought my very bald first baby looked like a boy, and I got a lot of "Isn't he cute?" which led me to dress Grace in a lot of dresses because I wanted strangers to know I had a girl. I've been watching, now, how some parents stick to they/them pronouns for babies and buy gender-neutral clothing. I respect that. When I was wheeling around my baldie, it would have been easier — on everybody! — if people could have felt free to say, "Aren't they cute?" and I could have replied, "Yep, they are!" Maybe we are getting there slowly?
Laying the Groundwork for Your Child to Reveal Themself
Even as I fantasize about society gradually placing less emphasis on gender, I find myself overwhelmed at the idea of raising a theybie. Could I have done it? Certainly, I could have done better — on many fronts.
What may seem like an extreme, liberals-gone-crazy movement, gender-neutral parenting is really more about keeping an open mind. The idea is to let your child lead you. If your son asks for a doll or your daughter wants a truck, you say yes. Ideally, you take phrases like, "Those are for girls!" out of your vocabulary and let them do all the gender exploration they need. This kind of parenting has been around since the Free to Be You And Me '70s. It's not new.
Going further, though: There's no reason to assume your kids will join the LGBTQ+ community, but there's also no reason to assume they will be straight. We shouldn't be asking preschool girls if they have a boyfriend in class or teasing little boys about having a crush on a girl. They'll admit who their crushes are eventually, on their own time. Or it will become super apparent. Now that I am a mom of teenagers, I realize you don't have to ask. You'll know!
I regret automatically assuming that Grace would want a new dress for every holiday and school-dance-type event. Why did I never say, "What do you want to wear?" and leave it at that? It wasn't until senior prom that I finally said, "Want to look at suits?" and got a grateful "YES." I had built up this idea that dressing up had to equal a feminine presentation, and I am not even sure why except that was the way things seemed to be.
There are so many opportunities to talk about gender stereotypes. It would have been good to have low-pressure chats about all the different ways to be a girl, or a boy or a person. I think I just assumed that the kids would notice the strong women in our family, and the sensitive men. But talking is so important, and I see now that we have skirted many of those topics.
I wish I had checked in with my firstborn when filling out forms where I had to pick their gender. My husband and I now do this with our second. We just filled out the financial-aid form for his college applications (a special level of parenting hell) and made a point to ask: Are you still identifying as male? My son responded with a bored "yeah." I don't think it's a weird question to his generation.
Finally, I wish my children had been raised with more role models for all the possible ways a person can show who they truly are. Little kids today have more examples of gender expression, and I'm glad. I wish I had read up on being an ally so I wasn't making it up as I went along. I wish I had voiced more admiration for anyone who feels free to be exactly who they want to be.
Bottom Line: Assume As Little As Possible
Kids make you take a hard look at everything you ever believed — in a good but emotionally exhausting way. We go into parenthood feeling like we are teaching our children everything, but they turn around and force us to relearn things as well.
This is all easy enough for me to see now, in hindsight. I can see where I made assumptions about who my kids were — granted, really basic assumptions — that did not turn out to be true. I felt open-minded but have had to become even more so.
All the cliches are true. The real magic of parenting is watching who your child becomes. There's a chance you'll end up with the proverbial mini-me. But there's also a chance that your kid will be someone you couldn't have dreamed up back when the doctor told you, "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" My best advice to others and my former self? Sit back. Wait and see what you got.