A kind store clerk recently made this statement to my wife, referring to my son. Mrs. Rogers smiled and continued to shop as though nothing had happened. It simply was not a big deal. Correcting these things often requires far more work than letting them go. People share odd glances, questions are asked, and the stranger is left apologizing for mistaking an adorable male baby for an adorable female baby. As long as I still get to keep the adorable baby, I do not care what strangers call him.
When we were still unaware of the baby’s sex, I was often asked whether I hoped for a boy or a girl. I was inclined to say that I was hoping for a centaur. This would make sex and gender less important to the ones asking, since very few people would be inclined to respond “yes, but do you prefer a boy or girl centaur?”
As a current chaplain and long time minister, I have long been immersed in a culture that heaps a great deal of harmful meaning upon sex and gender. I figured that being vague or confusing in my responses would help me avoid uncomfortable secondary questions and categorizations. Talking about centaurs would throw everyone off. In response to suggestions that I should follow a certain archaic tradition, I might ask “Would a female centaur still be expected to cook all the time, or would we all accept that the hooves and constant fur shedding would make this difficult and unsanitary?”
Friends have asked how I might raise one differently from the other. When asked about my plans for a daughter, I respond “I hope she is a brilliant, independent feminist.” And if it’s a boy? “I hope he is a brilliant, independent feminist.”
I will make no attempt to appear an expert on the subject of gender. In fact, I know almost nothing. Years ago, as a young academic in the fields of Christian Theology and Social Work, I espoused the belief that gender was nothing. A social construct, and nothing more. I had grown tired of all the unfounded, often “biblical” somethings I had been taught about gender, and preferred to recognize no distinction at all rather than uphold those that hinged on archaic roles and rules. I had thrown out all the somethings derived from bad theology, outdated cultural norms, and subtle stereotypes, and found I had nothing left.
However, I do believe gender is something. It is complex. My son will one day find that gender can be defined extensively, and ask me for a clearer definition. I will politely request that he ask his mother, and run outside to start my car. Please note that I would not do this if he actually was a centaur, because he would catch up to the car fairly quickly. I have decided to err on the side of open mindedness. Gender is complex, and therefore should not establish simple, easy-to-follow guidelines concerning your role in the home, the church, or society.
My own religious tradition struggles to grasp this. I appreciate those within the tradition who can approach the issues sensibly and responsibly. I hope that one day my son and I will sit down and have responsible conversation on all subjects, including this one. I will teach him how to read the New Testament in Greek, and he will teach me how to gallop while shooting a bow and arrow. You know, because he might be a centaur.
I still have very few answers concerning sex and gender, and I assign them very little significance when considering how my son will continue to be raised. I hope to raise him and teach him responsibly. I hope that he knows and loves himself, while fully acknowledging that I love him more. My hope is that I will help him be both critical and sensitive as he learns about these things. After all, an impressionable young mythical creature needs guidance in this crazy world.