Boy? Girl?

When you announce you’re pregnant, the most repeated question you’ll probably get is: “Boy or girl?”

I anticipated that. I understood that for whatever reason, people had an insatiable curiosity about the sex of my fetus.

When you finally give birth and take your beautiful baby out into the world, you’ll probably still get the “Boy or girl?” question for a bit, as most newborns tend to resemble Winston Churchill.

EZ rocking the orange overalls at 3 weeks

I somewhat expected that as well. Especially since we didn’t color code our baby and people apparently couldn’t handle not knowing the sex of the little baby dressed in yellows, purples, oranges, and greens.

What I did not anticipate was that I would be dealing with this question well into the 4th year of my son’s life. EZ will be 5 in January, and yet, I still find myself faced with “Boy or girl?” from time to time.

And I still can’t figure out why it bothers me so much. It didn’t bother me when I was pregnant or had a newborn. So why now?

* * *

A couple of weeks ago we joined some friends for dinner at our favorite hibatchi restaurant. The kids were sitting on one side chattering away, while the parents sat on the other, catching up. Our waitress came over to take our orders, and when she got to the kids, she asked what the little girl wanted. (note: there were only boys at the table).

I corrected her, and she gaped at me.

“No, that’s a girl.”

I shook my head with a smile.

“No, he is, in fact, a boy,” I informed her.

She was resolute, and shook her head, challenging me.

“Really? Because it looks like a girl!”

At this point my husband had to chime in.

“He’s a boy. He has been for the past 4 years. Trust me.”

At some point she gave up trying to convince us that EZ was a girl, and took our order. I looked over and realized that the boys hadn’t even noticed the debate that had transpired. They were all too busy playing air drums with their chopsticks.

Throughout the meal, I noticed other waitresses walking by our table, sneaking a glimpse at EZ.

Sure he had chosen to wear a somewhat smallish tank top and a pair of (my) fierce sunglasses. And, okay…he had been pushing his baby stroller, complete with favorite doll, when we had been walking into the restaurant.

However, he also had no problem turning his chopstick into a sword to play-fight with his friends until our soup arrived.

But this isn’t about some imaginary checklist, where I tick off boy and girl characteristics, then tally them up. My son’s gender isn’t the sum total of a bunch of traits. And he knows this, and I know this, but I’m not so sure why other folks can’t grasp it.

Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown, or the need to place people into neat, little boxes that define them. I’m not sure. All I know is that since before he was even born, everyone had a real strong need to know just what EZ is.

And while it may not be obvious at first glance (or, apparently 2nd or 3rd…)

I know who EZ is.

And more importantly, he knows who he is.

He’s an awesome, energetic, funny, creative, smart, curious, joyful kid.

And if it takes you a few more minutes to look past the ambiguous clothes, crazy mop of golden curls, and affinity for fabulous accessories, then that’s okay too. But, when I clue you in to the fact that he is, indeed, a happy little boy, can we just agree – that in this instance – mama knows best and move on?

32 thoughts on “Boy? Girl?

      • Speaking from the point of view of the child, this happened to me a :lot: Only, I’m a girl and everyone thought I was a boy. To this day, I still get called ‘sir’ on occasion. And yes, pretty much everyone that doesn’t take the time to get to know me thinks I’m a lesbian. It used to bother me, but I’ve gotten over it. Let people think what they want – they’re going to do so no matter how I feel about it 🙂

        If you haven’t already, I highly suggest adding the book “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotow to your collection. 🙂

  1. You should have asked him to drop trou in the restaurant. That would have settled it. And I’d be giving him a standing ovation for it.

    • haha. You do *not* want to tempt fate by allowing a 4.5 year old boy to drop trou win public. I can only imagine what that will lead to (it was not so long ago that we would have to remind him that clothes are necessary for being out in public, ha!). But my husband did say something to the affect of “I’ve changed plenty of his diapers, trust me, he’s a boy.”

  2. I can relate…Gabriel has long BEAUTIFUL blond waves, I can’t bear to cut that beautiful hair! Elodie has beautiful hair too. It bothers me that many, many people comment on how beautiful my daughter’s hair is, but people don’t comment on Gabriel’s beautiful hair too. Isn’t that strange that people don’t compliment a boy on his hair?

    • My son Ben had beautiful long curls for a while, and people did compliment him on his hair quite often. However, the compliments were usually followed up with a side remark to me, “When do you think you will be cutting his hair?” As if long hair on a three year old was OK, but not acceptable on an older boy.

      • We also get comments re: cutting it, but our rule is that as long as he wants to keep it that way, it stays (relatively) clean, and doesn’t impact his sight (so we have occasional trims) – I’m cool with whatever.

    • E gets compliments on his hair (to the point now where he gets annoyed with the attention it gets) but he also gets comments (less complimentary and more curious… “oh! He’s a boy! With long hair! Oh!” um, yeah.) And i bet *both* your kids have gorgeous hair (with you as their mama, how could they not?!)

  3. I’ve been in similar situations with my daughter (who gets her brother’s hand-me-downs), but I don’t bother to correct people most of the time. Sometimes she corrects people (I’m a big GIRL!), but sometimes she doesn’t. My daughter is almost three and often mixes up pronouns anyway; we correct her when we think it matters. A lot of times it doesn’t.

  4. I can’t believe she argued with you! That would have made me really mad! I’ve had many many comments on what a pretty girl my son is but never anyone (adult) that disagreed with me. Normally people just feel awkward and apologize. I’ve had a five year old argue with me but it just made for a great discussion about how boys don’t have to have the same hair cuts to be a boy. My son is 2 and has long gorgeous blond curls that my husband and I have no intentions of cutting. When he wants short hair he can have short hair. Until then, the comments don’t bother me. I know that we are going to get them and knew from the day we chose to let his hair keep growing. It doesn’t matter how “boyish” he chooses to dress. I have a standard come back that I think eases other peoples discomfort and makes it easy for me to respond to. I tell people “thank you! He is just too pretty for his own good! I’m going to be in big trouble when the girls start calling!” I do get sick of people asking me when we’re going to cut it. My mom drives me especially bonkers.

    • Yeah, the hair thing has been brought up multiple times. It makes it easier on us that my husband has long hair down to his shoulders (and he works in a professional environment too, go figure, ha!). I’ve written about EZ & his hair before:
      We’re now at a place where he’s heard about his hair so much that he kind of grimaces when somebody mentions his hair (or attempts to touch it, ack!) but I remind him that he does have some pretty awesome hair 😉 (that he will not let me cut … i have to resort to letting him watch muppet you tube videos just to get a trim out of him to prevent shaggy dog syndrome in his eyes).

  5. If I’m unsure about a pronoun, I go with “your child has great ____ ” or just say “you” directly to the kid. Why is that so hard? This one is such a mystery to me.

    • Exactly. I roll that way as well. And I’m not completely oblivious. I get that E’s long hair, penchant for colorfully polished nails, love of pink/purple/dolls/etc… might confuse folks that are expecting everyone to fall into stereotypical gender norms. But to keep pushing it after I correct them? yeah…

  6. I would make a complaint against that server (and the rest as well!). That server should have a) taken your word for it and b) not stood there and argued with you about it, especially in front of your child and c) not had the rest of the servers come gawk at your child as though he is some kind of spectacle. Simply unacceptable!

  7. Oh, this dovetails so nicely with the post I wrote today!

    I cannot believe the server argued with you. Did she think you were lying to her because you were bored, or malicious? And is it that they ask, or that they express confusion at your response that bothers you? Or is it that assigning a gender creates some kind of expectation in the person asking’s mind? Oh, ALL OF THE ABOVE? Yeah.

    • I definitely don’t think the server was being mean in the slightest. There could have possibly been a cultural issue there as well, who knows. But regardless, it just confounded me that she wouldn’t accept my answer, like I was “playing” her or something. Why would I joke about my child’s gender like that? O_o

      but yes…all of the above. It makes me happy that there clearly are people out there that “get it” though!

  8. THANK YOU!!! i fought this battle for the first 2 years of my now 3 and 1/2 year old’s little life. yet, i am still amazed at the gumption people have to ask “really?!?! THAT’S a boy!?!?! REALLY!?!?!” because apparently we didn’t take a look at the sex organ when they were born. idiots.

    • You’re welcome! 😉

      And yeah, it actually got to the point where my husband was like “I changed his diaper for two years. He’s a boy.”

      I do understand that there may be some confusion or inability to compute when my kid wears pink or butterfly wings or kickass sunglasses, but please – let’s get over the shock. It’s not like he has an actual pair of butterfly wings growing out of his back (then perhaps I could understand the disbelief)

  9. Mouth. Agape.

    Argued with you? Really? Like you don’t know the sex of your child, and she does?


    I can understand the cultural aspect of gaping at the child – my child apparently is particularly attractive and when we go to hibachi restaurants most of the wait staff comes to play with her or make her smile at some point in the evening. It can get rather annoying.

    But the arguing is what I don’t get. Wow.

    • Maybe argue is too strong a word. But she clearly thought we were either a. lying to her or b. joking. It was less mean-spirited argument and more genuine disbelief and perhaps some teasing? Either way, it was enough after we said “no, he’s a boy” twice.

  10. We cut my son’s hair once just under a year ago (at his request). He was horrified!! Since then whenever people ask me ‘When are you getting him a haircut’ or some variation of that question, HE gives them a dead pan look and says ‘I’m not. I love my long hair and I only cut my fringe’. He does have beautiful, long, golden hair. People stopped asking the boy/girl question when he was about 3 1/2 yrs. These days it’s just all about his hair *rolls eyes*.

  11. Among my most key goals as a mama and writer is to find out how we all can break free from this gender claustrophobia you allude to that limits kids and the rest of us to fully express and define ourselves on our own terms. A gender claustrophobia that causes the stereotyping you point out, as well as the unease when things don’t “match up” according to those.

    Pertinent personal story you share here.

    I only came across your blog a few weeks ago, but I’ve been enjoying following you and learning more about your approach to feminism and motherhood.

    • Thanks so much! I just clicked on your blog and find myself wanting some free time and a hot tea to sit and read through it! Just reading your “About” page – it’s clear we share very similar views on many things. Thanks for reading and hope to connect more soon (are you on Twitter?).

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