The Coffee Table


Color Me Human

The first words a new mother hears are “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”  At that instant, something clicks in the parental brain. Something permanent.

When we learn that someone has given birth, we instinctively inquire, “boy or girl?”  Later we might ask: Weight? Hair? Fingers & toes? One parent or two?  Are there books in the house?  Child’s prospects for college? But there is something primal about setting the gender in stone—then reacting accordingly forever after. 

Gender is the predominant defining factor for everything that follows. So it is a difficult prospect to ask people not to think like that—to stop making presumptions about how people should or shouldn’t behave, what they can or can’t accomplish, based first and foremost upon sex.

Throughout my married life, when l told people that my husband did all the shopping and cooking,  they either replied, “You are soooo lucky!” (to which I retorted, “Luck had nothing to do with it.”) or they responded with surprise at how we bucked the system. But our division of labor was not a protest.  It just came naturally.

As teens will do (even though girls aren’t supposed to), my best girlfriend in high school had sex with her boyfriend, in the theoretical privacy of her parental home.  After her boyfriend left, an intruder entered the house and expected the same treatment because he had seen her “doing it” through a breach in the curtains.  (Fortunately, two well-trained German shepherds convinced him to leave.)

Even older women battle the ingrained feeling that if they walk naked in their own home, they’ll be perceived as loose or immoral. Nude women, or even the scantily clad, are all asking for it. It’s a gender rule.

Decades ago, I was a traveling speech pathologist for a large, well known preschool program.  There was a male teacher at one of the schools who was gentle and caring, and might pick up a crying child to provide comfort.  His career was short lived.  He was presumed a “pervert,” because he touched children the way a nurturing woman might. A violation of the gender rules. 

I was in a “women’s profession.”  My friend, however, wanted to follow her father into the auto industry. She became a tool and die maker. But she was continually harassed by male co-workers, to the point where she ultimately gave up her hard-earned trade.

My oldest child (now pushing 40) “dated” whomever she liked, regardless of gender. She had a couple of long-term relationships with young men, but ultimately married a woman.  It never even occurred to me to think of her as “lesbian” or “bisexual.” I didn’t care who she loved, as long as the love was mutual. But it’s apparent that my reaction is not the norm. 

All this angst because we have to put each baby in the appropriate box the instant it’s born. And the need to keep the sexes in their respective places becomes political. At this moment, legislators nationwide are working hard to return gender matters to antiquated tradition—especially transgender matters. Shoot—the Equal Rights Amendment, originally drafted in 1923, still hasn’t passed, because there is apparently something wrong, indecent, or maybe terrifying about giving a woman equal footing with a man.  It’s in the gender code! 

Couldn’t we just let babies blossom however they might without bending their brains into this binary system of right and wrong, can and cannot, pedestal or purgatory? Instead of pink or blue at birth, each newborn should be issued a rainbow of possibility.

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