At birth, gender is currently classified as male or female – and this has been socially acceptable for many years. However, looking back through history, and listening to people’s stories today, we can clearly see that one’s gender – how they feel and how they identify – is not determined by their chromosomes, genetic make-up or genitals. Although most people with what we perceive to be male genitals identify as male, there are many people with those genitals who identify very strongly as female, and vice versa and all along the spectrum between male and female.
When your baby is born, the midwife and expectant parents will look between the legs and state the gender, record it on the medical records and that is then set when the birth is registered. However, at birth, we have no idea how that child will identify as they grow and develop. While statistically, the midwife may be correct, that is not certain, and making a mistake and saying that that child is male when they are actually female, or introducing them to the world as female when they will actually identify much more as male has the potential to cause great distress as the child matures.
If we were to rewrite the rule book we wouldn’t assign a gender at birth, we would wait for the person to declare their own gender identity, understanding that than can shift and vary while people find out who they truly are. Maybe we don’t even need to set a gender identity at all – in the same way we don’t have to declare our religion, our colour, our sexuality, our intellect – why does it matter where on the gender spectrum we sit?
Many objectors find this absurd, but have they ever actually met anyone whose gender varies from that which is expected of them visually? Have they truly sat and listened to how gender differs from visual body parts? Have they put prejudice and scorn behind them to truly try and understand what gender actually means to a person? Very many children and adults that I have met tell me of terrible anguish they feel because they have been labelled as male (or female) when actually they are not and they do not fit into that box whose characteristics have been artificially dictated by society.
I wish that the gender identity spectrum was as acceptable as the sexuality spectrum has now become. It will take time, but it will happen. In the same way that we don’t assume that a baby will be heterosexual, we shouldn’t assume that that baby will identify with any particular gender. If they have a penis then statistically they are more likely to be a heterosexual male, but they could be homosexual, bisexual, asexual, male, female, non-binary, agender – or anything in between!
Dr H Webberley