How My Family Detached From The Gender Binary

by Reaca Pearl

The feminism I grew up with was racially intersectional, meaning there was an understanding that white women and women of color have different experiences in this country. Therefore, our feminist fight for liberation must include the liberation of women of color. However, my intersectional feminism was still lacking. You see, dear reader, gender roles were questioned only as they applied to cisgender individuals. The feminism I grew up with was ciscentric, meaning it completely erased transgender identities. So,the ways my family detached from the gender binary have been a slow and steady, but necessary process. In fact, we continue to do so on a daily basis.

One of the many dangers of cisnormative feminism is what's developed into Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF). This belief system fully buys into the notion of the gender binary, as aligned with the sex you were assigned at birth based on the appearance of your genitals. The problem, however, is that even though the binary fits for a lot of people, it doesn't fit for everyone. Whenever a certain group of people is actively excluded from liberation movements, they are put at risk for increased dehumanization and, therefore, violence. The eradication of the gender binary isn't to take someone's identity from them, especially if they fit inside said binary. Instead, it's to protect those who don't from discrimination, marginalization, and violence.

In our house, we call bullsh*t on thinking that feminism can be exclusionary and still be called feminism. By it's definition feminism, must be intersectional or, I believe, it's not feminism. Gender roles are not just damaging to cisgender women and cisgender men, they are damaging for all of us within the vast gender galaxy. If you're anything like me, when you start to look at the rules of the gender binary they all become pretty silly. Here are just a few of the ways my family are saying goodbye to the silliness and detaching from the gender binary entirely:

When My Cisgender Male Partner Stays Home

Courtesy Reaca Pearl

White feminism made the destruction of traditional binary gender roles a rallying cry for quite some time. Because my partner and I, as individuals, were both opposed to the arbitrary enforcement of traditional gender roles, it made sense that we wouldn't pay them any mind when we started a family.

When I gave birth to our first child, I had a new graduate degree under my belt, and a career as a rape crisis counselor that I loved. Though nervous, like any first time parent, my partner wanted to stay home with our little bean. We weren't going to allow a bizarre grasping-to-an-archaic-rule-that-no-longer-serves-us force me to stay home, just because I have a uterus.

When We Refuse To Color Code Our Kids

Because, seriously? How weird is it that we, as a society, give certain babies certain clothes in certain colors, all depending on their genitalia? In my family, we dress our babies for comfort and ease.

When My Son Cooks

My 5 year old absolutely loves to help with cooking. It wouldn't even cross our minds to deny him that ability based on his assigned sex at birth.

Divvying up household chores by primary or secondary sex characteristics, or gender identity, is not the way we conduct household business. Instead, we've settled on a nice balance of "if you're good at it, you do it," and "if we both hate it we split the chore." Now that our kids are old enough to help, the same rules apply.

When I Work

I have a uterus and I work. Gasp. I have been the primary breadwinner in our household since we started having kids and my partner started staying at home. This is happening more and more in heteronormative couples. The only reason we should care is that we all need to be working extra hard to end the gender/race wage gap so we can all take care of our families while doing the same work.

When We Continue To Question Binary Roles

When my son plays with dolls he's not "playing like a girl." He's just playing with dolls. When my gender expansive daughter plays with cars, she's not "choosing a side" in regards to her gender. She's just playing. They both are who they are, up to and including their unique experiences of their gender.

When We Accept Non-Binary Identities

Non-binary gender identities can be tricky for people to grasp when they've been steeped in the gender binary their whole lives. Even well-meaning cisgender and transgender individuals, who work toward societal acceptance of binary transgender people, sometimes have difficulty with these non-binary identities.

A common barrier for people outside the binary is being perceived as "not transgender enough" for a myriad of arbitrary binary-gender-role reasons. Sometimes even binary trans men are "not trans enough" when they want to wear makeup, or binary trans women are "not trans enough" when they want to forego shaving their legs.

In our house, we reject the notion that gender is binary. As a result, we accept everybody as their full, authentic expression of themselves. Including their binary or non-binary gender identity.

When We Encourage Self-Exploration

Courtesy Reaca Pearl

My partner and I were raised within the rigid gender binary, so we make a consistent effort to check our intentions. For example, we thought we were committed to not limiting anyone because of binary constructs — meaning, women could go to work while men stayed home — but we didn't even think outside of even those constricting boxes until our child told us she was bigender.

As with all things parenting, this forced me to confront myself. The unconscious attachment to the binary didn't just hurt my trans daughter before we realized her true gender, it also caused me to always feel like an outsider. I had no language for what I was so I just thought I was a bizarre woman. I felt strongly connected to the political force of women's liberation, and my ability to bare children, and my loyalty to my mother and paternal grandmother. But did that mean, necessarily, that I was all woman? What does being all woman even mean?

I'm sure I'm not the only mother who started to question her own gender experience beyond the claustrophobic binary once her child demanded acceptance of their identity.

When We Encourage Questioning

Swallowing any idea fully without contemplation is the antithesis of being a critical thinker. As patience-testing as it can be to have a persistent 7 year old constantly asking "why?" I want my children to ask questions about everything for their entire lives. When it comes to the gender binary, most of us have been taught to never ask too many questions. Just accept that "men" and "women" are two narrowly defined biologies and gender roles.

In my home, we teach our kids to question everything and test their theories. Yes, we're science lovers.

As Rilke advised, life is lived in the questions, not the answers.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

When We Allow Ourselves To '"Just Be"

At the end of the day, and always, I'm not forcing anyone to leave the gender binary if they're comfortable living in it. I'm just asking that those in the binary don't try to force those of us outside the binary to blindly accept it. Instead, I'm asking for acceptance all around, because the acceptance of a wonderful array of gender identities is how we reach true equality.