We don’t even have pronouns for this.
That’s what accounts for the clumsy grammar of the statement parent Kori Doty issued about Doty’s newborn baby, Searyl Atli Doty. For that matter, it also accounts for the clumsy grammar of the sentence you just read.
Anyway, Kori Doty’s statement read:
“It’s up to Searyl to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity. I am not going to foreclose that choice based on an arbitrary assignment of gender at birth based on an inspection of their genitals.”
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Of course, a baby human is not usually a “they” but a “he” or a “she.” Thing is, though, Kori Doty, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person – stay with me, now – has decided that the child, born in Canada “outside the medical system,” will not be saddled with gender.
As reported last week by CNN, that argument apparently won over officials in Canada, who issued the baby a “health card” – as a civilized nation, Canada has universal health care – that does not specify gender. Gender Free ID Coalition, a group that crusades against gender identifiers on government documents, sees this as an important step toward that goal. We are told that Searyl may be the first baby in the world with a genderless government ID.
As noted, the English language is not ready for this. For all its splendors, English offers no gender-neutral singular pronoun except “it.” Who wants to be an “it?”
If the language is not ready, well, truth to tell, neither is your humble correspondent. It’s a jarring realization.
I have, after all, long taken great pride in supporting LGBTQ freedom. Marriage equality, adoption rights, job protections, I have demanded them. Restroom ID laws, “don’t ask, don’t tell” and so-called “religious freedom” measures, I have fought them.
But in the notion of a genderless humanity we arrive at the proverbial bridge too far. Yes, I know some people are born anatomically neither male nor female. I’m not talking about them.
Nor have I any beef with the child born into a male body who feels emotionally estranged from that body and takes steps, whether surgical or cosmetic, to rectify the problem. Good for him. And her.
What I have trouble with is the idea that we somehow commit a sin against enlightenment when we identify that baby’s body as male in the first place. What I find problematic is the notion that we should look upon this child with his XY chromosome and a little stub of flesh between his legs that will someday be capable of producing sperm, and pretend we have no idea what he is.
I’m sorry, but that’s just silly.
I am reminded of those people who would end racial prejudice by having us all claim to be “colorblind,” i.e., pretend we don’t see race. But prejudice doesn’t come because we “notice” so-and-so is black. Rather, it comes with the assumptions we attach to that fact.
Similarly, the question here is not whether Searyl is a boy or girl. No, the question is, what will we assume that either one means?
So it seems to me the energy some are putting into denying the reality of infant genitalia would be better spent trying to assure that it means as little as possible, trying to create a society where girls who play with trucks and boys who play with dolls are as free as any other children to construct their own lives and identities according to their own design. Fight the sociology – not the biology. I tend to think Searyl would thank us for that.
The English language would, too.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.