Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Baby, Baby, the Stars Are Shining For You

"I want to get her a toy. What kind of toys does she have?" Megan gestures toward the baby I'm rocking. 

"She doesn't have any yet," the baby's mother, Kat, answers. 

Kat reminds me of a Tegan-and-Sara-look-alike. She's around 5'4, average size, cropped dark hair, with plugs in her ears and swim trunks with a basketball jersey. She doesn't look like she just had a child, and it takes me a minute to put the pieces together. 

"Are you her mother?" I ask.

"Yep. My first and only kid." She laughs. "And she looks nothing like her father or me." I don't know her background or her partner, nor do I want to pry. Considering this crowd, it would be easy to assume she's a lesbian by looks alone, but that's clearly a mistaken assumption. 

"Oh, Oh, I want to buy her first Barbie doll!" Megan pulls her towel around her white bikini bottoms and redirects the conversation. We're at a pool party for a friend, and almost everyone present is queer- or lesbian-identified. Megan is a stereotypically pretty girl, thin and petite with waist-length dark hair. 

Kat looks slightly averse to this suggestion. "No, she doesn't need Barbies. She'll have legos and boys' toys. They're much more fun." 

I'm holding everything in to keep from laughing at the shock on Megan's face. Aside from the fact that a six-week-old child doesn't need any toy with tiny plastic parts, I can't keep my big mouth shut. I glance up from the sleeping infant toward Kat. "I don't blame you for not wanting to give her gendered toys."

"But she needs a Barbie doll. Why can't she have one?" Megan's response comes out almost indignant.

"Needs one for what? She can have legos and fischer price toys and dump trucks and all the cool toys I had as a kid."

"But every little girl needs Barbies!"

"I didn't play with Barbies, and I turned out fine. I was a normal American kid." I'm caught off-guard by her statement. I like the idea of the average American child playing with all kinds and types of activities and toys. But, as I rolled through the McDonald's drive thru earlier that day, I can attest to the fact that the most popular restaurant in America still sells toys based on a gender dichotomy: pink Strawberry Shortcake dolls for girls and light sabers and Star Wars action figures for boys. As does Walmart, Target, and every other retailer catering to the "average American child."

Megan's butch girlfriend wanders up, and Megan turns to her, almost pouting. "Kat won't let me buy her daughter a Barbie. She has no toys! She needs a Barbie doll." Megan's girlfriend takes a sip of her beer, barely registering Megan's concern. "Ok, baby." 

"If you want to buy her something pink, then she can have pink legos." Kat responds to Megan, though clearly, Megan's comments were not meant for her. 

"Pink legos! Why are legos so exciting?" Megan turns back to wrap her arms around her girlfriend. "But don't you think every little girl needs a Barbie doll?"

Megan's girlfriend smiles down on the tiny child, wrapped up in a blanket and sucking on a pacifier. "She's got a great mohawk." 

Kat laughs. "My mother makes fun of her for having such short hair. She keeps telling me she looks like a boy. The other day she goes, 'I just know she's going to be a lesbian with hair like that.' I can't believe she said that! I was like, 'Mom. She's six weeks old. She doesn't look like anything but a baby.'" 

We all laugh, but there's a register of shock in the laughter. I don't even know how to respond. I can't help but think that if this sweet child, like most American children, can't escape the confines and pressures of the gender binary at six weeks old -- along with the assumption that gender non-conformity is a label for sexuality -- I can't imagine what an uphill battle she has ahead. 

*(I have to admit that I didn't write in a description of their bodies and clothes to color their ideas of gender, but simply because that was the reality I witnessed.)

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