Alternate Family ArrangementsBabiesIdentityPoly Families

I Delight in Your Pigeonholing Failure

I know that picture’s a little fuzzy, but Renee is wants me to tone down on the online exposure. There are places it’s safe to be non-monogamous and atheist, but not every person who might stop by Grounded Parents is going to be as awesome as its usual audience.

But, hopefully, you can kind of see how Tom gets dressed on an average day. It’s rainbows and hoops and circles and colors, and except for his Superman onesie, there’s almost nothing solid blue or pink.

And it drives some people absolutely crazy.

The internet is full of articles about people upset that their “clearly male” child was called “she” or vice versa, but we’re never going to be those parents. If anything, Renee and William have gone out of their way to pick non-gendered clothes and toys and everything in order to postpone for as long as possible the moment when Tom will begin to be pressured into a role.

I probably shouldn’t enjoy it so much, but I love that this kid is an enigma because he reveals so much about people. Some just want to coo and coddle and they just couldn’t care less about what box to assign him to. But some are completely uncomfortable not knowing. They awkwardly fumble for the answer like dancers who don’t know the steps.

I’m a particular fan of “How old is…” and then if I let them dangle at the end of that hook they’ll actually start to bob their head, then finally break down “…he? She?  Sorry, I can’t tell?” One woman even drew out the “is” into a long “zzzzzzzzzz” noise while I tried not to laugh. In that particular case I just answered, “four months,” and watched her try to figure out another way to ask.

Some take it even a step further. They try to figure out Renee’s race. My skin is pretty pasty and most of my facial features are Irish and German and Tom is pretty clearly latino. (I realize it wouldn’t even occur to most of them that he’s not my son at all.) So they get right to work trying to figure out this mystery wrapped in an enigma by asking all manner of “discrete” questions about Renee.

“So where is his mother from?” they ask.

“Southern California,” I answer, pretending I have no idea what they want to know.

“What about her family?”

“Yeah, they’re from Southern California too,” I say, trying to keep my smile from becoming a smirk.

Usually that does it, but every once in a while: “I mean like ancestrally.” (Seriously, at that point, why don’t they just come out and say, “What’s the other race of this clearly mixed race baby?”)

Unfortunately for these people, I can keep answering “Southern California” until some time back Before Christian Era. Renee’s family didn’t come to the US; the US came to them at the end of the Mexican American war. But it’s delicious to watch them squirm around the question they really want to ask.

I’m sure there’s something poignant I could say here about pigeonholing babies and the human condition, but I’m afraid I came to Grounded Parents without the first clue about what I was doing. But someday I’ll show Tom this blog and it’ll be better than a baby book, so I will end with some words for him:

The question of who I am has preoccupied much of my life, and I have most of the advantages an individual can have in that regard. Both my parents were the same ethnic background—and the dominant ethnic background. I never felt out of place in my body. I think I might be a one on the Kinsey scale. And yet I can remember feeling “wrong” for wanting an E.Z. Bake oven as a boy (back when they were always bright pink and clearly a girl’s toy), for being gentle and enjoying reading, later for enjoying domestic work, and most of my life for letting women take the romantic lead. Just those few small places where I wasn’t in line with social expectation caused me to doubt myself, caused me to try to act in ways I didn’t like, and caused me to try to be someone I wasn’t, often with unfortunate results. I’m pushing forty and just now starting to feel like I know who I am.

I tell you this because you will have to figure out who you are just like I did and just like a lot of people with a lot more identity crises than being a dude who likes to do dishes. Our society wants to identify you and catalogue you and stick you in a file cabinet under your listing with a pre-generated agenda for how you should be. They want to tell you ahead of time what you should like and what you should wear and how you should behave and what is proper and even who you should love. (Though, thankfully, we’re getting better about that one.) There will be flack for every decision you make that doesn’t fit with these labels.

It’s going to be hard enough.

I gave you as much space to find yourself without locking you in a tower away from the whole world. I hope it helped a little, Bub. I held them off as long as I could.


Chris lives with his girlfriend and her husband in a polyamorous family. On Friday Dec 6th, 2013, the married couple had a darling boy. Not "dad" but so much more than "Uncle Chris" he spends much of his time either trying to figure out the boundaries between parent/not-parent or navigating a world ill equipped to deal with non traditional families. When he's not trying to be a grounded parent, he teaches English as a second language and maintains his own blog about writing (

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  1. I am always worried I’m going to upset a parent by getting the gender of their baby incorrect. I usually just try to avoid the pronouns all together (most people get super annoyed when you defer to their baby as an “it” to be gender neutral). I’d say something like, “So adorable! Look at those amazing lashes! And so well behaved and smiling. Obviously very happy.”

    But I’ve had parents get very upset when I said “She just looks like she’s so intent and intelligent” and they are all “He’s a BOY” even though he’s wearing clues that indicate this family has picked a gender role, and that role is “grandma thought this was cute and wanted a girl.” However, you can never really say “Don’t get mad at me for liking your baby and not knowing its gender when I have no way of knowing other than you telling me to get it absolutely correct” to strangers or even acquaintances. It just blows the whole thing up, makes you that “weird person in line at Starbucks” and, if you do it just wrong enough, the other people in line/around you might think you have a windowless van parked outside.

    1. Yeah, when I did some (very mild) research to see what other parents had written about this, all the articles were about being mad at strangers who took a guess and got it wrong. That seems very strange to me.

    2. We got this a lot with Pickle. We dressed him from gifts and what looked nice at second-hand stores. He has always had long hair so he was miss gendered, A LOT. I never let bother me except of the few occasions that I got “Are you sure?” (Possibly the strangest question I have ever been asked.)

      I am training myself to use “they” as a pronoun for everyone until I know what they prefer. It works great for babies too.

        1. That happened to me when the boys were just under a year. The conversation went like this:
          Lady: twins?
          Me: Yep!
          Lady: boy and a girl?
          Me: no, two boys.
          Lady: Are you sure?
          Me: Kinda sure (shrug)
          Lady: (points to blue-eyed, blonde, wavy-haired, heart-shaped faced son), Well, HE’S too pretty to be a BOY!

          It was like a trifecta:. . .weirdly personal questions? check. Gendered assumptions? check. Dismissing the mother? check. I didn’t think fast enough to come back so I just rolled my eyes.

          1. Ditto. On revealing our daughter’s definitely feminine name as she’s usually dressed in “boys” clothes, I’ve gotten (several times) “oh thank goodness she’s a girl – she’s far too pretty to be a boy!”. Er. What?

      1. Haha, that was the only time I got mad with my son…he was wearing a purple shirt and grey pants, and someone told my husband he had a beautiful daughter. When he said “he’s a boy” she gave him and “are you sure” with some very huffy “I bet you’ve never changed the diaper” type attitude. I was more insulted at the pretty distinct questioning of him as a parent than the misgendering.

        The other weird one we’ve gotten is “those eyelashes are too long for a boy”. Huh?

        1. I’ve gotten the eyelash thing too! I get the my son looks a lot like me (Mom), but I look a lot like my Dad. I don’t see how you can make that leap at all.

  2. I tend to stick to gender neutrality by talking to the baby when I encounter one (“oh my goodness! What a cute baby!” to the parent and “you are so beautiful” to the infant). If I HAVE to know, I just ask (“my goodness what a beautiful boy? girl?”). My theory is that I’m not really interested in the parent anyway, so talking to the kid is better.

    This is the same tactic I use when I meet people’s dogs, for pretty much the same reason (“oh my goodness! What a cute puppy! and “you are so beautiful!” to the dog. . .see? works the same)

  3. “Yeah, when I did some (very mild) research to see what other parents had written about this, all the articles were about being mad at strangers who took a guess and got it wrong. That seems very strange to me.”
    I get annoyed at this because sex and gender are not decided by the clothes a kid wears.
    I get annoyed at this because it clearly signals the kid (as soon as they’re old enough to notice) that they can’t wear whatever the fuck they want because then they’ll have to deal with a metric fuckton of people who tell them that this is wrong.
    That’s a lot of fuck in thise few sentences because this is a sore spot.
    It’s a sore spot from my own childhood (when stuff was noticably less gendered) when people always assumed that I was a boy and when confronted with the fact that I was a girl went on to tell me that I’d better been a boy, because obviously I was doing “girl” wrong.
    It’s a sore spot because of the crap people say when they find out they’ve misgendered* my kid. Like “don’t worry, you can still try for a boy” or “then why did you dress her in blue?”
    It’s a sore spot because my kid came home from kindergarten almost crying and flung her light blue polo shirt away and went straight to the wardrobe to get a pink dress because the other kids had told her she was a boy in that shirt.
    I don’t get annoyed or angry because they get the gender wrong, I get annoyed and angry because they think they can tell from their outfits and that they should be able to.

    *For the value of “gendering” a baby or 3 yo

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