What gender is your baby?

Of course gender matters in this world, and it would be stupid to say otherwise.  What baffles me isn’t that it matters, but the way that the issue seems to bother some people so much.

Gender-Neutral Baby ClothesA woman who is a friend of mine has an infant whom she likes to take with her when she goes out shopping. Naturally, many other people (mostly other women, but not exclusively) will come up and look and say “beautiful baby”! Except when they see that she has dressed the infant in gender-neutral clothing.

Then, people become visibly frustrated, awkward, and sometimes even upset.

“I’m sorry, I can’t tell… is it a boy or a girl?” they will ask.

My friend will simply say that she’s a girl, as long as the question is asked politely.  And sometimes, the issue is then dropped; but some strangers feel it is important to give a little unsolicited parenting advice at this point.

“You know, you should really dress her so that people can tell,” the helpful stranger will offer.

“Why? Would you treat her differently if she is wearing pink or blue?” my friend will ask.

The conversation usually doesn’t last much longer than that.

But what I find most interesting, based on the way my friend tells it, is that some strangers will not simply be politely interested in the issue… they will be visibly bothered by the fact that they can’t “tell” the gender of her baby.


Recently Rush Limbaugh was expressing his outrage that a public middle school had instituted a policy that transgendered students should use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, and that other students were to accept that and not complain about it. In fact, the school went so far as to say that expressing negativity about transgender students for being transgendered was considered to be against school policy and would be punished.

Rush Limbaugh was outraged. “Can you imagine!” he sputtered, “Imagine being a 15 year old girl, and not knowing if the person in the next stall is really a girl, or some transgendered boy who happens to identify as a girl that day?”

(For now, let’s just blow past the insulting “…that day”, which simply shows that he doesn’t understand what the word “transgendered” means. Maybe that can be the topic of another article later.)

Once again, it’s clear that Rush Limbaugh is upset, flustered, and even angered by the idea that some girl might not know the gender of the person in the next stall over when using a bathroom in a public place.

He clearly expects that other people would “naturally” be upset by this as well: “Can you imagine? If that girl feels uncomfortable in the same bathroom with a transgendered person, she has absolutely no recourse!”

So why would she feel uncomfortable?

Would she go to the bathroom differently, if the person in the next stall were a female-identified transgender rather than a genetic female? Would she wash her hands differently, afterwards? Is she in any more danger, if the person in the next stall is a female-identified transgender person? (There is no reason you would think this, unless you incorrectly think that simply being transgendered makes a person “dangerous” somehow.)

It makes no sense. But once again, this is no “idle curiosity” that people have: it bothers people when they think they might not know someone’s gender.



There was recently a story about the AP Guidelines having some difficulty in communicating how same-sex couples should be reported about. Individuals who are in an opposite-sex marriage are commonly referred to as “husband” and “wife”, so if you are reporting on a woman named Patty Nickerbocker, and you wanted to talk about Patty’s spouse, you would write about it this way: “Patty’s husband, Paul, did such-and-such, and so on”.

One might think that the same rules could apply for same-sex couples.  If you are reporting on a man named Pat Nickerbocker, and you wanted to talk about Pat’s spouse, you could write about it this way: “Pat’s husband, Paul, did such-and-such, and so on”.

NOT SO FAST, according to the AP guidelines. In the case of a same-sex couple, they are only to refer to a spouse using the term “husband” or “wife” if it is in reference to a label that is being used by the people in the relationship.

Huh? That’s right. As an AP writer, you can write something like “Pat says that his husband, Paul, did such-and-such….”  However, if you are not actually writing about what one of the people said, you are to use the word partner.


I can’t think of any reason why they might make this kind of distinction….. unless, once again, we are up against the dreaded gender confusion issue. Are they worried that readers might be confused?  If a reader reads the phrase “Pat Nickerbocker’s husband”, maybe there is the fear that a reader might have to endure the trauma and heartbreak of a moment of confusion…. during which the reader is not completely sure whether “Pat” is a man or a woman.

And the very idea that a reader might not be absolutely certain of Pat’s gender makes people feel… awkward and weird.

(That’s why that Saturday Night Live sketch is so funny.)



I think all of these issues are related.  In fact I don’t think the issues of Rush’s objection to transgendered students in bathrooms, or the AP’s confusion about how to talk about same-sex couples, are really about homophobia per se.  Or at least, not only about that.

As our culture explores becoming more accepting of gender-role diversity in relationships, that exploration will naturally bring along with it another deep issue that causes problems in the American psyche: the problem of gender confusion. How do I act if I can’t tell what gender a person is? What words do I use if I’m not sure of the gender of a person’s spouse? Whose last name should the household telephone number be under?

It is ridiculous that people would have a level of fear, hatred, and anxiety wound up so tightly with simple ambiguities… but there you have it:

People just get mad if they don’t know the gender of your baby.

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  1. Warren says:

    Again, your twisting my words. Again, I’m NOT talking about a “right to not feel icky” and you’re avoiding the actual premise. Is a straight man walking into the women’s room a violation of a woman’s rights or not? What is your take? and why? should we not have a problem with it when it happens? (and yes, it does happen)

    Also, I’m not talking about a world where everyone rapes everyone every chance they get. Let’s not forget we’re discussing ethics, not percentages. It’s not a numbers game. It’s simply a matter of defining what is and isn’t appropriate… [remaining content removed].

    • Greg Stevens says:

      I think we’re done here. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

      First, you talk about your “rights” being infringed by someone else doing something that you don’t feel comfortable with, and when I say you have no “right to not feel icky” you say that it isn’t about that.

      Then, you talk about the “danger” of men breaking down the door of a stall in a bathroom in order to rape a F-to-M transgender person, and when I point out that you have no reason to believe that would happen because the numbers don’t support your “guys can’t control themselves in bathrooms” hypothesis, you respond by saying that it isn’t about THAT either.

      So finally you’ve hit on “defining what is and isn’t appropriate.”

      I agree with you: this is ALL it is about. That definition. There was a time when it wasn’t appropriate for black and white people to use the same bathrooms. I’m sure they used ALL THE SAME ARGUMENTS YOU ARE USING to try to keep bathrooms segregated: ranging from the “people feel uncomfortable” to the “it might lead to violence” to the “it’s just not appropriate” argument.

      And you know what? Our definition of what is “appropriate” got a little bit more open-minded. Society moved on.

      And now it’s time for you to do so, as well.

      Thanks for your comments.

      • El Warbo Grande says:

        I also noticed you moderated a significant portion of my last comment. I hope I haven’t said anything that made you feel “Icky”.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          Not at all! And I meant no disrespect by it, either. I really enjoy our discussions, and I want you to know that I very much appreciate your comments and the perspective that you provide. I only truncated your comments because I felt like we both (not just you) were going around in circles at this point. We were both repeating ourselves a lot, so I thought we were very much in a “we have to agree to disagree” place in the conversation.

          I’m hoping that you will keep dropping by and reading and commenting on stuff here from time to time, so I don’t want things to escalate to where we annoy each other TOO much all at once. 🙂

  2. El Warbo Grande says:

    Also, I would pose the question: When we allow a cross-gendered person to use the facilities for the gender they identify with, is this equality, or granting them special liberties? If a straight-gendered person (I don’t know if that’s the correct term here) is limited to using the facilities of their own gender, should a cross-gendered person be limited to using the facilities of their self-identified gender? If so, what’s to keep them from using whichever one they choose? (especially if their cross-gendered status is not known)

    • Greg Stevens says:

      Well, this is very easy to answer. And I have to have a little compassion for you here, even though I’ve been a little harsh in my wording in previous comments to you. It is obvious that you don’t know any transgendered people. I cannot fault you too much for not understanding much about it, since MOST people don’t.

      A (for example) M-to-F transgendered person lives life as a woman. She feels herself to be a woman. That’s what “transgendered” means. It doesn’t mean that she is a boy who likes to “play dress-up”. She actually feels, in her heart and soul and to the very core of her being, that she is as much a woman as you (for example) are a man.

      So that is the right that is really under discussion here: if she dresses as a woman, acts as a woman, lives her life as a women in every way possible, it isn’t as thought she is “picking” one day and deciding “whichever she wants”. And it isn’t as if she will be a mistaken for “just some other guy” when she walks into the Women’s Room. In fact, most M-to-F transgender people I know “pass” as women in normal day-to-day interaction. They use the Women’s Room, and nobody thinks anything of it.

      So this is NOT some kind of “I should be able to use whatever bathroom I want to!” kind of argument, like you’re grasping for in this comment. To try to portray it that way is to simply misunderstand what it means to live life as a transgendered individual.

      My friend Krystal is transgendered. Nobody can tell that she’s not genetically a woman, when she walks into that Women’s Room. And if, for some reason, there was a woman there who DID know… I can’t think of a single reason why that woman would feel “uncomfortable” that Krystal was there, except for prejudice.

  3. Warren says:

    I don’t suppose “uncomfortable” was really the best word to get my point across. I guess “violated” might address it a little better. Think about it this way; A straight man walks into the women’s room while a woman is in the stall doing her thing, then peeks through the cracks and starts watching. Are you saying that if this makes her feel “uncomfortable” then she should just get over it? Is there not some right of hers being violated here? Are you SERIOUSLY trying to say that any guy could just walk in to a women’s bathroom or shower (or vice-versa) and start ogling whoever he wants to and this doesn’t violate anyone’s rights at all?

    Switch the players in this scenario however you want (gay man, male-identified woman, half-man-half-platypus, etc.) and it makes no difference. Bluntly put, to make your case work, you would essentially have to legalize all forms of sexual voyeurism.

    Say what you like, but these ARE real issues, and if you and the LGBT community refuse to acknowledge them as such then you are simply not thinking it through. It goes much deeper than matters of mere comfort.

    You also said: “There is no reason to think that a male-identified transgender person is any more in danger than anyone else in that men’s room” I beg to differ. It seems a prime scenario for a gang-rape. Again, think it through.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      You said, “A straight man walks into the women’s room while a woman is in the stall doing her thing, then peeks through the cracks and starts watching.”

      Honestly, I think the violation here is in the peeking-and-watching, regardless of whether the person doing it is a straight man, a straight woman, or even a gay man. I don’t think anyone wants ANYONE peeking in the stall watching them, which is WHY WE HAVE STALLS TO BEGIN WITH.

      Once again, you’re throwing up these strange straw-man arguments, but you need to listen to yourself. We already have gay men and straight men going to the bathroom today. Let me ask you something: is there some huge epidemic of bathroom impropriety going on of which I’m not aware? Sure, one hears stories about creepy perverts doing things now and again, but by and large people know how to behave themselves in public. This is the situation in our culture as it ALREADY stands.

      So the hyped-up fear that things would somehow be different if transgendered people are allowed to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify is really just that: hyped up. There is no reason to think that anybody, of any sex or gender, won’t be able to “control themselves” in a public bathroom. And if they CAN’T, the fault isn’t the person’s gender, it’s the fact that they can’t control themselves.

      Moreover, why would a M-to-F transgender person any more likely to commit some kind of “peeping” crime in a WOMEN’s bathroom than in a men’s bathroom? If the person happens to be attracted to women, why would a M-to-F transgendered person who is attracted to women be any more likely to “peep” than a genetically female lesbian? The whole idea that there is “more danger” from the transgendered people than we already have in our current status quo is an illogical assumption

      Finally, I would warn you against the idea of “imagined possible rapes” as a reason to take people’s rights away, even in general. Let’s take a look at what some other countries have used “imagined possible rapes” to justify:

      1) preventing women from leaving any part of their skin uncovered
      2) preventing women from being outside unless accompanied by family member
      3) preventing women from being in the military

      All of these things are based on the same kind of hyped up paranoid logic that simply mixing genders will lead to UNIMAGINABLE ACTS OF RAPE, and therefore we should just keep women separate completely.

      It’s the same logic YOU are using, buddy… so tread lightly.

      • El Warbo Grande says:

        Let me make one thing clear about my position on this. I’m not saying it’s wrong for a gay man or a female-identified man to use a men’s restroom. I simply wanted to point out that the ethics here pose a case of “my rights versus yours” that makes it a sticky question. Frankly, my position on this is if a person has the male “equipment” then they have a right to be there. Also, take the “peeking” out of the scenario if you want and it doesn’t make much difference. If a straight man walks into a women’s restroom and clearly intended to do so, he is without question violating the privacy rights of the women who may be in there (and vice-versa).

        As far as the “imagined possibility of rape” goes, I think simply going outside of your house or leaving part of your skin uncovered is quite a different thing than than sitting in a stall with your pants around your ankles while several members of the opposite sex, (decidedly the more aggressive sex, at that) who could easily lock the door and overpower you, are hanging around just outside your shoddy, locked, sheet-metal stall. Just because people are “paranoid”, it doesn’t make them wrong. Any woman (male-identified or otherwise) who trusts this situation is insane.

        As far as women in the military goes, I doubt you’ll ever find a complete consensus there, whatever position you take.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          You said: the ethics here pose a case of “my rights versus yours”

          This is where you are getting tripped up. You have no “right” to not feel icky. You have no “right” to claim that you want only males at your son’s school because it makes you feel “uncomfortable” to have your boy taught next to a girl, you have no “right” to make it illegal for same-sex couples to hold hands in a public place just because it makes you “feel icky” to see same-sex couple holding hands, and you have no “right” to stop certain people from peeing in the stall next to you just because you find it creepy or weird to have that person peeing in a stall next to you. This is NOT a case of “my rights versus yours”. This is the case of someone’s right to live their life as the gender with with they identify, versus you feeling “uncomfortable”.

          And as I said in a previous comment, society has already decided in a large number of contexts: sorry, you don’t have “right” to not feel icky.

          And you’re still conjuring up this weird scenario where large hordes of straight men are going to bash down the stall door and rape a male-identified transgender person … and I have to ask, what the hell world do you life in? Why do you think that straight men wouldn’t be able to control themselves any better than gay men would?

          Because every single day, gay men pee next to straight men. And you don’t have marauding hordes of gay man raping straight men in bathrooms. If the issue is that you fear straight men will be SO OVERPOWERED BY THEIR DESIRE FOR THE F-to-M TRANNSEXUAL that they, otherwise law-abiding men, will COMPLETELY LOSE CONTROL….. then I gotta ask: why isn’t this already happening with gay people in bathrooms?

          Why? Because most people can freaking control themselves and respect other human beings. Your argument is a straw man argument, and there is no basis for it.

  4. El Warbo Grande says:

    As far as the baby gender thing goes, I usually want to know the gender of a baby at the very least so that I know whether to refer to him/her as he or she (as in “Oh, he/she is adorable!”). The last thing you want to do is use the word “it”.

  5. El Warbo Grande says:

    I think the transgender bathroom issue is kind of a tricky one. I’m pretty sure most women are going to be uncomfortable with any man (transgendered or not) walking into their bathroom. As far as women walking into the men’s room, well, I think some men might enjoy that a little too much. Frankly, I’d fear for the safety of the woman in that situation.

    On the other hand, I suppose if a guy walks into the men’s room to take a whiz, I could understand that he might also be uncomfortable if he knew the guy in the next stall preferred the company of other men. Who would be comfortable taking their junk out knowing the guy next to them might be checking them out? So I guess there’s issues with using the bathroom of their own physical gender as well.

    Still, I think it makes more sense, and I think abuses of the policy will be less common if your right to be in a certain bathroom is backed by your physiology.

    Funny, the LGBT community never really seems to address these issues. For them it’s all about equality. They always seem to turn a blind eye to the fact that messing around with gender and sexual orientation policies can put people in indecent and even dangerous situations.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      The LGBT community doesn’t address these “issues” because they are non-issues.

      There is no reason to think that a male-identified transgender person is any more in danger than anyone else in that men’s room, or that he puts anyone else in danger. The same is true for female-identified transgender people. The idea that having a transgendered person in the bathroom with you somehow leads to “danger” is a fantasy based on prejudice.

      As far as people feeling “uncomfortable” goes… I hate to break this to you, but you have absolutely no “right” to “not feel uncomfortable”.

      The fact that you might feel uncomfortable peeing next to a gay guy shouldn’t matter any more than the fact that some white guys “feel uncomfortable” peeing next to black guys. In fact, this was among the core arguments that people made for institutionalized racism, as well: mixing black people with white people might make some white people “uncomfortable”.

      Well, our society as a whole has responded to THAT issue.

      The response is: too bad.