Strange[r] Encounters

Strange[r] Encounters

A common question Brent & I get asked is, “How do you respond to random people who ask you about or assume Zoomer’s gender?” Here is a breakdown of what typically happens in our day-to-day interactions with strangers.

About 60% of the time, strangers will gender Zoomer based on Z’s clothing. If Zoomer’s clothes have any pink or purple coloring, Zoomer usually gets gendered as a girl. If Zoomer is wearing anything but pink or purple, Z usually gets gendered as a boy. By ‘gendered’ I mean ‘pronouned.’ Strangers don’t really get into a major stereotyping spiral. Rather, our encounters with strangers are usually quick. So someone will say, “He’s so cute” or, “She’s so alert,” and we will respond with something along the lines of “Thanks!” or, “I know, right!?”  

Zoomer’s wardrobe is very diverse with all sorts of colors and patterns. Because of this, the gendering from strangers tends to be pretty balanced. When Z wore their watermelon onesie, strangers called them “she” or “her” – When Z has their black beanie on, strangers refer to them as “he” or “him.” Sometimes the same outfit results in “he” and “she” comments. It’s always an interesting surprise to witness how other people assume our infant’s gender when we don’t give over-the-top gendered cues.

Depending on what Z is wearing, Brent and I joke that Zoomer was a boy or a girl on a specific day according to strangers. And on some days they get to be both.

For example, one day while we were vacationing in Wyoming, we walked around Jackson’s Town Square, Brent was wearing Z in a dark green SollyBaby wrap, and Zoomer’s head, with a black beanie on, poked out the top, and Zoomer’s feet, with brown and white Zutano booties poked out the bottom. A few people said, “He’s so cute” as we strolled. We smiled and said, “Thanks!”

THEN – Zoomer shit their pants and the poop murdered their onesie. We changed them into a light pink track suit and as we explored Grand Teton National Park, someone asked “How old is she?” I simply replied, “10 weeks tomorrow!”

I’m not always in the mood to inform a kind stranger about gender neutral pronouns in the produce section.

To be honest, we can’t be bothered to get into it with every grocery store cashier by saying, “Actually, we use gender neutral pronouns…” The encounters are quick and harmless for now – Zoomer gets gendered by strangers, just like lots of little kids get misgendered and parents don’t bother to correct a stranger who is simply trying to pay them a compliment by saying the child is a cutie. I know – some of you may be thinking “you don’t practice what you preach” – I get it – I also don’t always inform people that I’m not a natural blonde when they compliment my platinum hair – we navigate each situation as it happens and I’m not always in the mood to inform a kind stranger about gender neutral pronouns in the produce section. It’s just a reality of how we do GCP. That said, as soon as Z tells us the pronouns they identify with we will navigate situations differently and inform people of Z’s identity.  

About 30% of the time, strangers don’t gender/pronoun Zoomer, but instead say something like, “What an adorable baby.” We say “Thanks!” and move on.

Maybe 10% of the time, a stranger will ask if Zoomer is a boy or a girl and Brent and I respond along the lines of, “We’re doing something called Gender-Creative Parenting, so we didn’t assign a gender.” About half the people who we say that to just smile and say “That’s nice” and move on. But the other half tend to be intrigued and supportive and ask us to tell them more about GCP or they share a personal story about how gender affects them or they tell us about a gender nonconforming child in their life. These interactions are virtually always positive encounters - but 0.001% of the time, a creeper in Costco points to the stroller that is completely covered and says, “Do you have a guy or a girl in there?” And I yell, “WHY DOES IT MATTER!?” and run away.

Before Zoomer was born, Brent and I thought we were going to have conversations about GCP with strangers daily, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. We could talk about gender-creativity and gender-neutral pronouns with every stranger we encounter, but we choose not to. Instead, we pick and choose when we want to discuss it based on how we’re feeling in the moment and whether or not we will ever interact with them in the future. If it is a person who we are meeting for the first time and they will be in our life – we talk about GCP. To be honest, practicing GCP makes me more aware of the gendered assumptions I make of children I see and I try to use gender neutral pronouns until I’m informed about the child’s pronouns or how the parents refer to them. I want Zoomer to grow up in a world where gender-neutral pronouns are normalized and asking someone’s pronouns is a common courtesy. That has to start with me and how I talk to and about people I don’t know.

If you are thinking about practicing GCP, mentally preparing and deciding on how you will navigate interactions with strangers is part of the gig, but my advice is – don’t stress too much. I was an anxious mess during pregnancy, concocting terrible hypothetical situations in my mind, but in reality, we’re 5 months into GCP and we haven’t had a negative encounter yet, fingers crossed our luck stays this great until Zoomer lets us know their pronouns. I look forward to the day when we’re out and someone misgenders Z and they can turn and eloquently say, “Actually, my pronouns are _____, what’s yours?”