‘We were supposed to let you all be ‘its’ and decide yourselves...’

Ailin Quinlan imagines a conversation in Ireland of the future, in her weekly opinion piece
‘We were supposed to let you all be ‘its’ and decide yourselves...’

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy recently told people that he and his wife are raising their new baby as gender neutral . Ailin in her weekly column imagines an Ireland with a new government and new laws on the issue Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

SON arrives in from football to find his mother and father sitting at the kitchen table arguing in low, anxious tones.

Father stands up. “Son, we have something to tell you.”

Mother puts her head in her hands. Father lays an arm about her shoulder.

“What is it, Mum, Dad,“ Son begs. “Tell me!”

“Son”, she sobs, “Many years ago, your Dad and I, we did something bad… we... we... we gendered you.

“When you were born, 18 years ago, we said you were male.

“We referred to you as a boy. We gave you the sexist male gendered name of Luke, rather than a gender-neutral name like Gooseberry.

“As you grew up,” she takes a deep, shaky breath – “we referred to you as ‘he’ and ‘him’ and not as an “it” or a ‘they’ and ‘them’.” She weeps.

The father stands up straight, his arms crossed, his face like stone, then takes a deep breath, extending a large hairy hand.

“Son, we’re sorry. We apologise. We didn’t understand.

“We have to tell your sisters too. They may be only 10 and 13, but there is a chance that we can still rescue them too, so we‘re going to tell them when they get back from camogie training.”

“See, we, er, gendered your sisters, too, when they were born. We gave them highly gendered names, Aisling and Aoife, instead of, er, Lingonberry or, eh Cranberry.”

“The new government thinks we should have allowed each of you to grow up as an ‘it’, offering you the choice to discover your own gender identity,” Dad says.

As he speaks he refers to a booklet in his hand. It has a harp on it.

“The new Taoiseach says he doesn’t want to limit the kind of future you might foresee for yourself by being gendered from birth, because, apparently, once your gender has been decided for you, even the way you play as a child, sort of, er, lays down the, em, path of expectations you will then follow. Eh, if you follow me.

“I think the idea is we were supposed to let you all be ‘its’ and decide for yourselves if you wanted to be a he or a she or just continue on as an it.”

Luke is silent for a minute.

“Why didn’t you?”

His mother cries angrily: “We weren’t educated about it. We didn’t understand. Nobody stopped you playing with Aoife’s Barbies, or experimenting with her nail-varnish for God’s sake!

“And Aoife played with your guns and MagnoDarts – we didn’t care. But this gender-neutral thing; it’s the big thing now since the election, when People Before Profit got in. Taoiseach Paul Murphy says it’s the government’s priority to give all children the choice to choose their gender.”

Luke stands up and rolls his shoulders.

“Mam, I like being a boy. I am a boy. He gestures, with some embarrassment, to his crotch. He rolls up his sleeves and pops out his arm muscles. I have a boy’s body. According to my biology book, anyway. If it’s all right with yiz, I’ll stay a boy. It’s been great fun being a boy. I like football and rugby and wrestling with my friends and stuff.”

There is a silence. Mother sniffs anxiously.

“Are you sure? Would you like to choose to be a girl? Because you still can be a girl and play football and rugby and wrestle your friends. You could try on one of my dresses if you want, or we could run out and buy you a pair of pink trainers or a lipstick. I’d be happy to show you how to use it,” she says hopefully.

“Sure, we wouldn’t turn a hair. I’d be glad to help with make-up.”

His father snorts.

“The new government says it might be necessary for gendered families like us to fill out forms and go to court and make statements reaffirming our choices.

“Dad and I may face fines or even custodial sentences for failing to offer you the freedom to make gender choices for yourself.”

She starts to cry again. Luke looks bewildered. Dad looks furious.

“Also,” his mother says, “we own a lot of gendered books. We have to locate every book in this house containing gendered names. Then we have to box them and send them to the County Gendered Book Incinerator.

“What?” cries Luke. “Aisling loves those old fairy-tale books. She’s always reading Cinderella and Rapunzel in bed at night and talking about their crowns and their ball-gowns! And what about Aoife’s Jacqueline Wilson books – they all have girls’ names!”

He pounds upstairs and comes back with an armful of brightly coloured texts. Lola Rose. Lily Alone. The Diamond Girls. The Lottie Project. His parents shake their heads sorrowfully.

“Aoife’s books have lots of gold and pink in the covers,” his mother explains. These are strongly gendered colours!

“Plus the main characters are mostly female, not male or non-gender. There are no examples of non-gendered persons in these books.”

She ushers him upstairs to his bedroom, where, as an example, she takes a battered, red, hard-covered book from one of his bookshelves. It’s called The Dangerous Book for Boys.

“This is a dangerously sexist book,” she explains. “Red is a gendered colour. It’s very male, so it subtly excludes people of female or non-gender.

“Also, the title implies that dangerous or exciting things are only for boys, not for people of the female or non-gender persuasion. It will have to be burned.”

Luke looks sad.

“That was a brilliant book,” he says.

They go back down to the kitchen where his parents hand Luke the new government explanatory leaflet. It says: “We live in a deeply sexist gendered society which creates strong expectations for boys, and strong expectations for girls. Gender roles are changing in today’s society.

“If we put a label, boy or girl on a child, we are increasing the chances that they will go down one road or another.

“This government wishes to give our children and their parents the freedom and the choice to make this crucial decision.

“Gender is a far more fluid concept than it was previously, historically, understood to be. This government seeks to redress the balance by providing its young people with the choice to be who they want to be – and ensuring that those who fail to offer them this choice are educated about the consequences of their error.”

“Christ. Could we just emigrate?” Luke says.

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