It was fascinating to read Volf’s chapter on ‘gender identity’ on the day after learning that the second of our eagerly awaited children is, in fact, a girl. Six weeks ago, we learned that one of our babies was obviously and demonstrably male, while the other child was a bit more, well, demure. But yesterday, the sonographer gave us the wonderful news.
If this second baby was shrouded in mystery, she was also cloaked with ambiguity and separated by a kind of emotional distance. I guess I felt somehow connected with the first child, since I knew what is often the preeminent fact about a person (“Is it a girl, or a boy?” seems to be the first and most popular question at the birth of a baby). It was not that I didn’t like her, but that I didn’t know her. Now that I know this child is female, I find myselves feeling quite differently. Obviously, I would (and have) loved her regardless. But gender identity is so foundational for our sense of knowing someone that she has suddenly become, somehow, more real. A person, a girl, a daughter. Like hitting ‘scan’ on a DVD, I can begin to imagine both children’s lives more clearly, foresee the challenges which each life might hold, think about the ways that they might relate to one another, and anticipate some of the fruit they might bear.
At the same time, I feel myself going too far. “Give them some space to find their way”, I say, “don’t pigeon-hole them too much.” For our gender, while an undeniable part of who we are, can also be a trap. As Volf writes, “Instead of setting up ideals of femininity and masculinity, we should root each in the sexed body and let the social construction of gender play out guided by the vision of the identity of and relations between divine persons [i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] (EE, 182).
The reality is that being female and male implies an inherent interdependence; a necessary cooperation (as in the Trinity). Yet for ages, and in most of the world, femaleness has been seen as inferior to maleness. Yet what is the difference, I wonder as I contemplate these two beings, equal before God and floating in amniotic bliss? Why would one be seen as more or less valuable based on differentiated genitalia and DNA? Why would our thoughts about them change so much once their sex is evident? Gender is– all at once– everything, and nothing. Undeniable, accepted, and celebrated. Yet also viewed with utmost caution, lest we provide anything but equal treatment and opportunity.