Legacy: “Twins? A boy and a girl?” Raising children in a gender binary society
Raising twins was like driving a Harley Davidson motorcycle painted a bright red with all the extras.
“You have twins? Two girls?”
“No, a boy and a girl.”
At that point there were two responses that each drove me down a different kind of loca.
Road #1: “How perfect.”
What could I say? I usually forced a smile. But I wanted to say: “Whatever children and genders of twins is perfect.” This mania for both genders has resulted in so many responses by science and couples that it is usually in the service of a male baby. A recent Uber driver told me his wife had had a fourth girl in the effort to have a boy. I admonished him to love his girls and go beyond what he thought females were allowed to do. I truly did not care about gender when twins showed up in the ultrasound. I cared about health and happiness.
Road #2: “Are they identical?”
Again, the allure and extra special secret sauce around twins is about the mirror imagery and capacity to fool others. My response to this was simple: “Different genders can’t be identical.”
Studies have shown that babies are handled differently the minute they are born. Females are held closer, males are thrown up in the air. My parenting focused on encouraging both safety and daring in both children. It focused on multicolored outfits and clothes that encouraged play and comfort. More than anything it focused on watching what each child was drawn to before they became heavily influenced by a still gender-enslaved society. My son loved Mulan, my daughter loved blue. My son was shamed for painting his nails. My daughter was jokingly named a “bully” by the boys closest to her in an anonymous middle school survey. This resulted in me having an extremely agitated conversation with the school counselor who believed the survey with no further investigation. Given my adamant stance, she might have thought the fruit did not fall far from the tree.
Because I knew I could not possibly remember all the deliciousness that came out of my twins’ mouths, I kept a journal for each of them to record their pearls of wisdom. In searching for signs of how we worked with gender differences, I found several. While my son was big into Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, we also had this conversation:
Today I took you to soccer class and you asked: “Why did the man have his shirt off?” I said: “Men can do that in this culture and women can’t.” You said: “When I grow up, I’m going to change that.”
Throughout their lives they have had friends that crossed their own gender-identity and were comfortable exploring their own interests regardless of the fact that we live in a gender binary society that prescribes two strictly defined genders. Being twins gave them a comfort and easier connection with each other’s differences. From my son:
We were reading a Star Wars book and the word ‘confidante’ came up. I told you what it meant and asked who would be your confidante. You said: “Gina”.
Part of the legacy I offered was the belief they could each aspire to whatever level of power they desired. They both saw the possibility of becoming President for different reasons. From my daughter’s journal:
We were talking about how men in power can make bad decisions. You said: “Don’t worry Mami — I can be President if that is still true.”
From my son:
We were in Denny’s and you said: “I want to be President.” “Why?” I asked. “Then I could tell everybody what to do, including you.”
Because they were raised with no father (for the first four years of their lives I identified as a lesbian and they have two moms), I was constantly seeking and choosing men as role models who valued diversity and equity. I have the good fortune of having a family and community that sees them as individual beings and has always encouraged them to follow their unique paths. The value of being multiples is that they did many activities together growing up for the sake of a sane schedule. This meant one might be more or less invested in gymnastics, soccer, swimming lessons or glass blowing, but they were registered together and got to explore a wide variety of activities. In the end, my daughter chose crew as her sport and my son chose rugby. She separated her left clavicle snow boarding and he broke his right clavicle tackling a 250 pound rugby player. They both received speeding tickets within seven months of becoming car owners. My son is the shopper and my daughter is the one with the septum nose piercing.
Even with all this intention on the part of myself and my community, societal and hormonal gender still drive them. My son will mockingly talk about how strong men are. My daughter “dumbs down” her beauty because of the unwanted attention she receives. I offer her self-defense classes because no matter how fit and confident she is, the martial arts classes they took as children will not protect her from a focused attacker. The same goes for my son, but I am more focused on how he treats females given the permission he receives daily from society to feel and act superior. It gives his ego a boost to spout sexist comments. I hope it is mostly to annoy me, but I won’t presume that. There is too much at stake.
Which leads me to the underneath current of my own gender-driven awareness process. I was very female gendered growing up and rode the second wave of feminism in college, renouncing much of my upbringing, along with my razor and plucker. Eventually I quit riding any waves that were not about choices and authenticity amid the intensity of societal gendering.
Raising children is first and foremost a grand opportunity to raise ourselves – I had to reflect on my own gendering and own it authentically. That meant bringing back the razor and plucker and saying to my children again and again: “This or that, here or there?” They did and do live in a much more fluid environment, but the old structures are still the norm. I feel them in my life and they do too. As a parent, the more I ask myself: “Why?” about my gendered choices, the more I can support them in landing loosely on their path.
Linda González has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Her essays have appeared in Cooweescoowee, The SN Review, Long Story Short, and Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul, (in English and Spanish), and are forthcoming in Huizache and Tolteca Zine. Linda is still raising and being raised by her now 20-year-old twins, Gina and Teo. You can read more of her work at lindagonzalez.net.