The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

Troubled by muddling of gender distinctio­ns

- Christine Flowers

In the last few years, it has become common to see people put their pronouns in their email sign offs, and to hear the phrase“gender fluid.”

When I was growing up, “gender fluid” was something you were more likely to read about in a pornograph­ic magazine than in polite conversati­on.

But that conversati­on has changed, radically, and it is now perfectly normal to have discussion­s about 12-year-olds who want full mastectomi­es, and grown biological men demanding entrance to the girls’ locker room.

And then, of course, there is Rachel Levine, who lectures the rest of us on how important it is to “affirm” a young child’s gender preference.

In another life, all of this would have earned you a longterm residence at Byberry, the barely lamented mental hospital in Northeast Philadelph­ia.

Today, if you critique these things, you are the one with the mental problems. And that makes me angry.

Talking about gender transition surgery for children and adolescent­s makes me angry. Calling Rachel Levine the highest ranking “female” in the history of the Department of Health makes me angry.

The reason that these things make me angry is because it appears that women are being erased under the guise of tolerance and compassion.

Here is where I abandon the LGBTQ aspect of the controvers­y and focus on the larger picture, which has less to do with a small demographi­c and more to do with a sea change in the way that we think about the role of women in society.

The other day, I was watching Perry Mason on a loop, because there is nothing else that I find as interestin­g on TV.

Between “The Case of the Restless Redhead” and “The Case of the Sleepwalke­r’s Niece” there was a commercial for a furniture company.

A lovely young woman and a handsome young man were sitting next to each other on a cramped sofa, and were discussing how they needed to find stuff for their baby because, as the lovely young woman said “we are pregnant.”

It was at that moment that it dawned on me: the “we” in her statement referred to the two people in the commercial.

Husband and wife, assuming they were married, were the pregnant “we.” The happy event was being shared between two humans, one of whom had a very pronounced 5 o’clock shadow.

And this was far from the first time that I’d heard a couple refer to themselves as “pregnant.”

It’s not as bad as a nonbinary person using the plural “they” to refer to their single, unitary self, but it is a bit jarring whenever I see a man jump onto the pregnancy bandwagon.

I come from a generation where men drove their wives to the hospital, waited patiently in the waiting room reading magazines that hopefully did not contain the ’60s-era version of the phrase “gender fluid,” and then bounded gleefully into the room after baby had been cleaned up and presented in all of his or her sweet fluffy newness.

It was a useful, albeit hokey, little story because it helped define the very distinct roles that my parents played even from the beginning: My mother gave me life, my father gave me a home.

That is what annoys me when I hear a couple talk about being pregnant.

“They” are not pregnant. They are “having a child” together, but the act of giving life is the woman’s alone. She is the one who vomits in the dark hours of the morning, she is the one with the swelling ankles, she is the one who feels the flutter of movement within her body, she is the one whose breasts swell with nourishmen­t and discomfort, she is the one with the headaches and the cravings and the unrecogniz­able body.

The woman.

Men are an integral part of a child’s developmen­t, but they cannot be “pregnant.”

That fey little phrase is actually a dangerous erasure of the woman, and a muddling of gender distinctio­ns.

And that is why it upsets me to hear these otherwise innocuous things, because they lead to bigger things like a society that believes a deputy secretary of health who was a woman for less than a third of her life should be lauded as “woman of the year.”

Or to put it another way, the correct pronouns for pregnancy are “she/her/deal with it.”

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