It is 9pm. Ideally it should be bedtime but you know how this pandemic has tossed household routines out the window. Bedtime will come hours after this playtime.
GB and I are sitting cross-legged in the living room rug as Muna fixes us a meal in her pretend kitchen. It’s all pink plastic burners and yellow plastic spatulas and blue plastic sufurias.
She will fix us plastic coloured food that she’ll serve on plastic plates. I’m worried that we’ll leave her kitchen with insides of plastic. Made in China plastic. Because, where else?
Muna clasps her hands, “Mummy, your food is ready.” What are we having today? Aha, seafood. My favourite. I’m having starfish and crab with a side of banana juice spray. GB is having octopus and... Lego blocks. No sides, either. It’s also not as piping hot as mine is, either. Poor man. Muna’s kitchen was clearly not ready to host a second patron.
EXPECTATION AND GLEE
Her eyes are wide with a mad mix of expectation and glee. “Eat your food.” And so we indulge in this seafood spread. Between mouthfuls we remark at how delicious it is. What a wonderful chef she is. She beams.
Muna is four-and-a-half now. Last year, she realised she is a girl. I know that sounds redundant but it is not. She identified her gender as female and is now exhibiting mostly feminine traits: she likes to doll herself up in puffy princess dresses and round-toe shoes with bows, paired with stockings and pants in crazy prints. She loves lipstick and nail polish and the colour pink.
Granted, she also likes riding her (pink) bike and playing football and wrestling but on most occasions, she’s a girly girl. She also identified who is who in the family. “Mummy is a girl. Even Aunty. Papa is a boy. And Guka and Pathan. (Her cousins) Ezra is a boy, and Nailah is a girl.”
She can see now what boys wear and how they dress their hair and how they take a piss (this one especially fascinated her, ha-ha). She thinks boys are silly. And rough. And smell funny. She told me about the pregnancy I’m carrying: “If the baby is a boy, I won’t like him.” I chuckled.
Anyway, this distinction of gender is important because we’re living in a world that recognises the gender of people as he, she or they – male, female or other. Then there’s the sexual orientation that may or may not fit squarely with gender. Males, females and others can identify as heterosexual or as lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, pansexual et cetera – the LGBTQIAP+.
These distinctions of gender and sexual orientation are generally accepted in the West. Thankfully, our African society is gradually shedding off its conservative cultural attitudes and having these uneasy conversations. We’re recognising and accepting people for who and what they are, what they have chosen to be.
As a parent to the next generation, I can’t bury my head in the sand the same way my parents’ generation did – I must confront my prejudices; I must reconcile myself with the possibility that our daughter may not have identified as female or may not be sexually attracted to boys. Or that our son, Inshallah, may prefer to braid dolls hair and wear my high heels to changing engine oil with GB.
HATE AND EXCLUSION
What will I do if it turns out so? What if one plus one doesn’t equate to two? Well, I’ll accept my kids as they are. And I’ll love them even more because the world outside my door may choose hate and exclusion over acceptance.
It is a real pity we live in a dated society which still believes that the non-conforming folk are evil (by Biblical standards) and must be outcast – or worse, murdered – as though they are carriers of a contagious disease. Yet science has proved that gender identity and sexual orientation is mostly determined by nature, not nurture – people are born into this lifestyle, few others choose it.
I am also mature enough to know that love is love. The world is a cruel cold place, and everyone is looking for love. Everyone needs love. Hell, the world needs love. I’ve hang around LGBTQIAP+ Kenyans who have come out of the closet, and are publicly displaying affection to their partners.
When you see how happy they are, you realise that if you’ve not accepted their progressiveness, then you are the problem. Deal with yourself.
There is a couple in the US raising their child in a gender-neutral manner. They say they’ll let their child chose a gender when the child feels inclined to. Theirs is a broader argument of equality: that the early male/female distinctions limit a child’s abilities, and creates a skills gap and power disparity later in life.
I am still thinking about how this pigeonholing will affect our kids. I think you should, too.