Monday, September 14, 2009

A little princess

A few days ago, I found myself on the Tube, sitting next to a group of three women and a little girl. Now, it’s obviously unfair to make assumptions about people’s sexuality based purely on their appearances, and God knows I’ve been misdiagnosed on many occasions (something to do my tendency to pout at moments of disappointment) but I’d already guessed the adults were lesbians before I clocked that one of them was wearing a “WHAT WOULD XENA DO?” t-shirt. Subsequent eavesdropping revealed that the little girl was the daughter of one of the women.

At one point, the girl asked: “What colour are my eyes?”

Her mother said: “Your eyes are green.”

“Why?” replied the little girl, not unreasonably.

“It depends on what colour your two mummies’ eyes are.”

Hang on a minute. Now, I’ve got no problem with kids being brought up in any combination of parent/carer scenarios: one daddy; two mummies; three daddies, a granny and a sword-swallower; as long as the child is loved and nurtured and protected, it’s really none of my business or anyone else’s. And in a broader sense, people should be entitled to define themselves however they bloody well want, and live by that definition. Unfortunately, biology occasionally intervenes.

Take the story of Caster Semanya, the South African runner whose gender has become a matter of international controversy. Semanya is a woman, in the sense that she was brought up as a woman, and identifies herself as female. Under normal circumstances, that should be the end of it. Unfortunately, she has chosen to take part in top-level athletics, and as such her biological identity - the configuration of her sexual organs, the nature of her chromosomes - also becomes a matter of public interest, in a way that it wouldn’t if she’d decided to be an accountant or a bus driver. The fact that she appears to possess testicles does not mean that she’s not a woman in a social sense, but it does make rather a nonsense of the idea of having separate events for male and female runners if she continues to compete as a female. In biological terms, she’s intersex, or a hermaphrodite, or a person with androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Then there’s Thomas Beatie, the man who had a baby. He’s a man, because he chose to undergo reassignment surgery and live as a man, and no-one else can or should deny him that right. However, he was, is and always will be a biological woman. The fact that he elected to keep his uterus and ovaries after surgery is beside the point; even if he’d had them removed, his biological identity would still be female.

Which brings me back to the little girl on the train. Presumably she’s being brought up by two women, and she calls them her mummies, and they are her mummies, because they love her and care for her, and she loves them back and that’s all lovely. But in biological terms, there’s a father somewhere in the equation, a man who provided his sperm to facilitate her conception. And part of the back story of her green eyes is down to that man. To tell her it’s because of her two mummies is wishful thinking, a nonsense, a lie.

13 comments:

treespotter said...

very strange. i only heard of this now.

blackwatertown said...

I can imagine that instead of pouting, you were pursing - and possibly even tutting.

Richard said...

I don't think I could have withheld myself. I share the same sensitivities as yourself but I still remember things my parents repeated to me over 40 years ago and for years I took them as gospel. Kids are so impressionable. Mummies, why is that man knocking your heads together yelling tell her the truth?

Annie said...

Curious. I wonder what they told her about her dad...

treespotter said...

i think kids these days are exposed to a whole new level of strangeness really.

in a recent scandal in Indonesia, a national pop Diva is currently going thru a very public divorce. The primary witness are the children who do talk shows. THe older kid, i think about 8 or so, spoke to a cameraman saying that his mother was sleeping with another man, so daddy wanted a divorce - and that's how the story broke.

They were and are the primary source.

I'm not even sure where that is in right or wrong question.

Rog said...

I assume the term "sword swallower" comes from the urban slang dictionery?

Tim Footman said...

Think of this blog as edutainment, TS. And the story about the divorce sounds like the snippet from Iran, where a kid on a radio phone-in said his dad had a monkey called Ahmedinajad.

BW: An eyebrow was raised. Probably looked even gayer.

It crossed my mind, Richard, but I would have had to preface the whole thing with "I am not a homophobe, but..." which rather tends to imply the opposite.

Annie: I guess he was an unperson.

No, Rog, I just picked an amusing job title from the ether.

dh said...

Never deny that you are a homophobe, or a lesbophobe....any kind of phobe really. Kiss of death.

On topic. One day that little girl is going to want to know which mummy is her daddy.

hesspartacus said...

For some people, truth will always come a poor second to doctrinal orthodoxy.

And the Monstrous Regiment of Wimmin (to misuse John Knox) have a particularly long rap sheet in this regard.

Silly cows.

garfer said...

Oh Dear.

I'm off to have a chat with Edmund Burke.

Charles Frith said...

This isn't probably the right place if there is a right place at all but I've had a series of semi-girlfriends 3 or 4 in the last six months or so in Thailand who all pointed out that they were in a Tom & Dee relationship.

Now it's easy to reassign that to a lipstick lesbian and diesel dyke folksonomy but they all insisted, some with considerable rage that they weren't Lesbians.

All I can say is that I don't think I'll ever understand Thai gender and sexual identity issues but in principle until sperm is produced elsewhere then children need to know that fathers exist.

Tim Footman said...

It's quite possible she won't want to know who he is, Dick. But it would be nice if she knew he existed (as Charles says).

Now now, Spart. Although they do remind me of religious fundies a bit.

And tell Thomas Jefferson the news, Garfer.

I think the Thai thing is more to do with coyness about any form of sexual identity or behaviour, Charles. They denied they were gay, but did they specifically claim to be heterosexual?

GT said...

What if one of her mummies is a biological man who elected to become a woman in the social sense?