My nine-year-old son believes that kissing got me pregnant.
Me: Do you know how we made you?
Waylon: You got that thing from Uncle Brian.
Me: And then? We used my egg, right?
Me: So how are you related to Mommy?
Waylon: Well, I’ve been with her a lot. And also, when you two kissed [mimes sloppy French kissing] some of Mommy’s DNA got inside of you and then it got in me.
I love Waylon’s version of the story. Part of me wants it to remain exactly the same forever. But I also worry that we should be more strictly scientific about the mechanics of reproduction. I don’t want some playground smartypants to give him the 411.
I’ve written before about how hard it is to find children’s books about reproduction that don’t assume a gender binary (and children’s books about human sexuality that don’t assume reproduction). Most books for kids begin with “everyone is born a boy or a girl” and end with “some day you’ll make a family too,” but those are assumptions we don’t make in our family, because 1)we’re queer feminists and 2) Mommy is genderqueer.
That’s why I was so excited about Cory Silverberg’s book What Makes a Baby. Silverberg, a Toronto-based sex educator and writer, set out to create a “where do babies come from” story that would be inclusive for transgender, gay, lesbian and other nontraditional families.
As an adult reader, I appreciate the book’s attempt to uncouple sex from gender. Playful gender-neutral figures are accompanied by matter-of-fact statements:
“Not all bodies have eggs in them. Some do, and some do not….Not all bodies have sperm in them. Some do, and some do not.”
I couldn’t wait to read What Makes a Baby with Waylon. He’s a little old for picture books, but I thought he would appreciate a story that was flexible enough to include our funky family.
When we finished, Waylon was thoughtful for a moment. “What did you think?” I asked.
“Is Uncle Brian kind of like my dad?”
Okaaaaay. Not what I was expecting. Maybe reproduction is a little too culturally overdetermined to be so easily unmoored from gender. Or maybe Waylon is more interested in the question “how did I, personally, arrive on this planet?” than in the general question of how babies are made. Still, it’s an important question, and one that we need to approach over and over again from multiple angles. I appreciate almost any occasion to start a safe and meaningful conversation.
While What Makes a Baby has broad appeal, I suspect it will be most helpful to families where two parents contributed biologically to making their child. I think it will be especially valuable in families where one or both parents’ gender presentation is different than the gender typically assigned to the role that they played in reproduction.
To continue to answer Waylon’s questions, I’ve ordered the COLAGE Donor Insemination Guide. I’ve also been talking up the idea that he’s Katy’s “brainchild,” because she contributed the single most essential ingredient in his conception: the idea to have a baby in the first place.
What Makes A Baby will be re-issued in 2013 by Seven Stories Press. Silverberg is currently working on two more books about sexuality for kids of various ages. Can’t wait!