My brother and his girlfriend have elected to Americanise the gestation period of their baby with a ‘gender reveal’ — well, his girlfriend has, the damp dishcloth just going along with it.
So here we all are with nibbles and drinks, in a room adorned with simplistic symbolism, awaiting the pop of a balloon, out of which will rain confetti. Blue for a boy. Pink for a girl. I endure through both ears the guests most delighted to be here, who inform me in absolute terms that boys are like this and girls are like that.
I field a question,
“Are you hoping for a niece or a nephew?”
I’m here in the official capacity of supportive brother and family dignitary, and so I respond, sincerely,
“I’m happy either way, Angie”.
I leave it at that — short and non-committal –, concealing from Angie a secret wish for this baby to have both sets of genitalia. I hold this wish only out of detached curiosity and sociological interest; I wonder how such an occasion, firmly premised on ideal binary logic, would manage this ambiguity and disjunction.
I approach a sort of kitchen island and dip into a bowl of peanuts. I know very well that we’re not gathered here today to reveal gender but, more accurately, to enact gender — I’ve read Judith Butler, you see. I know we are here to categorise a prenatal body as one thing as opposed to another, and endow it with an identity that pre-exists it. An object in the womb will come into being as a person — as a subject — through this most explicit recital of heterosexual norms.
I keep these ideas to myself; only light conversation is advisable at jovial dos. At any rate, I’m quite peckish and prefer to limit my engagement to the plate of crisps within reach. The flavour of the crisps is not immediately obvious, but soon discloses itself to be prawn cocktail.
A pin pierces the balloon. My underhand desire for genetic mutation is likewise punctured as a shower of blue ceremoniously inscribes the unborn body with meaning. It’s a boy, and unknown guests emerge to offer hugs at this (not very) emotional moment.
Just over the crest of the occasion, it seems a natural interval, and I move for the loo. I head directly to it, owing to my acute gift for locating toilets in unsignposted places. I don’t dwell an age in the solace of this small downstairs facility because it is unclear as to whether the door is locked or not. My short stop is, however, sufficient to contemplate that perhaps all this could not be otherwise, albeit we could have been spared the ritual:
I mean to say that if there is no self, in the sense of a constituent subject, independent of discursive practice; and if the body is recognisable to itself as well as to others — it has an identity, in other words — only by occupying a position within more or less pre-established forms, categories and narratives, then it is simply not possible for this baby to be anything other than regulated by hegemonic knowledge and understood as per social codes.
The deterministic implications of this idea trouble me, but I console myself knowing that this nephew of mine may deviate later in life — if only to a degree, and if he so wishes.
My bike is outside and I only need stay another half hour to be polite. If I’m offered a cup of tea, I’ll accept.