Aside from that small percentage of parents who refuse to identify their children as a boy or girl and want to keep their family and friends guessing in order to not put any gender stereotypes upon their child (what, you heard some sarcasm there?) - the rest of us prefer and assume that it's pretty clear which of our children are our daughters and our sons. But what happens when that's not so obvious?
My daughter had a tennis match the other day - nothing unusual there. But here's the interesting part. When we were going over the line-up, I looked at her opponent's name. Let's say, for sake of this discussion, the name was "Marsha". The other captain said "she's running late but on her way." As we walked out to the courts, we noticed there was someone else on the court with my daughter and the captain said, "oh, I guess she's here." So good, so far. I walked over to my daughter's court and glanced at her opponent. And it's a boy, or so it appeared to me and my husband. Maybe the kid's name is "Marshall" not Marsha, I thought and the team captain made an error. I said to the kid, "hey, I want to make sure everyone's on the right court. What's your name?" In a voice that had a little more bass than a typical girl, her opponent said "Marsha." Okay.
Marsha was dressed in that androgynous sports uniform kids wear - sports shorts and generic sports logo tee and had short-ish hair. And typical of a 13-14 year old, Marsha had a pretty straight body build, not particularly muscular or curvy. But Marsha swung a tennis racket like a boy.
Just a note - don't get upset - yes, I have watched enough kids' tennis to differentiate between a girl's swing and a boy's. There are other girls that I know that "hit like a boy", too, but they are more, shall I say, noticeably a girl - for instance, they were tennis skirts and headbands. Okay, back to my story...
I noticed Marsha's mother speaking in a different language, but I couldn't really hear her. Maybe, I thought, this is a foreign name, too, and in that country, it's a masculine name. My daughter said they were speaking in Spanish and a boy's name would not end in "a" (2 years of Spanish and she thinks she's an expert). Whatever, he was a boy, I had determined. And to prove my point - we checked the team roster. Next to Marsha's name, under gender was listed "F".
This is not the first time we've had this confusion. In several basketball games - which are all girls teams - there's been someone on the other team that has caused a double-take as we parents wondered, "do they have a boy on their team?" Even on her own team, one of the players cut her hair real short and we didn't recognize her when she came to practice, thinking perhaps it was a boy cousin or friend. and I have even teased my own daughter that with her hair braided and in her preferred boy basketball shorts, she would make a cute little boy.
This gender confusion is bearable when the kid is like 3 months old. But even then, we get kinda annoyed when a stranger asks whether our baby dolled up in pink is a boy or girl. I know I did. And at least at 3 months old, the kid doesn't know or care that you asked. It could be more than annoying, it could be downright embarrassing - to the parent and the kid, when you're asking about a 13 year old. Nobody wants to hurt a kid's feelings.
This tennis season, it's not a rule issue, boys can play girls; but in the next season, matches are gender specific, i.e. girls play girls, boys play boys. What if they are paired again? I imagine that I will go by whatever the team captain puts on the sheet, whether Marsha is listed for the boys' match or girls'. Right?
So, dear reader, I pose this question to you. Is there a tactful way to ask someone the gender of their not-infant child? Have you ever been asked and how did you respond?