E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, is a visiting researcher at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center and a contributing editor at the Prospect.
We were standing in our neighbors' house--I must have
been five or six--next to a diaper-changing table, where the moms were cooing over
a new baby. Suddenly I was dizzyingly puzzled by how adults knew whether that
blurry lump of flesh was a girl or a boy. My mother was quite impatient with the
question, saying that I already knew. "I don't remember," I insisted. "Yes, you
do. Think about the difference between you and your brother." What could she
mean? "In the bathtub," she coaxed. Still no insight. Finally, as if this were as
plain as the alphabet, she said, "Boys have penises and girls have vaginas." Oh!
That! That was a relief: The distinction was both simple and unimportant.