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May 30 2011

Gender-free Parenting

Maybe in the future.

So a couple in Toronto has decided to keep their newborn baby’s sex a secret from friends and family in order to help the child develop free of gender roles. I have so much difficulty deciding what to think of this. Because first of all, it’s nice to see someone trying to raise their children in a way that allows them to express themselves and be free of this typical “boys must not cry” and “girls must be pretty” bullshit.

However, people need to be realistic. As this Thought Catalog post wisely points out, kids in elementary school segregate themselves by gender and choose their friends accordingly. Who will be friends with little Storm?

Furthermore, Storm’s parents aren’t simply allowing him/her/zer to choose an identity–they’re imposing one. It’s one thing to allow your child to experiment and choose how to act, what to wear, and so on. But it’s entirely another to try to force a child to grow up without a gender at all. The idea should be that regardless of what’s in your pants, you should be allowed to express yourself. Hiding basic biological truths from a child’s friends and family is, in my opinion, going overboard.

There’s also the uncomfortable sense that Storm’s parents might be a bit more concerned with making grand political statements than seeing that their child grows up happy. The email they sent to friends and family said, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime…”

But the thing is, what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime just isn’t what it is right now. A responsible parent raises children with a healthy balance of realism and idealism–not one rather than the other. For instance, I’m sure my parents wish that someday I could walk down the street alone at night in a miniskirt and face no threat of sexual assault. But right now, I can’t do that. So they see to it that I don’t go out dressed like that. I’m sure they also wish that I could freely disclose my diagnosis of depression to whoever I want and face no stigma or prejudice, but that’s not how things are right now. So they tell me to be careful about whom I tell. (Granted, I choose to blog about it anyway, but that’s a choice I’ve consciously made.)

Back to the point. If the intention of Storm’s parents in keeping their child’s biological sex a secret was simply to prevent friends and family from making gendered remarks (and giving gendered presents)…well, I’d like to think that they respect their friends and family enough to be able to ask them politely to refrain. They could ask for non-gendered gifts. They could suggest ways to play with or compliment their child that don’t include references to gender (for instance, saying “Good job” instead of “Good boy/girl”). Sure, that would be a bit more difficult than simply keeping Storm’s sex a secret, but it would be less ridiculously dramatic, that’s for sure.

I’m not sure I see anything good coming of this. Raising a child who flaunts societal norms is a great thing, but that child should be old enough to understand the consequences that, unfortunately and inevitably, arise. A teenager who decides to (for example) dress androgynously knows that others will inevitably react in a negative way. But a little kid can’t possibly understand that. The thought of Storm coming home every day crying because all the other kids make fun of him/her/zer for no apparent reason makes me really sad, and it makes me wonder why these parents are putting their political beliefs before their child’s happiness.

For another (great) post on this topic that I completely agree with, see “A Child is Not a Billboard” by Clarissa.

1 comment

1 ping

  1. 1
    rilian

    I don’t think it’s necessarily imposing an identity. It depends how they do it.
    All parents have to impose an identity on babies, in a sense. They have to choose what clothes to dress the baby in. They choose what toys to give them. And many people continue to try to impose an identity even after the baby is not a baby anymore and is capable of choosing for themself and sometimes even if they say “I want this,” the parents will say they can’t have it because it doesn’t match with the gender they’ve been assigned. If these parents continue to try to force the child to be gender-neutral after they are old enough to choose their own clothes/toys/hairstyle, then they are imposing an identity.
    They shouldn’t try to keep the kid’s sex (usually assumed based on the genitals) a secret from the kid themself. They can choose what to tell people once they are able to talk. Telling for them at any point would be imposing an identity.

    When I have a kid, I’m not going to buy them anything that’s explicitly gendered unless they actually ask for that specific item. Also, you mentioned school, and I’m not going to send my kid away to a school unless they specifically ask me to.

    And if people asked what kind of genitals my baby had, I’d say it’s none of their business. It’s none of my business either, but I can’t help seeing them.

  1. 2
    Why I Criticize Liberals and Not Conservatives « Brute Reason

    [...] want to see gender roles eradicated, or at least reduced greatly. But I don’t think that hiding your child’s biological sex from the world is the way to do [...]

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