If you’ve been reading New York Magazine lately, then you’ve probably caught wind of its latest feature, “It’s a Theyby!”, which looks at several couples who are intentionally — and very thoughtfully — raising their children without assigning gender.
“Is it possible to raise your child entirely without gender from birth?” the tagline asks. “Some parents are trying.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but basically, the gist of it is this: These parents, known as “gender-creative parents”, know the sex of their child based on anatomy; yet in as many cases as possible, they do not reveal that information to others, lest someone attach a gender label based on their child’s body parts. From birth, these gender-creative kids are given they/them pronouns rather than he/she.
So why are the parents doing this?
As Kyl Myers, parent to 2-year-old Zoomer, told New York mag:
“I’m very tired of the heteronormative and cisnormative model. I’m very tired of the patriarchy. A part of why we are parenting this way is because intersex people exist, and transgender people exist, and queer people exist, and sex and gender occur on a spectrum, yet our culture loves to think people, all 7 billion of them, can and should be reduced to either/or.”
Other gender-creative parents worry that their child will be boxed into gender stereotypes. They fear that their full potential will be limited based on someone seeing them as either a boy or a girl, and they want to raise a child without gendered ideas of what to wear, play with, or how to exist — at least for the first few years of childhood.
Chances are, you already have a very strong opinion about all of this, one way or another. But whatever your personal opinion, I think the fact that we are having a conversation about gender identity and raising kids who defy societal gender constraints is a good thing. An incredible thing.
And whether or not you agree with Myers, you gotta admit she’s right — many parents do in fact leave little room for their kids to figure out gender identity on their own.
Often, from the moment a parent sees the sexual anatomy on an ultrasound, there’s the leap to assume that their child’s gender will match their anatomy. From gender reveal parties to over-the-top baby showers doused in pink or blue, there are expectations, ideas, and hopes placed on a child simply by labeling them a girl or a boy — long before they even make their way into the world.
However, the assumption that a child’s gender will match their biological sex (cisgender) is one based in heteronormative thinking, and that can be a very discriminating way to think. The truth is, sex and gender are two different things, formed through different processes. Most children’s gender identity is locked in by age 3 or 4, and most kids will happily tell you if they are a boy or a girl.
I know a little something about this myself: I’m a gender nonconforming person who is raising a transgender child, and I can tell you firsthand that society feels uncomfortable when a person doesn’t identify as either a boy or a girl, or when they identify opposite their sex.
This is especially the case for gender fluid or transgender children. But if a cisgender child knows they are a boy or a girl in preschool, why do we have a problem with a transgender child knowing their gender at the same age?
The gender-creative parents raising their theybies are aware of this, too. As one parent who lives on the West Coast told New York mag, “Around 3, our kid was just like, ‘I’m a girl.’ And we said, ‘Oh, yay, we’ve always wanted a girl. You’re amazing. Welcome.’”
This parent also explains that despite being raised without a gender assignment, their child still defined “girl” using many stereotypical concepts placed on the female gender. The difference is, this child’s view of gender is wider than most.
But do we really need to raise our kids without gender to give them an expansive view of it? Personally, I don’t think so. If anything, I think challenging gender stereotypes while accepting the fact that our kids may not be what we thought they were is a more productive and realistic path to a society that thinks outside of the binary.
While I personally hate gender reveal parties — because until a kid confirms their gender, you just never know — I think it’s important to give our kids a gender label. However, I think we all need to be better about understanding that sometimes we get that label wrong.
There’s certainly a lot of learning that needs to be done when it comes to talking about gender creative, gender fluid, and transgender people and kids in general. But it doesn’t need to be difficult. We can encourage our kids to wear all colors, play with all kinds of toys, and wear sparkly clothes and nail polish, no matter their gender. We can allow our kids to be kids without shaming them into what we think a “girl” or “boy” should be.
And when our kids come to us doubting the label we gave them at birth, it’s our job to validate them by listening to the identity they know to be true.
I don’t think we need to raise kids without gender to raise kids who are accepting of themselves, others, and gender-creative and nonconforming people. But if the choice is between raising a kid without gender assignment or raising one who thinks their gender assignment at birth is their death sentence, I choose raising a kid who knows gender is fluid and anything is possible.