Successes And (Mostly) Failures In Gender-Bending My Kid

162895605When I got pregnant, my partner and I knew we wanted to be thoughtful about the ways we helped our kids construct their gender and the way they viewed gender in general. Whatever sex our baby was born, we had every intentions of gender-bending the hell out of it. We toyed with the idea of raising a gender neutral child. But between the confusion and protests it would incite in our families and all the extra work it involved, we decided it wasn’t for us. What we really wanted was to find ways to equip our future children with the tools to think critically and the ability to challenge the notions of gender dichotomy that society would inevitably be pitching to them from womb to tomb. 

Much easier said than done.

When it was time to find out the sex of our baby, we decided against it. This would be our first mandate as gender-bending parents. We figured if nobody, including us, knew the sex it would prevent everyone from intentionally or subliminally transmitting their gender based hopes, dreams and stereotypes through my belly.

Wrong.

Inexplicably, friends and family still lovingly whispered, shouted and rain danced nonsense at my stomach whenever they’d get the chance. It usually sounded something like, “Hey baby boy in there! Hurry up and come out so we can play ball!” SMDH.

Our next gender-bending challenge was clothing. As soon as our son was born, we were bombarded with utterly boring “boy clothes”. I had to lay down some rules. No sports! No “macho superhero’s”! And nothing with the words, “champ”, “all star” or anything of the sort. I was really hard core about this. I planned to balance out all the blues and greens with lots of pinks and purples and was ready to go to war with anyone who had a problem with it.

Turns out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Even as a “progressive” parent, these binaries are still hard-wired within me and require some serious unlearning. I couldn’t fathom putting a dress on my son! If he asked for it, that’d be one thing. But doing so as a regular practice of gender bending? I wasn’t nearly as bold as I thought I was.

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    • Pat or Terry

      Sorry, but you are dumber than a sack of rocks. The sad thing is……your child will suffer for it.

    • Nancy Knowles

      Everyone in the history of the world, and I mean everyone, including you “special” people buying into this incredibly inane and insane ideology about gender neutrality, are on this earth because of ONE MAN and ONE WOMAN whose sexual union brought you into existence. No matter how many episodes of Modern Family you watch, this will never change. Never. Ever.

    • telepanda

      I think this has a lot to do with the age of your kid, although I do admit to not prioritizing gender identification skills with my son. He’s 3, and refers to people as ‘he’ or ‘she’ interchangeably. I think he knows the gender of most of the people he’s close to, and we did introduce the concept of body differences when he asked where his baby sister’s penis was, but it’s not high on his radar yet. That said, if he shows more of an interest in classifying people (because that’s what kids do) I won’t withhold information. (Un?)relatedly, he doesn’t differentiate very well between Minnie and Mickey Mouse.

      I was curious yesterday about how much gender stereotypes were sinking in at daycare so I asked him if boys and girls play with the same toys or different toys. “Different.” [cue heart flutter.] “What do boys play with?” “Dolls.” [relaxing.] “What do girls play with?” “Dolls.” “What else do girls play with?” “Blocks.” “Do girls play with trucks?” “Yes.” “Do boys play with trucks?” “Yes.”

      So I think we’re good for a while longer.

    • Phil

      Oh, how I weep for the future. What a fanciful load of pixie dust and unicorns.

      The reality is, raising your child this way is abusive and does the child a horrible disservice.

    • nyghtrunner

      Why refer to “him” as “he” or “son”, as in:
      “He is currently at the stage in his gender development where he would be categorizing people in his life as boys or girls. While he may perceive a difference between the sexes based on the sounds of voices or faces, he doesn’t label them. In fact, he doesn’t categorize anything based on gender.”

      And instead refer to “it”?

      You mentioned it was a boy. Why does that matter? Why not just call it your child? Or we could stay age neutral as well as gender, and just always refer to “it”. Save a lot of ink that way, since “it” has fewer characters than “boy” or “girl” or “child” or “person”.

      Let me rewrite that quote for you.

      “It is currently at the stage in its [gender, but why even reference gender here, since you're so opposed to it? Why categorize the development?] development where it would be categorizing people in its life as boys and girls (this can stay, so long as you never tell ‘it’ about ‘boys and girls’). While it may perceive a difference between the sexes based on the sounds of voices or faces, it doesn’t label them. In fact, it doesn’t categorize anything based on gender.”

      Here, I’ll correct another one for you:
      “What I want for my thing is for it to fully actualize as a human being, whatever that means for it. And if one day it asks to wear a dress or a tutu, I’m totally down for that.”

      While we’re at it, we should really get rid of the concept of ownership, so the first sentence above should really read:

      “What I want for it is for it to fully actualize as a human being, whatever that means for it.”

      But 1 thing at a time I guess.

      • J.

        Calling a person “it” is generally seen as offensive, derogatory or cruel and is used as a means of bullying people who are gender non-conforming (I have been a victim of this). I do understand your point, and would like to suggest that instead of “it” using “they/them/their”. They/them/and their are the pronouns used by gender-neutral, genderqueer, and other gender non-conforming persons who identify under the trans umbrella. I do not think that these pronouns should be limited to persons who do not identify as either gender or identify as both/whatever, though, and I see opportunity to use these pronouns for children being raised as gender-neutral or in a gender-neutral environment (at least until they understand gender and how it is used in their culture. If they then decide to use a s/he pronoun then more power to them). They/them/their have been accepted as grammatically correct even when used where only a single person is being spoken of, which was something that even I had to get over…so I think this would be a perfectly acceptable way to speak of someone’s child.

        Thank you for your point of view, I think your mind is in the right place! Peace.

    • Reba

      I am an anthropology major and totally get that gender is created by our culture. but .. there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure give your kid options to like what he wants whether he wants to play dress up or wear purple shoes OR whether he wants to worship the Hulk and toy cars. It sounds more like you’re trying to do a creepy experiment on your kid.

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    • Kay

      “NO SPORTS!”

      Oh my god… I just can’t. I can’t even read the whole thing. “I want my child to be my little gender neutral fashion accessory! So since he’s a boy, physical activity and games are not allowed!”

      Okay.. Going to try to continue…

      He doesn’t know he, she, her, him, etc. Wow. You do realize he’s going to have to learn to read when he starts school, and he will have to learn these words? Enjoy your crazy for now. It’s only a matter of time.

      Okay, finished the whole thing. My generation is freaking insane. This kind of nonsensical trendy parenting is why kids are so confused and depressed.

      You want to know the secret to good parenting? It’s simple. Raise a girl as a girl, raise a boy as a boy, turn off the TV and keep them off video games and iphones, make them play outside, teach them kindness, respect for others, and responsibility. And if they turn out gay or transgender, you support them and love them just the same and accept them for whomever they turned out to be. You love your son’s partner as your own child, as long as they treat him right, regardless of the gender. You accept who they are and know you raised them to be a functioning adult.

      You don’t F***ing FORCE them into a world of confusion just because you want to make yourself look cool and trendy. GROW UP. You are responsible for a human life now. Quit trying to make your boy a girl. He has a Y chromosome. Get over it.

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    • Nitabe

      I didn’t at all take it to mean that you were erasing gender! You are simply identifying people by their person to start with, then maybe letting people on their own introduce themselves as man, woman or neutral. But that not being the first thing your child sees I think is beautiful! My wife and I are planning to raise a gender neutral child/ren and appreciate insight from someone who had already gone thru/is going thru it! Your child is lucky to have you both as parents!

    • Jeanette

      I really wanted a girl when my son was born. On the pretext of raising him gender neutral, i kept his hair long and frequently put him in dresses until he was about to start school. Then then long curled hair got cut to a more androgynous length and we mostly put away his dresses. Two weeks into kindergarten, he demanded more hair cut off. The rest is history. He’s all boy now, regardless of what we may want. Nurture met nature in kindergarten, and nurture immediately got kicked to the curb. Oh well, it was a fun experiment but next time, I’ll hope harder for a little girl. This one throws a baseball too hard!

    • J.

      This is a wonderful article. I am a two-spirit ftm transguy, and if I were ever to have children I would raise them gender-neutral. Thank you for sharing your experiences, your trials and errors! I think what you are doing is great.