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Friday
Jul132012

Binary Parenting

There’ve been discussions about raising children in a gender-free or gender-neutral environment, the most familiar being Storm, a baby being raised without the sex characteristics being publicized or known even amongst the closest of relatives. Before Storm was Pop, a Swedish child being raised the same way, all pronouns being gender-free. This must get extremely difficult, especially when there are groups who feel the same way, but there’s the Egalia Preschool in Sweden (“Sweden’s ‘gender neutral pre-school”) where they try to have balance in everything gender-oriented. Kids are called by their names, “friends” or using the newish gender-neutral Finnish word “hen.” I’ve not heard of any schools trying this here in the United States, but can certainly see it happening in the next few years.

Besides the parents making a choice not to disclose gender, there’s a movement that insists people might not even be one gender or another. The belief that there are only two genders is a Gender Binary System. Someone who has the sex characteristics of one sex (male or female), but the brain of the other sex is considered Trans* (the asterisk replaces the modifier of choice for individuals… i.e. Transgender or Transsexual). However, most trans*folks identify with the Gender Binary System. Those that do not are considered Gender Variant… not feeling or acting either male or female. In fact, there are some gender variants that don’t even use male or female pronouns, the common descriptors being them, they or their even when being singularly addressed. It’s getting confusing out there! (In writing, the gender-free pronouns tend to be sie or zie instead of he and she, and hir instead of him and her.)

In talking to Zack (my transsexual spouse), I asked about his childhood as a girl. He had an older brother and Zack (then Sarah) coveted his brother’s toys and pastimes. Many times, even in the very progressive household he lived in, he was pushed towards female things from toys to clothes. I wondered about other someday-trans* kids and how to help them have the most well-adjusted growing up time, what would Zack have changed (besides transitioning pre-puberty) to make things easier… and what are his thoughts on raising kids gender-free. He told me it would be awesome if kids were offered toys, books, clothes, etc. that were both genders and that any choice would be acceptable. This would be easier at home than out, especially for little boys who chose “girl” things. But, if there was a way to do so, this is how Zack said kids would be able to express themselves the best, as long as all choices were welcomed.

Z did look at me sternly and ask, “You aren’t suggesting kids be raised gender-variant/gender-neutral, are you?” I asked him why, what were his thoughts. He said this is a binary world and as hard as the them, they, theirs try to force people to acknowledge a third (fourth, fifth, etc.) gender, it is unlikely that will ever happen. He said he would imagine children not raised binary would be so confused as to not know where they fit in in our culture.

It sounds funny, a transguy talking about conforming to society’s expectations, but in order to not be humiliated in school, to be able to get a job, to not be continually angry (as so many them, they, theirs are), living in the binary world just makes sense.

I wonder what’s going to happen to Pop and Storm as they get older. Is their pronoun going to be them, they, their?

What are your thoughts? How are you raising your kids?

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Reader Comments (8)

I have three boys, 7, 3 1/2 and 2, my eldest and youngest are boys boys!!! Trucks trains dirt diggers etc, my 3 year old right now is sitting down watching Barbie Mermaid movie, playing with his plastic unicorns and when he gets dressed will wear his pink princess tshirt. He started to show interest at the start of the year and we let him go with it. Doesnt bother me as much as it does other members of the family... As long as he is happy :)

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaris 35

I personally try to raise babies and young children as babies and young children, not highlighting or encouraging really gender identification. When asked if I was pregnant with a boy or girl my response was "Well, it's a baby!".

It is very difficult to not only find clothes that are gender neutral but just even gender specific clothes that are not hyperidentified with either gender, boys clothes are gray, brown or black and girls are usually pink on pink (gag and gag).

Language is easy, once you practice leaving gender identifiers our when discussing God it becomes relatively easy. That being said, I don't think gender is the issue - or identifying one's sex either (although I contend God is neither male nor female but that is something else), to me the problem I have is that we force kids into conforming into what we perceive are gender identified roles. I prefer to let them make the distinction - and they do it very very early. My sons were gravitating to all things that move (transportation) before they were a year old. As the parent you have to allow them to get excited when they discuss things and remain emotionally neutral yourself except as an adjuvant to their desires. Still, I did praise those little boys for any nurturing they did of their dolls and stuffed animals and made a point of never castigating them for needing their comforts or loving the flip flops with dangling sparkly hearts on them that they found on the beach (who doesn't like loud, sparkling clothes as an infant?).

Well, I think their little sister will have plenty of access to all things boys and "male" so she will have to direct me as to her desires, she will still get the same first year gifts her brothers got: balls, books, bears, blocks, and of course the baby doll. She, like her brothers, will direct me.

Oh, and by the by, 100 years ago to about 60 years ago babies wore baby clothes, white dresses, and they wore them a long time with long hair - usually nothing underneath so when they squatted it didn't get on the clothes. Perhaps we need to get back to white (easy to bleach) dresses and long locks for all small children? The boys are still manly men as we have discussed, the women women, and those who are neither became powerful forces in our literary world and otherwise.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEthel

I have three boys and one baby girl. When my first son was born there were a lot of gender neutral toys to choose from. He gravitated to vehicles and wheeled toys so now we have a ton of those "boy" toys. However we had a lot of "girl" toys before I even had my baby girl. I bought baby dolls for my two eldest kids when my third son came around because they were both very interested in helping me care for him. They fed their babies while I fed mine. I also don't plan on having the "boy" chores and the "girl" chores in my house. Everyone helps with everything.

I will admit to getting a little pink crazy with my baby girl (it is hard to avoid when you get most of your clothing at thrift stores) but I am open to her throwing all that out the window once she develops an opinion about frilly dresses. She is already very much into driving her brother's cars even at nine months old. We have so many toys already that I have no plans to add a separate "girl" collection, most of them are pretty gender neutral any way because I like toys for my kids that are more open ended.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAwesomemom

I think it's a tempest in a teacup. With apologies to Zack, I don't believe in this current fad for transgender or transsexualism either. Anyone wanting to radically mutilate themselves by altering or removing their reproductive organs, or deliberately using hormones to try and do the same thing, is mentally ill. I also wonder at the motivation of those doctors who assist them.

All of us are actually born, and even within "gender assigned roles", are a mixture of male and female. I act in some ways associated with masculinity, but am predominantly female [to be honest, I identify as "me" -- without either a male or female tag] I know a good number of heterosexual men who have high quotients of qualities normally attributed to females. So what? In the last analysis, with the exception of those who are chromosomal mosaics [an extremely small number] we are all either XX or XY, and there's an end to it.

As a matter of fact, my first child was a boy, then followed by two daughters. Both the girls played very happily with my son's "male" toys, were not interested in dolls or playing "girls'" games, yet both have grown up to be quite happy in their heterosexual femininity.
If Storm and Pop don't come to consider themselves freaks, they will ultimately come to see that they belong to the gender their anatomy -- and the world -- has given them.

There is far too much which is unknown relating to the development of sexuality. All animals higher than the amoeba reproduce sexually, and although some animals appear at periods in their lives to be hermaphroditic, there is no "third" sex. Male mates with female for the continuation of the species. Seen in this light, homosexuality is as much an aberration as having diabetes -- not something which is "evil" or should be criminalized, but something which is not beneficial to the species, in the long run, either. [If everyone was homosexual, we--or any species using that behavoir--would become extinct in one generation]. Why it happens no one knows. My personal feeling is that it is probably multifactorial, with some environmental, and some genetic, input, btw, but that's neither here nor there. Children raised in homes where there are two parents of the same sex are no more likely to be homosexual than those raised in either single parent, or ordinary male-female parent homes. The bottom line, I suppose, is that you need to be who you feel comfortable being, within societal limits, and that means choosing a gender. Even eunuchs were thought to be males, if defective ones.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos CNM

Antigonos: You're entitled to your opinion, but science doesn't agree with you (thank heavens). Your "apology" to Zack was vapor.

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

"Even eunuchs were thought to be males, if defective ones."

That is because they were male just with the sex organs cut off when they were young. I am not entirely sure what that has to do with the discussion.

As far as the XX and XY thing goes I guess you have yet to attend a biology class of any kind. My professor in biology 101 told us all about the variations in that and some of the ramifications that can happen when there is XXX, XXY and so on and so forth. And this kind of thing is not as rare as you seem to think. Humans born as hermaphrodites are also something that can happen and are out there. Really even biologically gender is not so cut and dry as one might think.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAwesomemom

Science does indeed change. In the middle 19th century, despite knowing about general anesthesia, doctors refused to give it to laboring women because of the Biblical injunction to "suffer" when giving birth, and they claimed that a woman wouldn't love her child unless she suffered [Queen Victoria put an end to that]

Mentally ill women were treated by hysterectomy, since science claimed that the uterus was the causative organ ["hysteria"].

Prefrontal lobotomy was championed for at least several decades, until it was discovered that it turned violent patients into vegetables.

DES prevented miscarriage in women who had a history of repeated spontaneous abortion. The effects would only become apparent a generation later.

Psychologists in the last decades of the 20th century were aggressively assisting alledged victims of childhood sexual abuse to "recover lost memories". It later became evident that in a large number of cases, the psychologists were actually assisting in the creation of fictitious "memories".

The very term "transgender" was created in 1965, and in some countries is still regarded as a mental issue. Even where the "diagnosis" is accepted, scientists are divided on the origin and manifestations, let alone what sort of medical response is appropriate.

Science does indeed change. Sometimes, even for the better.

July 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos CNM

Science actually is not able to answer such questions. Yes, it can tell us that most people are either XX or XY, and that there are small numbers of people who are XXY, or XYY and so on. What it cannot tell us is what to make of someone who is XX but has the persistent experience of feeling male. Whether one believes that person's self experience is conclusive, and that he really is male, or whether one believes that the person for some reason is misperceiving reality, is a function of one's broader beliefs about the nature of reality. The same applies to the issue of "gender" as opposed to biological sex. This is a philosophical, or "world view" issue.

The views of scientists about issues which are represented as "scientific" are often influenced by their general world viiews which themselves are not derived from, or succeptible to, the scientific process. What questions they ask, what hypotheses they make, and what data they will accept as relevant, are all a function of world view.


In our society we have many competing paradigms to explain what a human being is, to explain "life, the universe, and everything."
Among people who are sure they share one paradigm, such questions can be meaningfully discussed. Among people who do not, it is best to avoid them in most settings. If one is close enough to somebody to make it worth it, you have to start right down at the roots of things. Is this a created universe, or one which has always existed? Does it have, or was it given, a purpose or meaning? From there one goes on to talk of human beings and whether they are created and of a certain nature, and if their lives have a meaning or a purpose intrinsically or which was given to them, or whether they just happened to come to be, and if their nature is infinitely malleable and their meaning and purpose only that which is determined by themselves?

Only after one settles such questions is there a framework in which to discuss issues like the meaning of "gender".

The only kinds of questions science can answer related to this are strictly biological ones, about chromosomes, or about the size of different parts of brains, and, with a much much lesser degree of precision, sociological ones, such as a tabulation of answers to questionaires about people's attitudes about sex and gender, or life satisfaction surveys of people who have had certain surgeries and those who considered it but didn't. My opinion is that neither kind of result is determinative of ontological truth (truth about being, about what is real) on these issues.

Perhaps that is why NGM and Antigonos did not continue the discussion.

As they say, and I hope it remains true, "It's a free country." I retain my world view, and others have theirs. My world view leads to certain conclusions about what it means to be a human being, about what it means to be male and female, and that would lead me to choose certain actions and not choose others. When others make different choices, so long as they don't lead to death or dire harm for innocent bystanders, I am not going to try to obstruct their choices, I am not going to insult or mock their choices, I am going to deal with them courteously and respectfully when I interact with them personally or professionally. I am even going to hope that they become more happy as a result of these choices, and in general to wish for their good and well being. If I can't cheer, I will keep my mouth shut.

Well, at least until I can speak in such general terms as I hope are not offensive.
Susan Peterson

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Peterson

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