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111 Responses

  1. QoT
    QoT June 27, 2009 at 3:55 am |

    I really, really HATE the comment from Susan Pinker about how “ignoring children’s natures simply doesn’t work”. Where the hell does it say that Pop’s parents are laying down rules like “You may not play with the My Little Ponies, nor the Tonka Trucks! You shall play only with these featureless grey blocks!”? Or that Pop’s parents are refusing to treat Pop as an individual?

    Presumably when Pop is old enough/verbal enough to say “I want to play with the My Little Ponies and/or the Tonka trucks”, these preferences will be acknowledged. The whole point is not to steer Pop towards one or the other from the word go.

  2. Zoe Brain
    Zoe Brain June 27, 2009 at 5:21 am |

    The best data we have is that about 1/3 of children are unalterably male, regardless of upbringing. 1/3 are female, regardless of upbringing. And 1/3 are BiGendered, able to function (though usually not with equal facility) as either gender.

    Now usually that corresponds with the external appearance – male gender almost always means male body, female gender almost always means female body. But not quite always – hence transsexuality.

    Don’t take the 1/3 figures too seriously, I’m not saying 33.33333..%, the figures are rubbery, and a trinary Gender Model is only a mild improvement over a binary one. It’s actually a continuum, a difference of degree. But it is useful, as it says whether distress will be caused by attempting to shoehorn a child into the wrong category. Assign gender by tossing a coin, and 1 about time in 3 you will cause disaster. So why “assign” in an authoritarian manner at all? Not that it will do much harm, unless the child tells you you’ve got it wrong, and you insist on it anyway. That causes extreme harm.

    All children, be they Intersexed or no, should be allowed to tell us what gender they are. Unless they’re BiGendered, that will be set by the neurology before birth. And if they are BiGendered, they should have a choice as to what fits best, which may be neither male nor female in the classic sense. They will usually go with the gender you’ve assigned them to, but that appears to do them no harm, even if it goes against my philosophical convictions.

    See BiGender and the Brain and many other articles on sexually dimorphic neuroanatomy for evidence.

  3. transgenmom
    transgenmom June 27, 2009 at 5:53 am |

    It is an interesting experiment.

    However I don’t agree with the idea that it is more socially responsible than rasing a child and picking a gender.

    For one I don’t think those coercive influences stick around forever. But mostly I believe that children have strong identities. If you are doing something they don’t like they are perfectly willing to demonstrate that. Its perfectly fine to make a choice for them until they can make it for themselves. To me picking any default is perfectly valid. There isn’t just one valid path of doing things.

  4. Medea
    Medea June 27, 2009 at 6:20 am |

    This sounds interesting. I hope there’s a follow-up article some years later.
    It sounds awkward that they never refer to Pop using personal pronouns–perhaps they thought using “hir” and so on would be too difficult for all their acquaintances to manage.

  5. tam
    tam June 27, 2009 at 6:22 am |

    I think this your assertion is ridiculous.

  6. Holly
    Holly June 27, 2009 at 7:17 am |

    Well I think this your counter-assertion is even more ridiculous! Also content-free.

    transgenmom — I’m not sure what you mean by “those coercive influences stick around forever.” I mean, in my own experience of dealing with those influences, they certainly do. I don’t know if every kid in every situation has a strong enough internal model of their own gender to assert it in the face of all sorts of pressures and projections from the outside world. I read the “experiment” as a way to try and insulate Pop from those pressures, even for a short few years, and let Pop make a choice free of constraints.

    I agree that there’s not just one valid path of doing things, of course. I hope that was at least a little clear from the OP — however, the reason I was talking about “social responsibility” was not to try and push something as the One True Right Way. I guess I should have said “socially supportive” — because this path of neutrality towards gender is probably the path that gets the most backlash and criticism, but I think it does need to be supported and fostered as an alternative, even if it’s not for every kid.

    And really, what’s the advantage of picking a default? It’s easier to get along with society’s common-sense ideas of how things should work and allay other people’s gender anxieties? Well, there are plenty of reasons not to do that too.

    I think the more compelling reason to do something for a kid is not any kind of “socially responsible” or “socially acceptable” or “socially supportive” reason at all, but personal reasons. Of course, sometimes that’s harder to divine than others. I think some kids are easily pushed around and traumatized by gender expectations and roles and pressures; I certainly remember feeling that way in some of my earliest memories, from when I was three or four. I’d rather nobody had made a choice for me. If you end up making the wrong choice for your kid — they turn out to be a boy, when you and everyone else assumed incorrectly they were a girl — then it’s up to the kid to resist and push back, and I’d rather that be easier for children.

    Maybe it’s enough not to be punitive about “cross-gender behavior” and to pay attention to a child’s feelings, to give them all choices of dresses or pants or whatever feels the best today. That’s pretty close to this model of “true neutrality” and maybe “true neutrality” is too difficult, onerous experimental. But I figure these parents are deciding to keep details about Pop’s body private (imagine that! not wanting everyone in the world to know about the shape of your child’s genitals) because they’re aware of all the pressures that other people would start exerting, outside of their control. Those pressures could be much more intense than a child should have to fight back against.

  7. Cherie M
    Cherie M June 27, 2009 at 7:19 am |

    Living in a highly conservative state with a highly conservative family, I’m trying to convince my brother that just because his child ended up being a boy doesn’t automatically mean he’s going to be capable of or wanting to play sports. Dance, music, languages, drama, literature, science, mathematics – anything could be the child’s passion. Worse than expecting the athleticism, he prefers his child be athletic over intelligent. I do my best to read to the child and frequently give books to learn and instruct – something I’ll be doing for a very long time.

    Kudos to parents who are willing to let their child find their own definition of gender – even if it ends up being something as simple as playing with traditionally “opposite-gendered” toys instead of forcing stereotypical ones.

  8. Diana
    Diana June 27, 2009 at 7:32 am |

    This is an intriguing concept, especially the possibility that we may eventually be doing this as a society, though I do lean towards agreeing with transgenmom in that I’m not sure this method is more socially responsible than picking a gender for your child according to sex. Especially in the case of Pop, since this ISN’T something we’re all doing as a society. Here’s my question about it–won’t Pop ending up choosing his or her gender based on what s/he sees in the world around him or her…a wor;d that DOES operate according to a binary gender model with often stereotypical gender roles? Shouldn’t you just raise your child with a gender but also with an open mind and an understanding that gender is a choice and that you’ll accept them if they change their mind, etc.?

  9. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 7:46 am |

    The premise of this is ridiculous. So, then, are you suggesting that, in order for a child to not be judged on the basis of race, I should dress him/her in a suit which covers every part of him/her so that his/her skin color cannot be seen?

  10. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 7:59 am |

    Holly, if it helps, I am a person of color.

  11. Dan
    Dan June 27, 2009 at 8:14 am |

    I applaud them, it’s going to be a rough road.

    My parents split the difference, aging academic hippies that they are, raised my brother and I (both pretty cisgendered boys) as boys, but with no expectations about what we’d play with. We both had dolls, we both had trucks, we mostly both preferred to play with giant marbles (which played the parts of whatever characters we wanted at the moment).

    We went to a small family day care that believed similarly to my parents, and we were raised with both female and male friends and companions.

    Now, I’m a cis-gendered gay man, and my brother is a cis-gendered straight man (I’m the older). And both of us can cook, sew, play sports, shoot a bow, etc. And the other kids around us who were raised similarly, are the same. They’re all confident, bright, *people* now, whether they’re gay, straight, male, female (far as I know no trans from that group).

    I think it’s impossible to underestimate the power that being told “you must wear dresses/pants and be judged by the pink/blue bow/bug in your hair” has on a kid. At some level, Pinker may be right, we may all have some natural inclination… so… why the hell not let your CHILD find their natural inclination, rather than stuffing them in a pink room, in a pink dress they can’t climb trees in, and give them only dolls?

    P.S. My room was celery green, so was my brother’s.

  12. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 8:15 am |

    Well, actually, your opening line: “Where’d you get that, and do you really think you can compare race and gender so easily?”

    No harm, no foul, as they say.

    BTW: How do you know I am a person of color?

  13. Angiportus
    Angiportus June 27, 2009 at 8:16 am |

    In some languages the pronouns are not divided by sexual gender. I forget whether Swedish is one of these, but as a person who isn’t at home anywhere on the continuum, I wish Pop and parents all the best.
    Marcy, it’s one thing to hide everything and another thing to conceal just those parts that are usually concealed anyway. Heck, I wish they’d let them choose their races also. Might help break down all the race crap too. Right from the minute one can understand words, one is told that one is this or that without so much as a by-your-leave. Don’t kids have enough to learn already?
    So ignoring children’s natures doesn’t work…Pinker should remember that some children have natures that don’t fit into stereotypes, or even natural divisions. As for picking any default being valid, that could only be true if people weren’t hassled for wanting to change defaults in mid-stream, or to act and dress in ways partaking of more than one default–or if one of the defaults in the first place was not historically subordinate and somehow ignominious. Why do so many boys think “girl” is an insult?
    Hats off, Cherie, and all my best wishes for you and nephew as well.

  14. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 8:19 am |

    Errr …no, Angiportus – choosing one’s race? Ow.

  15. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 8:21 am |

    Holly, yes – I believe regardless of race, your question is a valid one. And, yes, it has been my experience that race and gender are comparable.

  16. Jadey
    Jadey June 27, 2009 at 8:26 am |

    I remember reading about Sandra Bem’s thoughts on how to raise androgynous children (she’s a psychologist well-known for her work on gender role identification and androgyny), and being uncomfortable with how ideological some of her remarks seemed. I think it was partly the era, but there was an air of ‘tabula rasa’ around her suggestions — that a child could be *made*, rather than raised, and that socialization alone is responsible for gender identification. Within psychology at least there is finally a growing understanding that sex and gender aren’t that simplistic, but it’s a pervasive attitude still.

    And yet, the description of how Pop is being raised does not strike the same chord with me — I read it as parental responsiveness, not control or coercion (though it is also clearly guided by the parents’ personal beliefs). As Pop has not yet identified hir sexual or gender identities, hir parents are conscientiously respecting Pop’s autonomy to self-identify. Autonomy, even at very young age (especially at a very young age, if you go by the Erikson model), *is* quite important to a person’s social and psychological development. I don’t believe that there’s any compelling evidence out there that a child who is not instructed externally in a particular gender or sex identity at a certain age will suffer for it. I think there *is* evidence of times when this instruction has been both unnecessary and detrimental.

    I do think that Pop faces a risk of persecution and discrimination because we are so harsh towards those who do not conform to oppositional and dichotomous sex and gender norms, so what I hope is that hir parents are preparing hir for this by emphasizing hir worth, hir autonomy, and their unconditional love and support for hir. That is what Pop (and any child) *truly* needs to be armed with when going out into an often hostile world.

  17. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 8:26 am |

    Hi, Holly. No, I do not. I do not believe that a child should be able to choose his/her gender. Thus my initial response. Both have the same “Ow” factor for me. I guess I have so many other things about which to be concerned in the raising of a child, than to have the presence of mind to allow that child to select his gender. Perhaps a luxury of white privilege? I don’t know. But, an interesting perspective to explore.

  18. Kristjan Wager
    Kristjan Wager June 27, 2009 at 8:37 am |

    In some languages the pronouns are not divided by sexual gender. I forget whether Swedish is one of these, but as a person who isn’t at home anywhere on the continuum, I wish Pop and parents all the best.

    Angiportus, in Swedish the pronouns are divided by gender, but there aren’t grammatical genders like in e.g. German.

  19. Marcy Webb
    Marcy Webb June 27, 2009 at 8:41 am |

    Holly, I do not feel grilled. Such questions make me think, and I appreciate that.

    To address your question: Honestly, Holly, I don’t know. I don’t know how I would deal with it. I would like to think that the upbringing instilled in me by my parents – that each person, each human being – has a heart and feelings – would sustain me. As corny as that premise may be to some.

    Parents have such hopes for their children, they invest so much, only to realize, ultimately, that children are merely on loan to them, in a spiritual sense. We care for them, and then they decide as to how they live their lives. Which makes me reflect: I wonder how Cher is doing, having to deal with the fact that the child to which she gave birth – a girl – is now a man. Chaz is an adult, and makes his own decisions, and I respect that, but I do wonder how Cher is feeling.

    I think, Holly, the questions you are asking would make for a great blog posting. :)

  20. amy
    amy June 27, 2009 at 8:53 am |

    Huh, that’s kind of cool. I just recently had my first kid and most of the names I really liked have strong gender associations in this language/culture (er, white American) – if we had decided not to reveal any gender info, I would have been unhappy about not getting to use any of those names, and in fact if she transitions someday I hope he’ll at least consider taking the beautiful name we would have given a penis baby, although of course once she’s old enough I know she might choose to change her name anyway and I shouldn’t be *too* attached. I suppose we could have given a name that didn’t “match” the apparent sex, but I would worry that that would lead to a lot of annoying having-to-clarify (we also rejected names that lent themselves to misspelling or mispronunciation).

    That said, I am trying to not put too much importance on her gender – like just saying “thanks” when strangers tell me how cute and “how boyish he is” – I think that one means “you would have combed a girl baby’s hair, right?” ::grin::

  21. Wednesday
    Wednesday June 27, 2009 at 9:33 am |

    My nephew turned one in April. He’s been aggressively gendered by his extended family since he was born – what he’s taught, how people play with him, even how to react when he farts. At his birthday party, all the parents with small kids were talking about how sex differences are hardwired – why, look at (Wednesday’s Nephew), he grins when he farts! But my daughter wrinkles up her nose, just like I taught her to! Physical humor is clearly a hardwired, natural difference between boys and girls.

    I get the impression that this is actually fairly typical, which makes me sad. Why do we make such a big deal about a child’s sex at an age where it only matters when you change their diaper.

  22. Angus Johnston
    Angus Johnston June 27, 2009 at 9:40 am |

    I’m happy to be corrected on this if I’m wrong, but my sense is that transgender identity usually emerges after the developmental stage at which children become aware that some kids are boys and some are girls, and I’m wondering how Pop’s parents plan to handle the stage in between.

    I generally referred to my daughters as kids rather than as girls when they were toddlers, and I’ve always told them that some girls grow up to be men and some boys grow up to be women. My sense was that since the overwhelming majority of children are cisgendered, using that as the default made sense, but I’ve always let them know in various big and small ways that gender isn’t a clean-cut binary.

  23. amandaw
    amandaw June 27, 2009 at 10:04 am |

    I can see it being extremely beneficial for any child to not be told what they are — irrevocably are, unchangeable, unarguable — during the earliest years when they are just beginning to build an understanding of their world and themselves.

    Yes, we should work to challenge the gender binary, and the options available for Pop are somewhat constrained if and when sie chooses a gender that fits hir best. But why must that imply that this undertaking is therefore worthless? There are benefits to it that lie beyond “can choose from unlimited range of genders.”

    Especially if the child is trans, this is an enormous benefit. And every child has the possibility of being trans; we cannot and should not simply write out that possibility because it’s not the majority experience — we should be prepared for it from the start.

    Mostly, I just wish more children were able to experience such a thing — being able to explore, play, try out, evaluate different options without being told by authority figures what hir identity IS. That has an enormous affect on all children. And being given the chance to determine hir own identity — that is huge, in a way I can’t put into words.

    I am cis, straight, and fairly normatively gendered. But I’ve experienced the denial of self-determination, objectification, from early on in my abusive family, being raised to consider myself however everyone else wanted and disconnected from that inner voice, the one that tells you how *you* feel and what *you* want and what *you* like.

    All children experience that to some degree because that is how our society is structured. I experienced it to an extreme and am still working to unpack and recenter myself, decades later. But if we can give even one child the chance to own hir own self… even for a short time…

    I can’t express how important that is.

  24. tam
    tam June 27, 2009 at 10:31 am |

    Sorry for my content-free post. It was a knee-jerk reaction from my blackberry.

    In essence, what I take issue with is the fact that one of the roles (in my mind) of parents is to provide boundaries and lay a foundation for identity. Gender is a big part of that identity, and to not provide a boundary for that, without a child having a physicial indication of being intersexed or a later emotional indication of being transgendered, I think is irresponsible.

    Holly said: The point is to try and avoid making harmful, difficult mistakes about what a kid’s gender is, and let children make their own choices.

    Part of being a parent is making choices for your children. Sometimes those choices are wrong, and that is a risk one takes when they are a parent. Hopefully, a parent will grow and learn from the mistakes and nurture and love their child through those mistakes. But to totally abdicate ones responsibility of making choices out of fear is ridiculous.

    Also, though you dismiss Marcy’s question about race, it really isnt’ that far off. This fear of making a mistake or wrong judgement is what leads folks to being blissfully colorblind. The problem isn’t seeing race, the problem is the associations that one makes based on acknowledging one’s race. The same seems to be true – the problem isn’t seeing or acknowledging a child’s gender, it’s the associations and expectaitons for behavior we place on them.

    Are there things we can do to not put gender stereotypes on our children? Yes! In fact, I think that is the more socially responsible thing to do – to raise our children to understand and push beyond gender stereotypes, to lay a foundation that they do not have to *do* or *be* any particular way to be a boy or girl. Then, if the child is transgendered, they have more flexibility to move towards that identity, rather than being handed a very rigid view of the sex and gender associations and having to unlearn all of that.

  25. ElleDee
    ElleDee June 27, 2009 at 10:31 am |

    ““Ignoring children’s natures simply doesn’t work”

    Right, which is why it totally makes sense to spare them all the pink v. blue bullshit and let the child show you what their nature is.

    I couldn’t put up with explaining why my child’s sex is a secret to everyone for years and I wouldn’t want to have to police everything *I* do to make sure I’m not suggesting anything to the kid, so I could never be as serious as these Swedish parents, but I like the idea. Honestly, anything to put a dent in the baby girl = princess, diva, pink pink PINK! thing I can get behind.

  26. Jackson
    Jackson June 27, 2009 at 10:31 am |

    It is interestingly idealistic and if they can pull it off, the more power to them, but I don’t think it’s particularly superior to raising children “as” a gender but allowing them the freedom to change it.

  27. Mighty Ponygirl
    Mighty Ponygirl June 27, 2009 at 10:34 am |

    I think my only worry is that people get so obsessed with knowing which side of the gender binary a person is on that they can resort to molestation to find out. A friend of mine who was more comfortable appearing as a man (but who would still use the ladies room) would tell me how if she’d go into the women’s room and there were women in there, they would yell at her, and that one time, when there were two women in the bathroom, one of them declared “It’s ok Judy, this one’s a girl, see, you can tell by the hips,” then reached down and patted my friend on the hips to “prove it.”

    If someone is getting “that uptight” about knowing Pop’s gender, I hope the parents teach Pop really quickly about personal space and even some minor self defense, because someone’s going to think it’s ok to “reach down there” and check to see if they can feel a penis. Pop needs to know how to step back and yell and maybe slap the person’s hand.

  28. ks
    ks June 27, 2009 at 11:19 am |

    I think it’s an interesting idea. I haven’t done it with my kids–I don’t have the patience to deal with other people’s questions/expectations that much, but we have tried to not shoe-horn them into stereotypes that go with their gender.

    My kids are both boys, but the oldest is quiet, bookish, and bossy, very much like me. The youngest likes having his finger/toenails painted whenever I do my own. He also likes to walk around the house in my heels, and play with trucks and ride his bike and pretend to be a monster. I’m trying to go for more what Angus described upthread–some boys grow up to be women, some girls grow up to be men, some boys like boys the way mommy and daddy like each other and some girls like girls that way. Whatever, it’s all good.

    However, on reading the story, it didn’t strike me that they were trying to police everything that the kid comes into contact with, just that at such a young age when gender really doesn’t matter all that much anyway, that they weren’t disclosing what is hanging (or not) between Pop’s legs to all and sundry. Because it really isn’t anyone’s business anyway. But I didn’t read it as they were trying to force Pop into being gender neutral as well, just that only Pop knows (or will know) and that once he/she decides, that’s what they’ll go with.

  29. Laura
    Laura June 27, 2009 at 11:20 am |

    I’m surprised that a lot of the comments above seem to be conflating gender identity and gender roles. Pop’s parents seem to be raising their child without imposing either a gender identity or rigid beliefs about appropriate gender roles. The second approach isn’t controversial – or rare – at all. And I don’t think raising a child this way necessarily REQUIRES the parents to avoid imposing a gender identity on their child (e.g. parents may raise a toddler assuming that his or her gender identity is consistent with his or her biological sex, but still teach that child that this does not proscribe specific character traits, clothes, or things that they can do.)

    I’m not sure we know enough about identity development to say what effect this particular decision will have, if any. I don’t think we can deny that gender identity is an important component of identity. Is Pop being raised so that the development of this identity will happen without outside influences, or is Pop being raised without experiences that help shape that gender identity? I’m also a little concerned that this approach has the potential to backfire. From the larger culture, Pop is going to learn that some things are associated with boys and some with girls. If Pop prefers blue clothes and trucks and athletics, will Pop believe that they have to default to a male gender identity, because they like “boy things”? Is this “better” than, if Pop’s biological sex is female, assuming that she has a female gender identity but ensuring that she knows that this does not preclude her from liking or doing boy things?

    I’m also wondering if, in the case of transgendered children, NOT assigning gender at all and waiting for the child to self-identify is preferable to assuming gender but being open to the fact that one’s child may be transgendered and changing your behavior in the case that the child expresses a transgendered identity. Psychologically, what would the implications of being referred to as one gender until one self-identified as the opposite gender (and then being accepted and referred to as one’s self-identified gender) versus being referred to as non-gendered until one self-identified as a gender?

  30. Jadey
    Jadey June 27, 2009 at 11:41 am |

    what I take issue with is the fact that one of the roles (in my mind) of parents is to provide boundaries and lay a foundation for identity.

    Here’s where you and I would part ways on this issue. I don’t believe that parents are responsible for laying the foundation for a child’s identity–I believe that the foundation is there when the child is born. A parent can certainly influence how that identity is explored and developed, but I do not believe (and nor have I read anything in the child development literature that leads me to believe, although that is only one kind of information) that a child raised without externally imposed gender identity and sex identity boundaries* will not develop their own internal ones. In fact, a lot of narratives from trans folk would fly in the face of that assumption, I think.

    The boundaries that parents are responsible to set are important, and I don’t know if we can generate a consenus on them at this time, but I definitely argue that identity boundaries are *not* among them. Children are not blank slates; they are born with identities** and personalities, even if these will develop and become more complex or overt over time (or less so!) as biology and socialization interact throughout the lifespan.

    Also, to people referring to children expressing a trans identity as something to be dealt with only after it comes up, please be aware that you are framing being trans as an after-thought, which I personally am uncomfortable with, given the history of trans people being relegated to this position on this blog and in general. Using cis as the default places the burden on trans people to justify their “difference”, and I think we can do better.

    (* To be totally clear, I’m referring to gender identity as location on the masculinity and femininity spectrums and sex identity as felt–not assigned–male, female, and/or intersexed identity.)

    (** Some of our myriad identities are of course totally constructed and are clearly not present at birth, but I am arguing that gender and sex identities are not among these.)

  31. Ursula L
    Ursula L June 27, 2009 at 11:52 am |

    I’m not sure how the line works here between raising a child without focusing on gender, versus raising a child to hide their gender. The latter seems rather repressive, and I don’t know that you can do the former without also doing the latter. At least not the way these parents are doing it.

    I remember, when my brother and I were at that age, that my parents didn’t think twice about letting us run about naked outdoors in hot weather. They weren’t particularly hippie, although my mother is from India and my father from Germany, and hangups about nudity were considerably less in those countries than in the US at the same time.

    I’m not sure what curent mores are in Sweden right now regarding nudety/modesty in small children, but I’d like to know to have some context on whether they are raising the child to be more self-conscious of its body than is normal for their culture.

    I grew up much less body-conscious than my peers, given the physical freedom of not being raised to think of my body as something that needed to be hidden (although picking up US body-modesty later was occasionally awkward.) I’m not sure what the effect would be if the child was, say, the only one to keep a diaper on when other kids at the beach could run around naked.

  32. Doug Olena
    Doug Olena June 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm |

    Dear Holly, Thanks for your considerate remarks and thoughtful reposts to the commenters.

    Here’s my take on the issue. It is clear that there are a small percentage of cases where the attribution of gender because of genitalia has caused psychological problems for the child. But this is a very small number. I am guessing that number must be less than 1 percent, less than those who eventually declare themselves to be gay. But my comments don’t change even if the number is higher, say 5-10%.

    I agree with Holly that mistakes have been made, and against the absolutists who force the gender issue, I say, “Give it a break! There is a wide variability in human children, enough to suggest that absolute answers are mistaken.” But I say this to Holly as well as to the physiology=>Gender police.

    Holly, attempting to protect the tender sensibilities of those few children who are traumatized under the binary gender absolute, she wants to force all parents to allow their children to decide what their gender is. This is as much a mistake as allowing the normalizing power of patriarchy to guide the decisions of women. Most kids, under Holly’s rule would choose the gender their genitalia dictates, but some who would otherwise prosper in blissful naivete would be thrown into a psychological thunderstorm and suffer terrible doubts, and worry incessantly about their gender.

    I understand and appreciate the sentiment that drives the radical to want things to be different, but to totalize a rule because of the warranted mistakes of a few parents is overreacting. The reason radical feminism failed to keep the attention of the public is that ordinary men became their enemies. Holly will make enemies of ordinary parents with this line of reasoning.

    Nevertheless, someone must stand up for those children who struggle with this and Holly’s passion is commendable even if the solution she offers is problematic.

  33. amandaw
    amandaw June 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm |

    but some who would otherwise prosper in blissful naivete would be thrown into a psychological thunderstorm and suffer terrible doubts, and worry incessantly about their gender.

    Give me a fucking break. I really have no other words.

  34. Jadey
    Jadey June 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm |

    Dear Doug,

    Nope. Pretty much to all of the above, from supposed “psychological thunderstorms” (nope) to the idea that Holly is forcefully imposing a global policy change (really, no) and all the “tender sensibilities” and other condescending BS you put out there. And before you object to my tone, I object to yours.

  35. Amanda in the South Bay
    Amanda in the South Bay June 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm |

    Laura,
    I actually like your thoughts on the matter, though I think it’d be harder for parents to come to terms with their child’s gender identity if their child had already been living as one gender, and came to identify with another gender at a later date. Its obviously hard to deal with parental disappointment when you come out as trans as an adult (or even a teenager) and your parents have to come to terms with a new identity. I think a lot of parents, even at an early age, became enamored of and invest a lot into thinking of their children as a certain gender. It can be hard for parents to come to terms with that for even a 7 year old, much less a 27 year old.

    The clear advantage to me with starting out gender-less (I can’t think of a better way to phrase such an awkward statement) is that the parents have nothing mentally and emotionally invested in their child as one specific gender, which clearly lessens the inevitable disappointment parents feel when their child comes out as trans (though why there should be disappointment is another topic alltogether).

  36. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay June 27, 2009 at 1:24 pm |

    What I find interesting is people like Susan Pinker who believe gender is largely biologically determined ALSO seem to believe that biology makes boys and girls distinctly differently. By giving Pop as many choices as possible, dresses or pants, long or short hair, aren’t Pop’s parents giving the chance for a gender determined by biology to show itself?

  37. malathion
    malathion June 27, 2009 at 1:39 pm |

    Something strikes me as wrong about this. I think it’s the sort of grandiose secrecy involving the child’s genitals, which stand in for gender here — neither because they do or do not conform to the child’s gender identity. Nobody is allowed to know what kind of genitals he/she has, and yet they are being made into a huge focus of attention by the very fact that they are being so adamantly hidden. I just can’t see how this would be good for a child’s sense of self esteem and sexuality. I think there must be ways to raise a child with flexibility for gender identity and gender roles without such a huge production that really puts the poor kid and his/her genitals on center stage.

  38. Isabel
    Isabel June 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm |

    malathion: i assume Pop is very will aware of what zir genitals are, and while I have no proof for this I would suspect that the focus on genitals says more about the writer of the article than about Pop’s parents.

    I second pretty much everything both Holly and Jadey have said. I take HUGE issue with the notion that parents are responsible for constructing the identity of their child and I have seen more than one good friend of mine struggle emotionally/psychologically because their own identity conflicts strongly with the identity their parents have projected onto them, and over things less fundamental than gender – even something as simple as your parents wanting you to be a lawyer while you want to be a teacher, or your parents wanting you to go to an Ivy League college when you would be happier at a small liberal arts school or a big state school, can cause a lot of strife and frankly I get really pissed off at parents who view childrearing as an exercise in constructing the sort of children they want to have rather than in allowing the children they have to discover the sort of people they want to be.

    Do parents need to set boundaries? Yes, but in my view these boundaries should focus on things like morality, ethics, work, etc. I don’t see at all how gender needs boundaries.

    I’m going to repeat that because I believe it so strongly: I don’t see at all how gender needs boundaries, and I honestly don’t see how that belief is compatible with a lack of transphobia. That’s not meant as a gotcha; if someone genuinely believes the two are compatible I’d be interested in hearing that argument, because I seriously don’t see it. And if you do believe that gender needs boundaries, I would like concrete examples: would you say no to a little boy who wanted to wear a dress? Would you say no to a child with a penis who wanted to identify as a girl? Would you say no to a little girl who wanted to play with trucks? Would you say no to a child with a vagina who wanted to identify as a boy? And if the answer to any of these questions is yes, can you explain how this would be of ANY benefit to the child other than in increasing its social approval (which is admittedly something that in many areas might really need to be taken into consideration), and moreover how this supports the kind of society you want to see?

    Holly, thank you again for the link & the post; it honestly sort of brought tears to my eyes.

  39. akeeyu
    akeeyu June 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm |

    I find it interesting that so many comments are going along the lines of “This would be BAD and CONFUSING for a cis child, and pointless anyway, since gender is an absolute that can’t be changed.”

    Well…if it can’t be changed, it doesn’t matter whether or not this kid wears dresses, pants, viking hats or pink bows.

    I think this is a wonderful idea. Hard to implement and (obviously) easy for society to judge all to hell and back, but brave.

    I can tell you that it’s hard enough in this country to raise children “Gender Lite”, if you will. I have two girls who we dress like KIDS, not neccessarily girls or boys. When I was pregnant, people would ask me the genders, and I would say “Fetuses don’t have a gender, they have a sex, and we don’t know either yet,” and collected a huge variety of blank stares and eye rolls.

    I’ve had people ARGUE with me that my daughters are boys. “But he’s wearing BLUE!” Yes, but trust me, she’s female. I changed her this morning. I know these things. A five year old asked if my youngest was a boy or a girl and then expressed extreme skepticism when I said she was a girl. Clearly the overalls and the sun hat with trucks on it screamed PENIS. Whatever.

    Uccelina and I had twins at almost the same time, and have a long running joke about how our kids will grow up and get married. I have two girls, she has a boy and a girl. You wouldn’t believe the hostility I’ve received from family members when I say “Yes, we’re hoping that at least ONE of them is gay, or maybe trans…?” It’s unacceptable to say that, although it doesn’t seem ‘wrong’ to assume or anticipate a straight/cis child.

    Drives me crazy.

    THAT is why I think that Pop’s family is doing the right thing.

    Good post, Holly.

  40. StephInfection
    StephInfection June 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm |

    I saw this on feministing and I really loved the initial idea but upon more thought I realized that there would have to be a lot of commitment on Pop’s parents behalf to ensure that ze wasn’t going to be gendered by the outside world. In the confines of Pop’s home it might be easy to remain gender ambiguous. No teacher is trying to explain about little boys and girls, no children and trying to make their own assumptions. Unless Pop is put in a school where all the children are raised to choose their own genders, I have a feeling Pop is going to feel pressured into a gender by the outside world instead of hir parents. The last thing I wanted in the world when I was young was to be different from everyone else, even if my heart told me I was going to be anyway. I want to believe that this could work out beautifully in the end but I think that society will have a different opinion.

  41. bekabot
    bekabot June 27, 2009 at 3:52 pm |

    I don’t like this. It implies that a child’s being female is such a horrible faux pax on the part of the kid or the parents or both that it’s not even discussable in an undertone.

    (“You mean we had a girl? Euuuuccchhh. Well, OK; let’s just not admit it, at least not up till the point where she starts growing boobs and bleeding and gives the game away.”)

  42. Jadey
    Jadey June 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm |

    Bekabot, why do you assume that Pop is female?

  43. whatsername
    whatsername June 27, 2009 at 4:05 pm |

    Yep, if I ever decide to have children, I absolutely plan to raise her/him/them as gender neutrally as possible. I want them to be whoever they are to the fullest they can be, they deserve better than to be boxed in by my or society’s expectations of what they should be because of what sex they are.

  44. Sam
    Sam June 27, 2009 at 4:16 pm |

    I haven’t done this, maybe I should have because its certainly relevant. I have (I hope) done my best to instill fairness and love, equality and confidence in all of my four kids by example. I refused to gender stereotype their play and I stopped the older ones as they came home from school using mean terms and thinking they meant nothing because “everyone says it” I taught them and showed them w/videos and resources much like this site and I hope it helped some.

    My older two daughters were raised in a very tight home, pseudo religious “do as I say not as I do” righteous types, it bothers me a lot as there is only so much I can “undo” in their case, but my younger two, they’ve been raised with a multitude of different kinds of families and relationships and people around them. They don’t play based on gender and they don’t condemn others for their own expressions or displays.

    I guess its all that I really can do. I just hope that I have done it well.

  45. karak
    karak June 27, 2009 at 4:36 pm |

    It is enraging to me that all the research and case studies they quote deal with children who were 2 or older, including the boy who was raised as “Brenda”. He was already genderized by the time they switched him.

    By the age of 2, children are treated differently and have been taught to behave differently. I believe that as long as Pop is taught about his/her own body, to love and not be afraid or ashamed, Pop will grow up fine.

    I wonder though, if the name “Pop” has any connotations in Swedish that it does not have in English. To me, “Pop” sounds masculine because it is a synonym for “father”.

    This sounds like an interesting but ultimately unworkable idea–if I raise my kid, I plan to expose them to all kinds of play, regardless of gender normalization, but I don’t believe I would be able to not disclose the child’s born sex.

  46. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 27, 2009 at 4:57 pm |

    And I don’t think raising a child this way necessarily REQUIRES the parents to avoid imposing a gender identity on their child

    Actually, I’ll be VERY impressed if the parents can pull it off the way they think they can. There are just so many socially proscribed gender roles that we’re often not even aware of them.

  47. bekabot
    bekabot June 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm |

    Bekabot, why do you assume that Pop is female?

    Because I don’t see the likelihood of such extravagant gaurding-precautions being undertaken on a boy’s behalf, and I seriously doubt that they would be.

  48. piny
    piny June 27, 2009 at 5:25 pm |

    There are MAAB trans girls in the US, and their parents often face the same automatic sexing based on genitalia. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to guess one way or the other in the face of gender ambiguity. You don’t know these parents or this kid, and this family’s answer is Decline to State.

    I don’t think it’s at all unlikely that a progressive couple would be scared into this project by the way male-assigned children are treated, or that they would realize the huge significance of keeping that kid’s genitalia private. If Pop’s assigned sex were known, I think Pop would lose the right to decide for hirself, and a male-assigned kid might even have more trouble hanging out with the girls when zie wanted to.

  49. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm |

    hmm, html fail on my comment. The first bit is from Laura’s comment at #39.

  50. mondiste
    mondiste June 27, 2009 at 5:51 pm |

    Most of my thoughts on the topic have already been expressed by commenters above, but has anyone else read the Louis Gould’s “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story”? I love it, read it for the first time in a women’s studies class and have been secretly wishing people would do things like that. It’s basically the same- the parents don’t reveal their child’s gender, saying it’s “X”. It’s a very sweet story, I highly highly recommend it.

  51. Ana
    Ana June 27, 2009 at 7:04 pm |

    While I don’t think it’s wrong to raise a child this way, I don’t neccesarily agree with it, and I don’t really think it’s a solution to raise children without them knowing their gender so they can “pick one.”

    In my experience, the majority of people are comfortable with their gender, and the notion of having a gender assigned to them. While I’m not saying we should be insensitive towards transgendered persons, I don’t think raising children genderless is a solution.

    What’s the harm in raising your children letting them know which parts they have, while keeping an open mind? You don’t have to raise a girl by surrounding her with Barbie dolls and pink things. Why not tell her she’s got a vagina, and allow her to explore everything she’s interested in? I doubt a child under 3 is going to feel that they are in the wrong body, physically.

    While I certainly understand the sentiment and get the idea behind what this couple is trying to do, I don’t really think it’s anything I will be practising should I choose to have children.

  52. Ana
    Ana June 27, 2009 at 7:06 pm |

    An additional note — wouldn’t it be better to raise a child with knowledge of their gender, and promote the ability to choose the way they associate gender in their lives?

  53. amandaw
    amandaw June 27, 2009 at 7:38 pm |

    As far as I can tell, they aren’t forbidding Pop from knowing what genitals sie *has.* And, well, many more gender-essentialist parents are afraid for female children to know that their genitals exist than I would suspect of feminist-minded parents.

  54. Maureen
    Maureen June 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm |

    I suppose I’d feel better about the whole arrangement if I knew Pop’s parents had said to hir: “you have [boy, girl, indeterminate] parts, but that doesn’t make you a [boy, girl, person of indeterminate gender]. And when you get older, if you want to be a [woman, man, woman] or a [person of indeterminate gender, person of indeterminate gender, man] instead of a [man, woman, person of indeterminate gender], then doctors can do things to help with that. Otherwise, you’ll have a [man’s body, woman’s body, in-between body] when you grow up.”

  55. amandaw
    amandaw June 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm |

    and it’s still disturbing to me to see the refrain over and over: “Well, yeah trans kids happen but that doesn’t mean we should expect and prepare for them or anything.” (and certainly never actually change what we do! cis tradition is untouchable!)

    and look, it’s bullshit. And results in real harm to trans kids who are seen as aberrations, deviants, less-than children depriving their parents/family of a “real” child experience, deceivers because everyone “expected” them to be their assigned sex/gender, etc…

  56. Bunny Mazonas
    Bunny Mazonas June 27, 2009 at 7:55 pm |

    Because I don’t see the likelihood of such extravagant gaurding-precautions being undertaken on a boy’s behalf, and I seriously doubt that they would be.

    Wait, what?

    What extravagant guarding precautions? I may be misunderstanding, but as far as I can tell fromt he article it just sounds like Pop isn’t being assigned a uniform of pink/princess or of blue/trucks and like Pop’s parents are just not saying “Pop is a boy/birl” when asked. That doesn’t sound particularly guarding so much as just… trying to treat gender as a non-issue in a society where everyone else thinks it is like THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVAR!!!1!

    It pretty much seems like they are just extending a good basic and genderfree upbringing (ie; you can play with dolsl or trucks or whatever toys you want and can wear dresses or overalls or whatever clothes you prefer – no gender rules) to include trying to reduce the amount of forced gendered social interaction from 3rd parties, like other adults.

  57. octogalore
    octogalore June 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm |

    It’s an interesting idea. I wonder, though, if it is another kind of othering. As long as most parents do not do this, are the children harmed by being raised differently, in a situation in which likely many of them are indeed happy to be the gender reflected in their anatomy?

    Of course, what about those who aren’t? Wouldn’t a happy medium be exposing the child to different choices of hair, clothing, toys, and seeing if there is indeed a natural gravitation in a different direction or multiple directions, before introducing a designation (by not introducing one) that creates an unnecessary complication?

    I agree with your premise that if more parents did this, it wouldn’t hurt the kids. But it’s unlikely that a critical mass will move in this direction.

    A child in my daughter’s school who is quite young — 4 — has chosen to present as male although born with female anatomy. The parents are quite openminded and allowed the child to have very short hair and boyish clothes, and to take the male role in school activities wherever there is such a division. Since they were openminded from the begining, from what they say, it doesn’t seem to have been necessary to keep the initial anatomical gender a secret.

  58. amandaw
    amandaw June 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm |

    exposing the child to different choices of hair, clothing, toys, and seeing if there is indeed a natural gravitation in a different direction or multiple directions

    pretty much my plan for our kiddos, FWIW, and a reasonable starting point for all parents, I think.

  59. Isabel
    Isabel June 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm |

    I think one thing the “just let the kid play with whatever toys ze wants & pick either dresses or pants or whatever” argument is seriously missing is an awareness of the extent to which knowledge of even very, very young children’s gender affects the way OTHER people treat the child. adults will often compliment girl-babies for being pretty, and boy-babies for being big, for example. In a big way I suspect (and again, we have one article to go off in which the parents are not extensively quoted) the secrecy around Pop’s biological sex is more for the sake of other people than for the sake of Pop. Pop clearly knows what zir genitals look like; whether ze knows which gender they are typical strikes me as frankly unimportant. But by keeping OTHER people in the dark, the parents are giving Pop space to come into zir gender identity without the pressure of other people.

    Gender roles, and desires in general, aren’t just enforced by parents, as any anti-Barbie feminist mother whose daughter has come home from a friend’s house begging for a Barbie could tell you. By not telling other people a gender for Pop, Pop’s parents allow Pop to be free of an endless chorus of “what a big strong boy! look at him move!” or “such a pretty girl! doesn’t she look cute in that dress?” or whathaveyou, which is NOT something that can be achieved simply by giving Pop free reign of access to toys and clothes. It’s great and I think should be fundamental for all parents not to police their child’s gender, but what Pop’s parents are doing – which in the current situation has its pros and cons but which I think would be pretty ideal in an ideal world – is making it so that the rest of the world, which is eager to “correct” kids’ gender habits, CAN’T police Pop’s gender because they don’t know in which direction to shove zir.

  60. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 27, 2009 at 8:40 pm |

    I agree, Octogalore and Amanda. Walking through the children’s section of Bloomingdale’s today (it’s en route to the bathroom at the mall) doesn’t give me a lot of hope though–everything is SO gendered from the infant clothes on up.

  61. Manju
    Manju June 27, 2009 at 8:45 pm |

    “Walking through the children’s section of Bloomingdale’s today (it’s en route to the bathroom at the mall) doesn’t give me a lot of hope though–everything is SO gendered from the infant clothes on up.”

    I find this hard to believe…a progressive actually shops at the mall?

  62. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil June 27, 2009 at 9:16 pm |

    Yes, Maju, every so often. I needed a dress for a wedding and went to Macy’s. I’m not perfect, but I don’t claim to be. :)

  63. SyntheticGenius
    SyntheticGenius June 27, 2009 at 11:28 pm |

    I think this is great but the parents have to commit. My mother raised my brother and I to understand our biological sex but emphasized androgyny. This was great until I mentioned that I didn’t think of myself as female, which she vocally opposes.

    As a parent you’d have to be totally ready for anything when doing this.

    I do applaud it though. The way I was raised made it easy to always be honest with myself.

  64. denelian
    denelian June 28, 2009 at 12:14 am |

    i feel the need to add to Isabel’s chorus.

    specific gender policing is *ENDEMIC*

    a friend of my just had a baby. it hapened to be a female baby. out of 60 or 70 people who bought my friend baby gifts, the ONLY people who did not get her something pink/frilly/flowery were me and my friend’s DAD (actually, this is backwards – i am friends with the dad; i used to babysit this woman when she was 10-12 lol now she is 21 and married and has a baby and i feel *OLD*)

    i am neither joking nor exagerating. friend’s mom bought her a baby monitor that was pink, glittery and had flowers on it – and, aside fro the decoration, was exactly the same as a model that was $30 cheaper.

    for an infant

    there are freaking high heel shoes being made for infants.
    my nephew is 6 year old, is the only boy in the entire TOWN of 150,000 that he lives in who is taking dance lessons – my mom spent months trying to find a place that had dance lessons for boys, and not only were there no boys classes, but apparently most of the places wouldn’t allow boys in any of the classes

    it’s gotten worse, much worse, since i was a kid. when i was 9 or so, i wanted Tranformers and G.I. Joes. it wasn’t just that i wasn’t allowed to have these things – i was mocked by some people for wanting them, because i was a girl and girls play with dolls
    my nephew, 6 years old, has already been called names like “girly-boy” and “pink-fag” for taking dance lessons, and has been beated up by other boys for it twice.
    turn on the TV, and there are two, and only two, types of kids – big, strong boys wearing dark blue or green with exciting and fun toys that they play with, with lots of big noisy physical enthusiasm, or small dainty pretty girls wearing pink, purple or baby blue often with glitter and/or flowers/hearts/etc playing with quite toys that are generally either dolls, crafts like jewlery making, makeup,sewing, baking, or something to do with being a houswife/mother like a “kitchen set” or a vacuum cleaner thingy, and these girls are always playing quietly, don’t move much, and *gently* giggle oh-so-politely with their hands covering their mouths.
    there are no girls in commercials for “boy toys” – and boy toys are EVERYTHING that *ISN’T* a doll, a craft, homemaker-training-shit, and doesn’t have glitter/hearts/flowers/pink.
    SCIENCE KITS are for boys.
    EASY BAKE OVENS are for girls.
    just watch the TV – this is what kids learn from society, from media. its pernacious, it’s everywhere, and i am pretty damned convinced that this gender-policing that starts before birth is *MUCH* more damaging to a kid than being raised gender-neutral. this is why girls think that they are “less gifted” than boys in pretty much every avenue of schooling except modeling. this is why boys (and parents!) find it unbearably demeaning to be mistaken for a girl. this is why we have 12-year-old-boys committing suicide because they are called “fags” and similiar because they don’t conform as rigidly to masculine norms.
    this is a HUGE part of why women are still being treated like 3rd-class citizens – boys (and girls!) – kids in general – grow up *KNOWING* that girls are not as good as boys.
    this is *MOST* of what is wrong with the world. this bettering of the male over the female, to the point that people are attacked, in various ways, for not *BEING* as masculine as society dictates.

  65. Uccellina
    Uccellina June 28, 2009 at 2:38 am |

    I have boy-girl twins (whose marriages are being arranged as we speak to Akeeyu’s girl-girl twins, and what she meant by “running joke” in comment #49 I have NO IDEA). I am constantly amazed at how people take small instances of their behavior to reify gender stereotypes – “Oh, I can tell that one’s the boy because he’s so loud,” “That must be the girl, she’s smiling at me.” But they’re almost always wrong about which kid is which. My boy is quieter, less aggressive, has big round eyes and soft features, and looks awesome in pink. My girl is a mischievous imp, a toy-and-sippy-cup-stealer, a shrieking, crazy-active monster. Somehow the revelation of the kids’ actual sexes (genders to be determined later, obvs) doesn’t seem to clue people in to the idiocy of their stereotyping.

  66. j7sue
    j7sue June 28, 2009 at 3:32 am |

    “wouldn’t it be better to raise a child with knowledge of their gender, ”

    You can only do that if you know what it is. And you don’t till they tell you.
    It is not detectable from outside.

  67. chava
    chava June 28, 2009 at 7:36 am |

    Well, if you are going to do this to your child, which I don’t think is a bad idea per se, I do think you have to fully and utterly commit to it.

    If the child’s biological sex becomes known to anyone, the degree of violence and bullying they would encounter (from adults AND children) seems to outweigh the benefits of raising them gender-free. As we see with trans violence, people become fsking NUTS when someone switches genders.

    And I’m not entirely sanguine they will be able to keep it a secret–kids play doctor, and if you don’t think all the other parents are going to be pressing their children for reports back or even looking themselves, then I think you underestimate the severity of gender policing.

  68. A gender-secret child « Modus dopens

    […] gender-secret child Via Holly at Feministe.  A couple of parents have refused to say whether their child is male or female.  From The Local: […]

  69. prairielily
    prairielily June 28, 2009 at 10:23 am |

    I don’t like this either…

    Right now, Pop’s parents are the ones that nosy people will ask about Pop. “Oh, is your child a girl or a boy? Why don’t you want to tell me? Wow, you’re weird and you’re messing up your child.” And the parents are adults, and can deal with that because that’s a decision that they made and they’re doing what they believe is right.

    But in a few years, Pop will be out and about without parents around all the time, because older kids don’t need to be constantly supervised like a child. And five year old Pop is going to deal with those same awful adults that like to gender children, and Pop is going to deal with that fall-out, and asked to defend hir upbringing and refusal not to disclose a gender identity. That’s a rough position for a kid to be in.

    So basically, I’m not ok with this because I feel like it makes Pop, specifically, the target of conservative ire and puts a small child in the position of defending hir upbringing to adults.

    On the other hand, I hate the idea of capitulating to conservatives… I just wish there was a better way, where Pop could be free of gender-related assumptions while also not becoming the focus of an ideological point on the part of Pop’s parents.

    I don’t want Pop to grow up feeling like ze got picked on all the time because hir parents decided to do a hippie experiment by denying hir real gender, if Pop grows up to be the same gender as hir genitalia. And I also don’t want Pop to be unable to pick a gender because Pop’s parents decided to raise Pop in a fashion that made Pop stick out to the point where shitty people sat around trying to slot Pop into a box because it’s obvious to everyone that Pop doesn’t already have one… That sentence is so convoluted. Let me try again.

    Let’s say Pop has an awful kindergarten teacher who keeps telling Pop to pick, because Pop sticks out as a genderless child. And Pop has a classmate who on the surface has a pre-selected gender, but that child’s parents are supportive of having a potential trans child. Does this other child have a better shot because the awful kindergarten teacher isn’t giving that other child the eye as much? Because the teacher is focused on forcing Pop into a box?

  70. amandaw
    amandaw June 28, 2009 at 10:51 am |

    The article did state that the parents were doing this for Pop’s first two years. A child’s first two years are the time where they spend much more time in a crib or playpen than out in the park with other kids. Language development, etc. Pop probably won’t even comprehend the concept until later in that timespan.

    It’s protecting the child from being cooed or roughhoused in hir stroller, given gender-designated clothing and toys while sie is only just learning that there IS a world outside, much less what it is and how it works.

    When the child reaches the point of autonomous interaction with other children, yes, it does become much less teneble to keep up this approach. But while the child is largely dependent, those concerns don’t apply nearly as much.

  71. octogalore
    octogalore June 28, 2009 at 2:13 pm |

    “But by keeping OTHER people in the dark, the parents are giving Pop space to come into zir gender identity without the pressure of other people.”

    I think much of the space is needed after the age of two. Kids parallel play before that, but don’t really interact as much. If they are stopping at two, I’m not sure what that proves exactly. Many children experiment wtih a number of things, whether or not they are termed boy or girl, before two, if the parents allow such experimentation, which could be done irrespective of whether gender is public. Outsiders have less impact at this point.

    And if it doesn’t cut offf at two, then we get back to the issue prairielilly raises: “I don’t want Pop to grow up feeling like ze got picked on all the time because hir parents decided to do a hippie experiment by denying hir real gender, if Pop grows up to be the same gender as hir genitalia.”

  72. Femmostroppo Reader - June 29, 2009 — Hoyden About Town

    […] Do Me a Favor… […]

  73. Violet Lotus
    Violet Lotus June 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm |

    Being as I could read the original article (which was a direct interview with the parents, not a re-telling and comments by various “experts”), I think I should say a few things. Pop knows what’s between their legs and what “set” belongs to which sex…
    The parents also say that no matter if Pop goes extreme (in terms of gender) in one direction or another, fitting Pop’s sex or not, they believe that this period has given Pop a certain determination and “calm” (if you will, translation is hard) about their own body, and that this will keep, no matter what happens later in life.

    And, for those of you curious about the name “Pop” itself… In Swedish, it’s not particularly gendered at all. It sounds like a nickname that could fit either a boy or a girl (in fact, I mostly just think of “pop” as in the music when the name comes up), which is probably why they chose it.

  74. Bianca Reagan
    Bianca Reagan June 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm |

    Think about raising your kids this way.

    Will do, Holly!

  75. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay June 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm |

    “I think much of the space is needed after the age of two.”

    I am wondering how long the sex can be kept a secret. I mean for infants parents explain that they want certain colours of clothing so that it’ll be clear whether their child is a boy or a girl. So it would be easier to make the sex ambiguous then. But by two years, to what extent does dressing a boy in dresses and giving him long hair or dressing a girl in boy’s clothes (which are similar to what a lot of boys wear anyway) and giving her short hair make the child look like the opposite sex? I’ve never seen a two year old girl with very short hair so it’s hard to say but it must be getting harder to hide the sex. I think it’d be great to do until the child identifies with a gender but if sie goes to a daycare or pre-school and the teacher guesses the sex, sie will be treated a certain way. Young children can assume sex based on things like hair length and might still try to treat Pop like a boy or a girl instead of a kid, whichever they assume Pop to be.

  76. chava
    chava June 28, 2009 at 5:14 pm |

    Lyndsay, that’s similar to what I was thinking, and I agree with Mighty Ponygirl that abuse is a distinct possibility.

    If the child wears “girl” clothes one day, and “boy” the next, the reaction will not be mystified or confused–it will be hostile. I think you would do better to have the talk with your child that they can be and grow up to whatever gender they wish, and at home they can wear whatever they choose–but they have to pick one for school, even though they can change it later.

    Of course, when they change it later, the parents will probably have to move to save the child bullying, which may be a financial problem.

    I think there was a Judith Butler article “The Child called X” about this very idea. Like most things Butler, it was a good mental excercize, but not so practical in reality.

  77. Julie
    Julie June 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm |

    This is something I really struggle with. I have a boy and a girl, who both present as their assigned sex- my daughter has shoulder length hair, my son has short hair, her ears are pierced, his are not, she wears a lot of pink and he wears a lot of denim and blue/green. On the other hand, they both play with a variety of toys from dolls to tool sets and anything in between, I paint my son’s nails, my daughter is into bakugans and playing outside and she thinks princesses are “stupid”. Where I struggle though is that my son is less into gender presentation than my daughter- he likes to wear pink and has asked to wear a dress before. I have brought him places in pink before, but I have a much harder time letting him wear dresses in public and I know it’s because of my upbringing. My dad has a fit when he wears pink- I do worry about what would be said if he wore a dress and how he would react. My son is very sensitive and cries easily- even a dirty look or mean comment could make him cry. My father has also yelled at him for doing ballet and told him “Only fags do ballet” which pissed me off beyond belief. I know this feeling is very common in my extended family as well as the town we live in. I worry sometimes about his safety if I let him dress in a way that is typically associated with girls and I feel like he should wait until he understands the reaction he may get. But then I think that’s just setting him up and telling him it’s bad if he doesn’t want to dress “like a boy”. Sigh. I just don’t know. Someone told me yesterday “Oh, he’s all boy” and it’s all I could do to refrain from going off on her. Yup, he was in overalls and was playing with his ride-on backhoe, but I was the one who picked out his outfit and my daughter LOVES that backhoe too. I would love to try something like Pop’s parents are doing, but it would be horrible for the child in my family.

  78. Trans Dude
    Trans Dude June 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm |

    Julie, one way to let your child out in a dress is when going out on a ‘vacation’ (like to a museum or zoo or even shopping somewhere you’re unlikely to see anyone you know). That way ze can try on a dress (&/or see if ze prefers to be seen as a girl) without your transphobic family/neighbors interfering.

    I also wish that it was the norm to treat kids like Pop.
    What the child’s genitals look like don’t matter to anyone (unless there is a health issue) except the child hirself. The child can go on to figure out what hir gender identity, gender expression, & subconscious sex are when ze is ready to.
    Children, trans or cis, are hurt by the rigid binaries surrounding gender ID, subconscious sex, & gender expression. How many people are in some way trans/genderqueer who don’t know because they feel forced to choose a sex/gender? How many trans/genderqueer people are in denial?
    How many cis people are hurt because they are presumed to be trans or queer? Because they don’t fit cissexist assumptions?
    I’d say a whole lot of people.
    Moreover, I think that as more cis people begin combat their own transphobia & cissexism then more trans people will feel able to stop being in denial, to be open about being genderqueer, and/or to work on figuring out their own gender and/or sex.

  79. whatsername
    whatsername June 28, 2009 at 9:17 pm |

    Julie, another thought is, what about a kilt? He might get made fun of for that as well because they’re not common here in the U.S., but at least the kilt is recognized as a male form of dress, might get a pass a dress wouldn’t.

    I also like Trans Dude’s suggestion!

    And I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to explain to children your dilemma in letting them wear what they want to wear. That some people are really uptight about what some people wear and can get upset, and that reaction is a problem with THAT PERSON, not the person wearing clothes the upset person doesn’t like.

  80. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay June 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm |

    I want to specify that even if I’m doubtful this could continue until the child identifies with a gender (around 3 right?) unless you could somehow get the people who interact with the child to agree not to mention hir gender until Pop mentions it, I still support the parents’ efforts even if they just minimize gender socialization in the first couple years.

    I’m also curious about exactly what they’re telling Pop about sex and gender. The article says, “Although Pop knows that there are physical differences between a boy and a girl, Pop’s parents never use personal pronouns when referring to the child”. It sounds like Pop doesn’t know exactly what the physical differences between the sexes are. Otherwise at some point Pop would realize that sie has the genitals of a boy or girl.

  81. chava
    chava June 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm |

    3 sounds about right. I know a little trans MTF child who is 4. She’s very certain of who she is. If that’s what we’re talking about, fine–but I’d keep the child under pretty tight parental supervision, and I don’t think that’s paranoid. No preschool without me there, no group activities with other mommies. Just not worth the potential trauma.

  82. chava
    chava June 28, 2009 at 9:51 pm |

    I think trans dude’s suggestion is good re: vacation. it’s a good “safe space” to try on different roles.

  83. whatsername
    whatsername June 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm |

    It sounds like Pop doesn’t know exactly what the physical differences between the sexes are.

    Why would hir parents using personal pronouns to refer to hir influence that?

  84. La Lubu
    La Lubu June 29, 2009 at 6:48 am |

    Maureen (#63): I suppose I’d feel better about the whole arrangement if I knew Pop’s parents had said to hir: “you have [boy, girl, indeterminate] parts, but that doesn’t make you a [boy, girl, person of indeterminate gender]. And when you get older, if you want to be a [woman, man, woman] or a [person of indeterminate gender, person of indeterminate gender, man] instead of a [man, woman, person of indeterminate gender], then doctors can do things to help with that. Otherwise, you’ll have a [man’s body, woman’s body, in-between body] when you grow up.”

    and

    octogalore (67#): Of course, what about those who aren’t? Wouldn’t a happy medium be exposing the child to different choices of hair, clothing, toys, and seeing if there is indeed a natural gravitation in a different direction or multiple directions, before introducing a designation (by not introducing one) that creates an unnecessary complication?

    I agree with your premise that if more parents did this, it wouldn’t hurt the kids. But it’s unlikely that a critical mass will move in this direction.

    I’m leaning towards these comments. I’d also like to say that in order to duplicate this upbringing in the United States, especially in an area like where I live (central Illinois), one would have to have the privilege of a married, heterosexual (cissexual, cisgender) parental relationship, as well as ample money for attorney fees if one of the parents was not a stay-at-home parent—daycare would call the Department of Children and Family Services and ask for them to weigh in on whether this was ok. Just sayin’. I’m a working class single mother with enough challenges to my parenting; I found much less conflict by raising my daughter to know that there are transexual, transgender, gay, lesbian, bi, androgynous, etc. people—not just cisgendered, cissexual, heterosexual people—and giving her the opportunity to engage in whatever activity/clothing/friends/etc. she wanted to regardless of gender presentation or identity.

    As a kid growing up in the seventies, with parents that had an odd combination of old school/Old World/lefty-by-way-of-labor-union/hippified ideas—I was raised in what was then called an “androgynous” style. Not that it was called that by my parents, but there wasn’t any emphasis on pink or any other feminine signifier. Good thing too, because in my early childhood, I vehemently rejected “feminine” signifiers like dolls and fancy hairstyles and frilly clothes. That was much to the amusement of my extended family, who would rib me about it all the time. It was frustrating to me, because I didn’t have the life experience nor the ability to articulate exactly what it was that I wanted to say to them—-“I’m a girl, I like being a girl, I just don’t like that certain things are put into a box and labelled “boy” or “girl” and that I’m harassed for liking so-called “boy” things. All I want is to have fun and be a kid. Why can’t girls do the fun, active things that boys can do without being thought of as freaks?!”

    Just my two cents. And it’s easy for me to get to say that in retrospect now, because as a cissexual, cisgender, heterosexual woman, no one questions my ability or desire to cross those boundaries (at least, in the U.S. and within my class background—working class women, IMO, have more leeway to take part in male-identified activities without being deemed “unfeminine”). It’s not just that gender and genitalia are conflated, but that sexism creates boxes for certain appearances and avocations, and that is conflated with gender identity.

  85. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 29, 2009 at 8:32 am |

    But in a few years, Pop will be out and about without parents around all the time, because older kids don’t need to be constantly supervised like a child. And five year old Pop is going to deal with those same awful adults that like to gender children, and Pop is going to deal with that fall-out, and asked to defend hir upbringing and refusal not to disclose a gender identity. That’s a rough position for a kid to be in.

    Um, huh? At least according to the article, if Pop chooses a gender then, the parents say they will respect that.

  86. suzywans
    suzywans June 29, 2009 at 9:26 am |

    It seems as though this type of parenting is a reactionary response to the Patriarchy as the strict gender policing is a reactionary response to Feminism and the liberalification (a word?) of society. Different sides of the same coin. Dismantle the Patriarchy and boy, girl, and otherwise ceases to be of such interest.

    One could argue that the Swedish parents are doing their part, but I see it as still putting an enormous value on gender when it should really be a non-issue.

  87. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos June 29, 2009 at 9:50 am |

    I also feel the need to comment that it’s probably wise to be skeptical that we know exactly what the parents are doing given journalism’s sensational treatment of anything related to parenthood and gender roles.

  88. Shy Mox
    Shy Mox June 29, 2009 at 12:11 pm |

    Gah, people, read the original article! Its an actual interview rather than speculation by experts who missed the whole point. They are NOT hiding the gender from Pop (which isn’t his/her real name), sadly the English article cuts out much of the interview and is pretty sensationalist.

    Google does a translation, its not great but paints a better picture of what they’re trying to do:
    http://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=sv&u=http://www.svd.se/nyheter/idagsidan/barnunga/artikel_2559041.svd&ei=2G5IStSwIoqWtgfdh9SMCg&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=1&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhttp://www.svd.se/nyheter/idagsidan/barnunga/artikel_2559041.svd%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

  89. beansomatic
    beansomatic June 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm |

    I think this is an interesting idea. I can understand the thinking that this kind of parenting will give Pop space to figure out hir own gender identity, and I also see that it will provide food for thought for everyone who interacts with this family – and that’s a good thing.

    I live in Seattle and work in a hipsterish baby/kid boutique in a very LBGT-friendly neighborhood. We’ve always had parents shopping for gender-neutral clothing, and over the past few years I’ve seen more and more parents in the store buying dresses & sparkly shoes for their sons. And one of our most popular t-shirts says Boys Can Wear Pink (it’s bright pink). I think it’s awesome how open parents here are to their children expressing gender-fluidity, but I know it’s not like this everywhere.

    With my own daughter, we took the kind of middle-ground appraoch that some other commenters have mentioned. We dressed her in all different kinds of clothing, and when she wanted to cut her long hair we let her get it cut short. Mostly, we’ve never told her she can’t do some things because she’s a girl or that she has to do some things because she’s a girl. We have gay and trans* friends as well, so that’s just part of life for her. And I’ve been teaching her to pick apart stereotypes that she encounters, especially on TV or movies.

    One thing I do wonder though is how my unconscious thoughts & beliefs about gender are being communicated to her. It’s hard to say, as I’ve never had a boy child so I don’t know if or how I would have parented differently.

  90. Newbomb Turk
    Newbomb Turk June 29, 2009 at 4:36 pm |

    It could be worse. These idiot parents could try to raise their kid to believe that gravity is just a social construct and encourage him to jump off the roof.

    Like so much social experimentation, this nonsense will be obliterated the instant it comes into contact with reality. In Pop’s case, about the same time he/she has to use a restroom.

  91. Trans Dude
    Trans Dude June 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm |

    Aww, its a wee little troll! How *~*~adorable~*~*

  92. Newbomb Turk
    Newbomb Turk June 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm |

    I’m serious. I think this kind of experiment with a small child is pure child abuse. You can try to raise a short kid to think he or she is tall or vice versa or somewhere in between. Guess what happens when the kid comes into contact with other kids who are short, tall, or neither? The game is up and the kid realizes his or her parents at best are idiots.

    If you want to break down narrow thinking on gender roles you teach a kid that being male, female or hermaphrodite is not a choice and people should be proud to be what they are. This is the way enlightened people teach kids about religious or ethnic differences. They don’t pretend that everyone is white and that being Hispanic, Asian or Black is just a “social construct”. You also don’t pretend that all people are straight and that homo-, bi-, and asexual preferences are “social constructs”.

  93. Little Sara
    Little Sara June 30, 2009 at 11:42 am |

    “Are there things we can do to not put gender stereotypes on our children? Yes! In fact, I think that is the more socially responsible thing to do – to raise our children to understand and push beyond gender stereotypes, to lay a foundation that they do not have to *do* or *be* any particular way to be a boy or girl. Then, if the child is transgendered, they have more flexibility to move towards that identity, rather than being handed a very rigid view of the sex and gender associations and having to unlearn all of that.”

    This would have confused me probably. Well it did. My parents were not too rigid about gender roles and stuff. My father wanted me to play hockey, and baseball, but he abandoned when it seemed hopeless. Keep in mind my younger brother (2 years younger), a pretty macho manly-looking guy, also stopped sports then. I didn’t see it as indicating I should be female.

    In fact, it took me two decades to figure out that stereotypes didn’t matter and that the answer was deeper within than pink and blue, walking this or that way, etc.

    Telling me I can be “my own kind of boy” is what I did to myself, for years. Whenever a confrontation a la sex wars came up, I used myself as an example to say “not all boys are like that” as I was so radically different in how I thought. Turns out being “my own kind of boy” doesn’t work. I’m part of the 1/3 that will always be female whatever you do, however raised etc. I just wish I’d figured that sooner.

  94. Little Sara
    Little Sara June 30, 2009 at 12:06 pm |

    @Laura

    “I’m also wondering if, in the case of transgendered children, NOT assigning gender at all and waiting for the child to self-identify is preferable to assuming gender but being open to the fact that one’s child may be transgendered and changing your behavior in the case that the child expresses a transgendered identity. Psychologically, what would the implications of being referred to as one gender until one self-identified as the opposite gender (and then being accepted and referred to as one’s self-identified gender) versus being referred to as non-gendered until one self-identified as a gender?”

    If it’s anything like how it worked on my extended family:

    After 3 years of transition, I’m still seen as male even though I look nothing like it. More than the occasional name and pronoun slip. I cut off half my extended family (father’s side) more or less over that.

    They don’t see my “femaleness” on par with my “maleness”, to them I am not too far from a deceiver. Keep in mind, they’re still pretty progressive people, and none have made threats or disowned me or anything even close.

  95. Anya
    Anya June 30, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    From a strictly feminist point of view, I kind of feel like hiding the gender of the child is working backwards. By not letting the child know it’s gender you’re demonstrating that gender is some kind of a big deal, and there is clearly more than a bit of skin involved. Furthermore with people constantly asking about the gender of the child, the kid might feel that the reason their parents are trying to hide the gender is clearly because some kind of a major societal diference. In my opinion, I would rather raise my child knowing it’s gender, but remind it that it should never have to feel limited to that, or to anything people might tell them is proper for a girl or a boy.

    Now, of course, the child in question might not ever feel that way at all, and certainly not while he/she’s under 3 years old.

    For someone who is more concerned with gender and trnasgender issues on the whole, I do understand why you would want to raise your child in such a way, and I agree with what some other people have said about the bigger problem being how other people treat them vs. how they themselves. It is true that people will base many compliments off of gender and what we generally see as “success” from those genders in today’s society (aka pretty, big, strong, whatever).

    All in all I feel as though there can be harm done by it, and I’d be interested to catch up with this couple a few years down the road to see how they felt it worked out. Like I said, it’s not something I can see myself doing but I don’t think it’s wrong or “disgusting”. What I do find wrong and disgusting is that we live in a world where someone who wants to promote gender equality in such a fashion has to go about it by hiding their baby’s gender!

  96. Little Sara
    Little Sara June 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm |

    “But by two years, to what extent does dressing a boy in dresses and giving him long hair or dressing a girl in boy’s clothes (which are similar to what a lot of boys wear anyway) and giving her short hair make the child look like the opposite sex?”

    The changing will look weird if going girl one day, boy the next. But passing a child as the opposite sex? Extremely easy until puberty. Same voice, same height, same weight, same build. How do you think I can be seen as a cissexual girl so easily even if I never had the required equipment? I didn’t develop much. No puberty, no maleness, simple. Estrogen gave me breasts, and voila.

    And I’m 24. A 8 years old at random could pull it off. Puberty is what complicates things for trans folks, not their “innate differences” biologically speaking. Only swimsuits and panties might cause issues (they’re too tight to hide anything).

    “I want to specify that even if I’m doubtful this could continue until the child identifies with a gender (around 3 right?) ”

    I don’t remember anything before 5, and I don’t remember figuring anything before I was 8. And then I dismissed it as fabulation. I only took it seriously at about 21-22. The only proof I have that I’ve been younger than 5, is a video of my 2nd birthday (in beta, later transferred to VHS), and pictures.

    I’m pretty sure it varies from child to child, some say they can remember at 2 clearly feeling like a boy, or a girl. I don’t remember even knowing boys and girls were different then. And I figured the anatomy was different with a book, at 8.

  97. Little Sara
    Little Sara June 30, 2009 at 1:03 pm |

    “In my opinion, I would rather raise my child knowing it’s gender, but remind it that it should never have to feel limited to that, or to anything people might tell them is proper for a girl or a boy.”

    You can know your sex, or well, to an extent anyway, but you can’t just “see” your gender, nor can anyone else. You “know” your gender. It is unknowable by all but the one concerned.

    I say “to an extent” for sex, because nothing is clear cut. I got a penis, but I resist testosterone at the genetic level. I’m obviously underdevelopped for a male, so much that I don’t look male, save for genitals. Legally I classify as male, but meh, legal classifications are obvious simplifications.

    Knowing your gender takes tons of introspection, asking the right questions, mostly to yourself, and some experience. It may have taken a lot of work, but I’m glad for it. I’m better off for it than the average woman who’s never questioned her gender (not stereotypes or anything, but how she knows she is female ‘inside’, where it counts). I don’t need to rely on stereotypes, and I actively shun many of them. Not as a political action, but simply because it doesn’t suit the real me.

  98. Abi (UK)
    Abi (UK) July 2, 2009 at 5:36 am |

    Children do not understand the concept of gender until between the ages of 4 and 6yrs dependant on development. So why would this be a problem if they have no concept of the difference between boy and girl.

    But parents do force a gender on the child with the whole blue/pink and dolls or toy cars thing. Allowing a child to just experience the world and where they fit in. Be that male/female/gender queer a child should be free to explore it all without being told that’s good or bad behaviour and thus enforcing one gender or the other on the child.

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