In theory I’m very supportive of the idea of raising a child “gender neutral” and if I ever find myself raising a child that’s the way I’d want to do it, with one slight problem – I have no idea how to actually do that. Strict binary gender roles on both sides are extremely damaging. Raising a “boy” means raising your child to be afraid of showing emotion, to be violent and aggressive, to lack respect for women. Raising a “girl” means teaching your kid to lack self-confidence, to believe their most important characteristic is their looks, to never speak up for themselves. The problem is that even if you as a parent don’t directly teach your kid these negative gender norms, society will – all you have to do is convince them they’re a “boy” or a “girl” and must stay reasonably within the norms of all that that gender category entails and society will fill in the rest. Given all of this it’s clear why a parent would want to avoid enforcing a gender on their kid altogether.
One thing that’s helpful to glean from the story of “X” and the newspaper articles on “genderless children” is how difficult it is to integrate a gender-neutral child into society (particularly during school) – this would be my main reservation with gender-neutral parenting. “X” makes it particularly clear that there would be backlash faced from other children and parents, as X was seen as disruptive and damaging to the other kids. Even if this didn’t happen, it’s hard to imagine how a gender ambiguous child would fit in and avoid ridicule from peers – in fact genderqueer and gender non-conforming children DO face many of these challenges from school officials and peers alike. While the recent California transgender student rights protection bill helps combat some of this discrimination, it still leaves intact the rigid binary system that schools utilize and enforce – a clear problem for nonbinary identifying or presenting children.
This being said, both “X” and the parents in the other articles didn’t approach “gender neutrality” in a productive manner to begin with. The rhetoric centers around the concept of “hiding” the “gender secret” as if the gender of a child could be known before it was developed and formulated by said child. With this in mind, I’m not sure that hiding the assigned sex of a child is at all relevant to raising the child gender-neutral – sure it might bias the way the child is treated socially if their assigned sex is known but why is the assigned sex relevant at all? The question “are you a boy or a girl” doesn’t have to have anything to do with genitals – as Butler points out, “gender is [not] the causal result of sex” (10). The answer, of course, is cissexism, but, along with binarism, this is something that needs to be combated more broadly in our society. Moreover, the statement in “X” that “by the time it matters which sex X is, it won’t be a secret anymore!” (48) is rooted in dangerous notions of heteronormativity and cissexism that (one would assume) parents who want to raise “gender neutral” kids would want to avoid.
The question thus, at least to me, is how to avoid harming your child with gender stereotypes while respecting their rights to self-determine their gender and sex and at the same time allow the child to grow up in a comfortable environment free of harassment and discrimination.
“British Couple Reveals Sex of Child They Raised as ‘genderless’ for 5 Years.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
Gould, Lois. “”X”: A Fabulous Child’s Story.” Feminist Philosophies: Problems, Theories, and Applications. Ed. Janet A. Kourany, James P. Sterba, and Rosemarie Tong. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992. Print.
“Mom Raising ‘Genderless’ Baby Defends Choice.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 30 May 2011. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
Parafianowicz, Lydia. “Swedish Parents Keep 2-year-old’s Gender Secret.” The Local, 23 June 2009. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.