Monday, March 8, 2010

Raising a kid "gender neutrally" doesn't mean "forcing a kid to be gender neutral".

"“If you raise your children to feel that they can accomplish any goal or task they decide upon, you will have succeeded as a parent and you will have given your children the greatest of all blessings.” - Brian Tracy
It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” -Maya Angelou

A while back, there were two parents in Sweden who decided to raise their child gender neutrally. They didn't tell what sex their child was and all of that. This was, of course, met with much hullabaloo and disapproval. One person commented that it wouldn't work because "They'll see gender roles anyways".

At first I was confused by that. Yes, of course they will, but the gender roles won't be forced down the child's throat. And that's a good thing, really, because if the child does grow up to be a man or a woman, they'll need to know about gender roles to know what society expects of them and make decisions from there.

Then I realized something- they thought this was the same as raising a child with the expectation they'll be cisgendered. When you get a baby and hear "It's a girl!" you immediately start planning around that gender. Parents often picture wedding gowns and ballet recitals. They get pink cards and dresses from well-wishers. Even parents who acknowledge their daughter may not be straight still expect to have a daughter in 20 years. Even if you embrace signs of masculinity, rejoice in having a tomboy, comments like "I want a penis" or "I'm a boy" are met with confusion and "You're a girl, sweetie" or "It's okay for girls to like/do [list of boy things]".

But that's not (I hope that's not) the point here. The point is not to have a gender neutral child. I'd hope that the parents aren't foolish enough to try and beat any sort of gendered behavior out of the child, because that will just end poorly. And seeing as they're buying the kid dresses and pants, toys from both sides, etc, it looks like that isn't the case. They're introducing the kid to what's acceptable for both genders. There are no expectations on them, they're free to be what they want (gender-wise. Raising a kid with no rules or boundaries isn't a great idea, either). If the child has male anatomy and grows up to be a femme woman- that's okay. If the child has female anatomy and does the same, that's okay, too. And so is everything else, but trying to go down the list of all the combinations of presentation and gender would take up a blog entry in and of itself.

I don't know how Pop, the child in question, will turn out, but I'm very interested. People are currently screeching child abuse, of course, but I'm guessing that's overreacting, although I'm not sure. I'd like to do this for any kids I have, but it makes me nervous that it'll screw them up somehow. The gender binary is so entrenched in our culture- will a child be socially stunted by not fitting into it/understanding it? What if they don't express what gender they are by kindergarten? Can a 'questioning' kid survive kindergarten? What if they're non-binary, how will the school system take to that? What if they grow up cis* and are less able to fit into their gender because of it?

But I keep going back to the fact that most trans peoples' earliest memories are of their true gender. Many parents of young transgendered kids report seeing signs as young as 2. And even the ones who transition in their 50s are able to socialize well enough as who they are, even with a lifetime of being socialized as the wrong gender. A 3-5 year old with no gender socialization should be able to catch on quick enough.

And, as the person pointed out- even if the parents don't teach gender roles, they will see gender roles. You see them on the street, at the park, at the store, everywhere. A lot of bedtime stories and nursery rhymes have gender. Almost all of my favorite books growing up were gendered. All the shows I'd like to expose my kid to are extremely gendered, because society is extremely gendered. Gender neutral characters are almost non-existant outside of comedy shows where they make a big deal about "what is it". Short of placing your child in a bubble, you can't block them from learning gender roles.

And I'm pretty sure that all of my concerns aren't actually based on how you're raised, but your gender, and we all know (there are studies to prove it) that the only thing you can do about that is raise your kid to repress their gender.

I was raised female.My mom spent 16 years trying to force me to be a girly girl. The gender binary was all around me and I was told my place in it from day 1. I actually had culture shock in kindergarten, because it was the first time I was seriously exposed to gender roles. I spent a decade struggling to fit in, not understanding why I didn't, and getting frustrated because I didn't fit anywhere. If being raised to be a girl was going to overpower my gender, why did that happen? It would probably happen to any non-binary kid because we aren't designed to fit into a 2-party gender system even if we're taught where we're supposed to go. I'd imagine binary kids (boys or girls) would have an easier time no matter how you raise them because they can fit into one of the provided boxes easily enough. The only problem they face is if they're not allowed to socialize in the box they fit in.

I don't know any of this for certain, and I don't think anyone can truly know what the best route is when raising children. So for now I'll just hope to hear some more about how Pop is doing. And if I do, you know I'll keep you posted.

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