I was really struck by this opening paragraph to an article by Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon on the difficulty of raising a gender-neutral child:
A Swedish couple has refused to reveal the sex of their 2-year-old to anyone — except those on diaper duty. When word got out about their decision to eschew personal pronouns and sex-appropriate clothing, the parents made international headlines. The mother explained her thinking to the press: “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”
I’ll admit that if my sons played with Barbies, I’d worry for their safety. For a long time, until he was about six, the Bear claimed purple was his favorite color. I was totally down with that. I like purple, and he had this great purple T-shirt with an orange stegosaurus printed on it. Purple can be spun in a boyish direction. It’s even socially okay for boys to like sparkly stuff. Hey, what kid doesn’t like coins? I’ve encouraged them to nurture and snuggle their stuffed animals, which they do without any urging at all; I haven’t bought them baby dolls because I always thought they were freaky, especially when their eyes rolled back into their heads and got stuck there. But oh, Barbie! That could get a boy beat up.
So this quotation from the Swedish mother really made me think. What if one of my sons was seriously gender variant? How would I navigate that? I feel like I’ve learned a lot from and about transgender and genderqueer people during the past few years. Whatever understanding they gave me would have come too late, though, if one of my sons had appeared to be clearly transgender at the point when they entered school and started to experience bullying. Heck, even now I don’t think I’d be thoroughly prepared to provide all the support they’d need, though I’m sure their dad and I would be their fierce defenders.
These Swedish parents have been sensationalized in the press as performing weird experiments on their child. What they’re doing is is reminiscent of X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, Lois Gould’s feminist short story from the early 1970s that speculated about how kids could be raised free of gender constraints. Less radically, it recalls that flagship children’s TV program of 1970s feminism, Free to Be, You and Me.
(There’s a lot of pathos in this, what with young Michael Jackson singing “Will I be on the moon?” You can view the clip here if you’re not seeing the embedded version.)
Really, when you think of it, isn’t the true scandal that we press children into little gendered boxes, regardless of their own inclinations? Does that rise to the standard of abuse, especially for those kids who are shaped more like spheres than like cubes – that is, children who are gender variant or intersex? I’m curious what you think, dear readers.
(And I realize that it’s a mark of cis privilege to even be posing this question in the first place. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth discussing, because I’m willing to bet that 80-90% of parents don’t question it much at all.)