Thursday, June 2, 2011

Instead of Raising Aias Genderfree, We Raise Him GenderFREE!

Last week when the articles started to spread across the Internet about Baby Storm being raised "genderfree" (or genderless/gender neutral), I started receiving emails, private messages, and Facebook posts from people asking me to comment.  This is likely due in part to my involvement in circles where there's a strong focus on gender and sexuality, as well as because gender is a topic people know I'm interested in.  My first thought on this topic? I didn't want to touch it with a 50 foot pole!  I'm not the biggest fan of controversy, but most importantly you see, I don't know Storm's parents.  As far as I can tell from the articles I've read on Storm, Storm is not being abused in any way.  Beyond that, I am hesitant to pass judgment on anyone's parenting.  Would I personally ever put forth the amount of effort they are obviously making to conceal my child's biological sex? Absolutely not.  I don't want to be changing all the diapers myself, for one.  The amount of energy I feel I expend just to not fall asleep standing up during the day or while conversing with other parents is plenty for me, never mind having to worry about letting his top secret biological sex out of the bag. 

What Storm's parents are doing is putting a lot of effort into something that they feel will make a positive impact on their kid.  We all do that.  For example, the amount of fuss we like to put on Aias's diet. I'm sure plenty of people think we are crazy for it.  Much like our efforts with regard to Aias's diet,  Storm's parents obviously feel it's worth their time and effort to raise their child this way because they love their child and this is something that's important to them.  Once Storm begins to speak and realizes they are a certain biological sex, who knows how they will want that sex to be acknowledged.  I guess the family will just have to pass that bridge when they get to it.  Just like we will have to deal with it if Aias decides he wants to buy himself McDonald's hamburgers everyday for lunch when he's older.  We can only take these parenting plans so far before our kids become free agents.  It's not really that much different than raising your child to have certain religious beliefs; who knows if they will maintain those beliefs as they grow.  

Back to the topic of gender and sexuality; as far as I'm concerned, whether people know Aias is a boy or not isn't really an issue for us.  I personally think he may as well have a Barbie crotch underneath his diaper for all his sex or gender has mattered in the last 18 months.  I've never really had to give his sex or gender much of a thought, other than the times I find myself cursing the clothing selection at a retail shop (is there absolutely no effort put into gender neutral clothes or clothes for boys)?  At the end of the day, it hasn't made much of a difference in the long run: he pees, he eats, he poops, he plays.  People will sometimes tell me he's a pretty girl, and I say thanks.  They sometimes tell me he's a handsome boy, and I say thanks.  I'll take the time to say now, there's a difference in how boys and girls are treated, and I think we need to recognize that and we need to DO something about it.  For example, there's an elderly man in our building that sees us every day.  Every day he asks if Aias is a boy.  Every day I say "yes." Then he says "good boy."  When he sees me with my friend who has a daughter, he asks if she is a boy.  When she says no, he is disinterested.  The differences in which people treat male or female children is a topic I suggest everyone read about, and instead of saying we should eliminate gender (which society as a whole is not likely to ever do) I think we need to talk about how we can honour all genders, whatever those genders may be or how they are presented.   

I don't want to get ahead of myself and end up writing a dry article suitable only for a 100 level Gender and Sexuality course. What I do want is to throw out a different concept of genderfree.  Instead of raising Aias genderfree (as in, genderless or without gender or even gender neutral), we've decided to raise him genderFREE.  GenderFREE as in, FREE AS A BIRD! GenderFREE as in, let your gender expression run wild.  You see, I don't think you can ever truly be without a gender expression; it just may be that your interpretation of gender doesn't line up with what mainstream society thinks it should be.  So here's my message to Aias:
Don't feel limited to one gender expression.  Don't just have one, have TWO!  Don't just have two, have TEN!  Wait, you only want one? Ok awesome, HAVE ONE! If you want to play with a doll, play with a doll. If you want to play with a truck, play with a truck.  If you want to play with neutral coloured blocks, play with neutral coloured blocks.  If you want to stuff your cabbage patch doll in the seat of your toy truck and drive them both into a mansion you've built with your neutral coloured blocks, be my guest! You know why? Because you are 18 months old.  Day in and day out you are going to have people making assumptions about you.  This started when you were born and it won't even end when you die.  They are going to assume things about you because you are blonde. They are going to assume things about you based on your clothes.  They are going to assume things about you based on how small you are.  A lot of these assumptions are going to be the result of hundreds of years of patriarchy, feminism (or the lack of it), colonialism, etc.  They aren't going to limit it to assumption, they are going to treat you differently as well.  Right now it's not your job to express a gender identity based on social construct, it's your job to learn and play.  Whatever gender identity you may create as a result of your learning and playing will be fabulous.  Everyone is entitled to their own gender expression and that gender expression is something no one should ever be able to take away from you.  It's something you should be free to create, to express, and to change whenever you feel like it.  YOU.  It's YOURS.  So be Genderfree or be GenderFREE. But first and foremost, be a kid.  Any gender identity YOU choose for YOURSELF will be respected by both of us (your parents) and we will do all we can to create a safe space for you where you can express it freely. 
I encourage you all to take this same advice. You may not be a kid anymore, but so long as you are living and breathing, your gender identity is your own and you should definitely let it run free.  And remember, you can even try being Genderfree (genderless/gender neutral) if you want, but your gender will still be there; it just may not look like what other people think it should.  Genderfree or GenderFREE, own what's yours and know your worth. 

A few people people I respect and value have also written on this topic, here are some links to their entries:

Darlena from Tales of an Unlikely Mother
Michelle from The Parent Vortex
Arwyn from Raising My Boychick

A bald young Aias pushes his stroller while wearing his girl cousin's hand me down dress.
EDITED TO ADD: This was a one off, for fun, in our home for pictures because we thought it was cute.  I invite anyone to contact me with references from peer reviewed journal articles that support that something like this is at all traumatizing to our child in the long run .

A surprised young Aias wears pink jammies because they were on clearance and the blue ones weren't. Priorities!
A cool and collected young Aias wearing his signature rainbow leggings.  At least a dozen people guessed he was a girl because he was wearing these leggings.  Apparently rainbows are for girls? That's funny, I thought they were for gay people :)
Barbie crotches, in case you didn't know what I was talking about above. Heh.

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  1. This is the first time I've heard about Baby Storm and it's kind of alarming to me. It makes me happy though, that there are parents like you that let your kid be a kid without limitations for expression but they'll still grow up with boundaries and manners. It's a fine line and I don't know you personally but from what I read on your blog, I think you do a good job at instilling good qualities in Aias.

  2. What an interesting post! - love the barbie pictures at the end. I think all that matters is that we bring up our children to be happy and proud of who they are in themselves!

    Just stopped by from Finding new friends weekend blog hop. I’m following you now and hope you’ll stop by my blog sometime too! Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Following from the weekend hop! Hope you'll return the follow:

  4. I love this post. I think it's pretty interesting about Storm's parents.. and more power to them. I admit, I dress my daughter in cute stuff and headbands and all kinds of girly things, but when she gets old enough to make up her own mind I am happy to let her wear whatever she wants, I am happy to let her play with cars, trucks, bugs, climb trees.. generally be who she wants to be. :)

    Found you on FNF blog hop.. I think we would be great blog buddies!


  5. Does your baby have a penis or a vagina? I'm not a pedo. I just need to know what pronoun to use before I start talking to you. I like what Storm's parents are doing. It's postmodern gender agnosticism and it's brilliant. You are not defined by your gender. You are defined by your genderlessness.

  6. Your baby is so cute!!!

    Following you via FNF blog hop. If you get time stop by and say hello.

  7. following thru the hop.

    my blog is mainly a style blog, but i am a mom of two and love connecting with other moms as well :)

  8. I am sorry but while it is good and all to let your kid's dress up at home (his choice). I think it is confusing to your son and extreme of you to dress him up in girls clothes in public. I think it will just serve to confuse him when people refer to him as a girl and what you are doing should by dressing him like a girl is a social experiment which should only be conducted with consent which he can clearly not give at 18 months old. I honestly think this is a way for you and your husband to get attention and isn't really about your child at all. Just my opinion.

  9. To address the Anonymous comment above:

    I hope this article doesn't suggest that we regularly "cross" dress our child. The photos above of him in the little dress was a one off, in our home, just for fun. The pink sleeper is no big deal whatsoever by any means, as it's a sleeper (you know, for sleeping) and even if worn in public, he was 2 months old. The rainbow leggings are plenty gender neutral, he wears them all the time, and I'd be interested in seeing any peer reviewed journal articles that would indicate they will damage him in any way.

    I never once above said that we "dress him like a girl." We don't. As mentioned above, he wears gender neutral and clothes intended for boys.

    HOWEVER: When he's old enough to choose his own clothes, he is welcome to choose ANY clothes he wants to wear. If he wants to wear a skirt or dress or pink, that's fine by us. We're not here to pigeon hole him into specific gender categories.

    "I honestly think this is a way for you and your husband to get attention and isn't really about your child at all."

    Ok, like I said those were one offs. Sorry if that wasn't clear from the text in the article.

    Also on that last note, I think we can all agree a child that's under a year old doesn't care what they are wearing, so anything they DO wear is a reflection of what the parents want. If you dress your adorable baby girl in an expensive fancy dress, most certainly it's for your own attention. Otherwise we'd dress our kids in the cheapest thing we could come up with. We're certainly not dressing our babies for our babies.

  10. Hi, thanks for the hop. I'm your newest follower :) Have a great weekend.

    I'd love for you to stop by if you have time:

  11. your newest gfc "stalker" from the hop please stop by

  12. I am still not sure what I think about everything with Storm. On one hand, I applaud the parents for sticking to something they believe in, in a society that pushed back against those that are different.
    At the same time, I believe in all cases there are extremes. There are biological differences between males and females and I think it is very important to explain to your children starting at a very young age what those difference are. I agree that society pushes gender stereotypes, but at the same time those stereotypes are not going away any time soon.
    I think you are doing a great job with your son. Who cares if he wears rainbow leggings? My son, who is 15 has a purple bedroom. It's his favorite color. He also wears neon pink socks. Why? Because his girlfriend gave them to him. At the end of the day, the fact that my child is accepting of others is what matters to me.
    There are some children who are certainly "all boy" or "all girl". My daughter, she loves her dolls, but she loves her sports too. My youngest who is 18 months, walks are making car sounds and pushing his trucks around all day. He'll play with my daughters dolls, but he would much rather have his tonka trucks.
    In the end, squashing the gender stereotypes is a great idea and can be achieved by changing the way people think about what should or should not belong to boys and girls. However, dropping the biology lesson all together could be a very harmful mistake.


I've adopted the same commenting policy as seen here at Off Beat Mama ( I won't post comments if they strike me as attacking, judgmental, rude, or unproductive. In general if you are willing to put your name to something, I'll post it, but remember to keep your words sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.