By Stephanie Campisi
Raising gender neutral kids
“Are you having a boy or a girl?” It’s on the frequently asked questions list for parents-to-be. And the answer shapes lives. Names, bedroom color schemes, toys and future ambitions take one path or the other.
Picking one of two options – with all the norms associated with a given option pre-decided – is a pretty limiting way to do things. Wouldn’t giving kids access to all the options be a better road to travel?
The limits of binary
Making kids adhere to a conditioned gender binary may suit administrators and marketers, but it under-serves kids. Many kids are gender fluid, gender neutral or non-binary – they don’t fall within the rigid confines of pink or blue.
In the UK, some 50 kids a week are referred to the NHS’s Gender Identity Development Service. Those figures represent a pretty stable trend; we need to think about how to create a world for these kids that’s inclusive and welcoming, and to parent and support parents in raising children without limitations.
Bit by bit, that world is being built.
Baby’s first steps
The state of Oregon recently ruled that residents could change their gender to “nonbinary.” Other states are exploring similar legislation. What’s so important about this? It’s that individuals now have the choice to self-identify their gender – not have it imposed.
Meanwhile, over in the UK retailer John Lewis has stopped separating clothing by binary gender. All labels now say “girls and boys” or “boys and girls.” It’s a change that reflects a shift towards gender neutrality in clothing.
Names, too, are going the gender neutral route. Girls are being given names traditionally reserved for boys, and unisex names are on the rise.
Even play and education are shifting away from the gender binary. Gender neutral preschools have opened in Sweden as a way to ensure equality among youngsters of all genders. And retailers such as Target have removed “boy” and “girl” labels on toys, sorting them instead by categories.
Anything you want to be
The takeaway here isn’t that gender neutrality is about finding the midpoint or “average” of the traditional gender binary. It’s about allowing self-expression and self-discovery by letting kids explore what works for them – wherever that falls along the gender identity spectrum.
Gender neutrality opens up new options and liberates kids from the rigid norms and limitations of the binary. There’s more to experience, more to be, and more to become. Kids don’t have to be something they’re not – they can just be whoever they want to be.
Gender neutrality allows kids to develop their own identities – rather than have them imposed. That’s a pretty exciting opportunity.
What was your first memory of gender playing a role in your childhood?