Gender-neutral parenting

We got accidentally splashed all over the media in January this year after innocently giving an interview to the friend of a friend for the Cambridge News. You can read the Cambridge News article Why I decided to raise my son ‘gender neutral’ – be aware that I stupidly said I didn’t need copy approval as this was going to be a time-consuming process done over the phone. I was sorry afterwards! (And also notice the URL, which isn’t the same as the headline…)

Having turned down an offer of £5,000 from the Mail on Sunday, I told our story in my own words (at their standard freelance rate) for The Times. You’ll need to subscribe to read it as they have a paywall. Read the Times article here – by the way, it does reveal Sasha’s sex.

I wrote further articles in response to comments, as well as continuing to write random theatre, opera and book reviews, and random rants, for my blog – Beckblog. I have been a magazine editor and sub-editor, so I’m a fairly experienced writer and would love to write more around these issues, but I’m unlikely to want to sign my name to anything written by somebody else.

We also appeared on ITV’s news programme Daybreak – this links to an excerpt on YouTube. We did lots of radio, as it’s a medium we like – Kieran did PM on Radio 4, I did the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2, and asked along Adrienne Burgess of the Fatherhood Institute (which I used to work for) as back-up, and then Kieran and I both appeared on the World Service’s Newshour (during which I said the word ‘willy’ live on air…) We’re increasingly thinking about gender-neutral partnerships as a factor in gender-neutral parenting, and in July 2012 were invited to join a post-lecture debate about gender-neutral parenting (dubbed ‘GNP’ for the occasion – that could get confusing) for the Childhood and Youth Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University.

I’ve also taken part in several live radio discussions for the BBC on sex and gender issues, and am happy to consider more. I’d also be very happy, as one of the few radical feminists left in captivity, to comment on general feminist issues, if you can’t get Natasha Walter (who I was at college with) or Caitlin Moran… During a meeting of a London book group that I was invited to chair on Moran’s How to be a Woman, I ended up showing the assembled women my armpits, as none of them had seen an unshaven one before. Sheesh.

If you want to make a film to use in a documentary, please note that many different people have already asked, and one even took about an hour of footage, and none of them has yet found funding or managed to get the go-ahead for a project. We can’t help you with ideas (yes, people have asked), as video just isn’t our medium.

Here’s the press release we wrote at the time:

The truth about Sasha, the ‘gender-neutral’ five-year-old

When Sasha was born, we’d asked the midwives not to tell us whether the baby was a boy or a girl. For about half an hour, we just held the baby and got to know it.

When we announced Sasha’s birth by email to all our friends, we just said “It’s a baby!”

I tried not saying what sex Sasha was when I went to local postnatal classes, but quickly realised that people only ask because they’re trying to be nice and because there’s nothing else you can ask about a baby except its weight. Sasha had been a November baby and as soon as the weather got warm enough was frolicking around the garden with no clothes on anyway. So everyone in our village who knows us knows what sex Sasha is.

But I did write a blog about her experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting (and lots of other things). Because I am a writer and editor by trade, with accessibility as a key criterion, and because writing non-sexist language is part of making copy accessible, I decided to see if it was possible to write about Sasha without using sex-specific terms. To date, I have never revealed Sasha’s sex online, in my blog ‘Beckblog’ at beckblogbeckblog.blogspot.com.

We can’t think of any way we could have “brought up little Sasha as gender-neutral” – what would that mean? What we have done is try to give our child a gender-rich environment, with toys some people might say are girls’ toys alongside those they might call boy’s toys. We’ve also tried to make sure that dolls, for example, have different skin tones so Sash doesn’t think the world is white. Kieran has a son and daughter from a previous relationship who live with us some of the time, and we have a dressing-up basket with magic wands and cutlasses, capes and and shawls, fairy wings and tiger suits, and enough tutus for everyone.

We also try not to assume that Sasha will be just like us, or that Kieran’s will be just like him, so we try not to press the children to be musical or assume they’ll go to university, setting expectations that they might not be able to fulfil.

So of course all we’re really doing is what most parents do – trying to do our very best for our children.

Beck Laxton, and Kieran Cooper

 

9 Responses to Gender-neutral parenting

  1. Pingback: Secret sex – the myth of the gender neutral childhood | impeus.com

  2. Pingback: Secret sex – the myth of the gender neutral childhood | Sex Positive Parenting

  3. Hello
    I think what you have done is an amazing! To be able to live your lives with this fantastic perspective regardless of what ‘society’ think is not only courageous but also honest.

    I have been working on a project within my university around Androgyny and have come to realize just how much we are conditioned and pressured into gender specific roles. It is shocking when you realize just how many restrictions are placed on you because of this, and yet we are either too young to question it or just too damn trusting.
    Hindsight is a great tool.

    I agree that society, consumerism, authorities and the media (to state a few) have a huge impact on creating issues within us all, with pressurizing everyone to be labeled, or put into categories, and as you know we do not always fit into those which we are supposed to, or feel we belong. Therefore many of us in this world become outsiders or simply live our lives feeling confused and ostracized because of this. With the decision you both made for Sasha, you have given your child the freedom and thought to be whoever and whatever they feel or want to be, and hopefully will grow with the knowledge that it does not matter what everyone else may think.

    I wish you all the very best and only hope that the future holds a more gender free promise.

    • I agree. Why arent companies doing more to market makeup for men? or promoting that men and women go to spas together to get facials and nails painted as well as going to sports together? Why despite the fact I want to buy a crop top for a man, no place sells one? I think this last one would fly of the shelfs without any investment, men want to show our abs off too! If makeup was more common instead of going for an ultra subtle look that only moderately improves my skin tone I could go for a really agressive regime like women do and women would dig me more NOT less for it lol. Women cant even be honest they are so trained to find men in noticable makeup threatning lol its not a biological thing its social construct.

  4. Hi Beck,

    In your interview for This Morning, while I agreed with most of what you’ve said, I think you kind of threw transgender people under the bus. “He knew he was a boy, because, well, he’s got a willy,” is really tough to hear and transphobic, especially coming from you. Genitals do not determine what your gender is/will be.

    • Yeah, but that was kind of my whole point. They were suggesting that I’d somehow concealed his sex from him. I was pointing out that this wasn’t actually physically possible, since 99% of children can see what sex they are anatomically. But my whole point was that his biological sex didn’t determine his behaviour, and that gender stereotypes are intrinsically stupid. The level of discourse and the time available weren’t really going to support anything more complicated – they were freaked out enough by the idea that feminists existed. Let’s blow their tiny minds one bit at a time.

  5. Quick question from a pregnant person who doesn’t want to gender their child. I am needing to find a pediatrician and I want to make sure that they will keep our baby’s sex confidential. Do you have tips for talking to people who will know the child’s sex but you don’t want them “outing” them?

    • Good question! (And sorry not to answer sooner.) I would say, make sure it’s written in your notes but also mention in every time you go into an appointment – mnow it’s the norm it will be easy for people to forget, and once you know it’ll be hard to un-know, though remember that it’s usually just a guess from looking at the scan, so it’s not infallible. But I would question whether anyone needs to look in the first place – why not try asking people simply not to try to work it out in the first place, and not to write it in your notes if they do?

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