Family

What Exactly Does It Mean to Raise Your Kid in a Gender-Neutral Way?

It's a lot simpler than you may think. 

Pink revealed she’s raising her kids as "gender neutral", telling The Sunday People that she does not want to impose traditional gender roles on her two children, six-year-old daughter Willow, and 11-month-old son Jameson.

“We are a very label-less household,” she said, adding that she was all for gender-neutral bathrooms in schools.

“I was in a school and the bathroom outside the kindergarten said: ‘Gender Neutral — anybody,’ and it was a drawing of many different shapes,” she added.

The late Carrie Fisher was ahead of the game, raising her daughter Billie Lourd, 25, “without gender.” The daughter of the actress and Bryan Lourd, managing director of CAA, said last year: “She raised me to not think of men and women as different. She raised me without gender. It’s kind of the reason she named me Billie. It’s not about being a strong woman — it’s about being a strong person. She once told me, 'I never sat you down with a credo. It was more about leading by example.'”

New York-based psychotherapist Ami B. Kaplan, LCSW, who specializes in gender issues, says she now sees more and more parents raising their kids in a gender-neutral way.

“My understanding of it is it’s not imposing any gender norm on the child. If the family is going to a fancy event, not insisting a girl wears a dress or a boy wears suit,” she says. “Not insisting they play with traditional gendered toys or traditional gender activities. Certainly if they want to, great. But it’s not imposing these norms on the child. It’s letting them choose how they want to present to the world and following the kid’s clues and cues on that instead of enforcing.”

Kaplan says that for some kids, “he” or “she” can be fluid, and can change on a daily basis, but it’s amazing when parents are supportive of that.

“It can be ‘they, them, their,’ there are some other pronouns, ‘Z’ is sometimes used instead of he/she,” she explains. "I have heard of some cases where the kid presents as male, then female, maybe the parents ask, ‘what are you today?’"
If you have a kid that is at all gender-variant then that is a more accepting way to go. If you have a girl who is girly or a boy is a boy, it’s not really going to affect them. If you have a gender-variant kid it’s expressing compassion and understanding to ask them [what they prefer].”

More and more parents are coming in to therapy with younger kids who are gender-fluid and “wondering how to proceed,” says Kaplan, which is great for the kid. Steps may include letting your child wear opposite sex clothes to school or keeping their room gender neutral colors. These are said to help eliminate the limitations that society has placed around gender, and allow your child to be free to be themselves.

Last year, Sweden addressed the gender-neutral trend by adding a gender-neutral pronoun to the country's vocabulary, “hen.”

But one expert disagrees. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, Calif., tells Parents Magazine: “Every boy and girl child must make a strong identification as a male or female person. Without it, the child feels lost and confused about [his or her] own identity. Gender and sexuality are only aspects of a person's identification. The goal is for clarity. Without male or female gender, clarity the child is not a full person.”

One study on gender-neutral childrearing concludes that, "as humans we have a constant need to know what we are seeing so we categorize things and even people into labels that we can wrap our heads around.

"Gender is one of these things, we have seen each sex as male and female and then went onto assign them traits that we believe belong to each sex as a society. There is a very large difference between sex and gender. Your sex is assigned to you biologically at birth, although it can be changed, [it] revolves around the genitals you have and your chromosomal makeup. Gender on the other hand, is a social construct made up within the confinements of a societal view of masculine and feminine roles."

Whatever the parent chooses, it will open up questions to teachers, family, and friends you may have difficulty answering. But, as long as the parents are supportive and open, acceptance by others should follow.

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