The Gender Non-Reveal: How Gender-Neutral Parenting Harms Kids

The newest generation, the children of Millennials, has been dubbed Generation Alpha -- and they’re coming up fast.  What ideas are they bringing with them?  For starters, they are “estimated to be the most gender-fluid and anti-sexist generation yet,” according to gender studies professor Dr. Kyl Myers.

Myers and her husband, Brent, represent a small but growing group of parents who are seeking to hasten this upcoming “gender revolution” by raising their own kids as gender-neutral.  Their child, Zoomer, is an example of what some are calling theybies -- a combination of “they” and “babies,” referring to children whose parents refuse to tell them what their sex is.  Myers explains, “We had seen [our child’s] genitals during the anatomy scan.  But we didn’t think that information told us anything about our kid’s gender.”  In fact, she has informed Zoomer that “some girls have penises and some boys have vulvas.” 

But is it possible for a child to grow up with a solid identity without knowing his or her gender?  Will our children benefit from a gender revolution that completely disassociates their bodies from their identity?

A Facebook group for parents like Myers is called “Parenting Theybies.”  The group’s rules make the radical declaration that “there is no such thing as biological sex.”  Group administrators argue that “while people have bodies, chromosomes, and genitals, calling this ‘sex’ is a social construction rather than a biological fact.”  The rules further warn that any posts referring to biological sex will be flagged.  Apparently, science doesn’t fit the narrative.

Myers has authored a controversial bookRaising Them: Our Adventure in Gender Creative Parenting, in which she says she wants Zoomer to “explore the sex and gender spectrums, try on different identities, and self-determine what ‘fits.’”  But can identity be tried on and taken off like clothing?  Can children mix and match sexes and genders as though sorting through a pile of socks? 

Myers devoted an entire blog just to “gender creative hair,” featuring kids with dyed locks of all colors.  Her goal, she says, is for kids to feel “empowered to smash the stereotypes and the haters.”  After all, “hairstyle is an important part of someone’s identity.”  But biology or anatomy?  Not so much, it seems.

Around age 4, Zoomer began to indicate a preference for he/him pronouns.  But Myers is quick to “remind folks that sharing [Zoomer’s] pronouns doesn’t give any information about his reproductive anatomy.”  Then what is the purpose of pronouns anyway?

Another couple, Nate and Julia Sharpe, are raising their fraternal twins, Zyler and Kadyn, as theybies as well.  The couple told NBC News that, during the delivery, they asked the hospital staff not to announce the sex of their twins.  In fact, because the babies were wrapped in blankets, the parents themselves did not even discover the twins’ sex for several hours after their birth.  As Julia put it, “It just wasn’t something that was interesting… It was all about meeting the children and interacting with them.”

The Sharpes have not revealed the twins’ biological sex to anyone who doesn’t strictly need to know (like doctors or daycare workers).  Julia notes that some people “got really, really frustrated that we wouldn’t tell them what [the twins’] genitalia was, which is kind of a weird thing when you think about it.”  By age three, Zyler and Kadyn were certainly aware of their physical anatomy, but they had not been taught that those body parts are in any way associated with their gender.  Parents of theybies insist that their children will reveal their gender identities on their own at some point, typically around preschool age.

Let’s acknowledge that parents of theybies often have good intentions.  They seek to avoid what they perceive as the negative effects of gender disparities on their children.  It appears that they have a sincere desire to help their children establish a strong sense of self.  But can a young child develop a robust identity while simultaneously being taught to ignore their own body?  Does the child’s body contribute nothing to their gender identity? 

Try as they might to give their children a firm foundation for their identity, these parents’ genderless approach actually accomplishes the opposite.  It inevitably causes children to grow up with a fractured view of their own identity.  Theybies learn that their bodies are not an essential part of who they are as a person; that the biological and anatomical realities they can see with their own eyes are not necessarily to be trusted but are secondary to their feelings.  But if anatomy is irrelevant, what is a boy?  What is a girl?

How can children like Zoomer or Zyler or Kadyn determine if they are a boy or girl unless their parents give them an understanding of those terms?  If a child prefers playing with dolls, princesses, and all things pink, does that make the child a girl?  Does a preference for rough-and-tumble play define a boy?  Those kinds of gender stereotypes are exactly what parents of theybies say they are anxious to avoid.

But without the biological definitions of boy and girl, all that remains are gender stereotypes and clichés.  The natural result is that parents resort to circular reasoning: “A boy is a person who feels like a boy on the inside.”  Is that helpful to children trying to understand their own gender identity?  Suppose I made up a word, blork.  If I told you, “A blork is a person who feels like a blork on the inside,” does that help you understand the meaning of the word blork?

The truth of the matter is that biological sex does determine gender identity.  Sexual neuroscientist Debra W. Soh argues that “it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics.  Biology matters.”  As humans, our physical bodies are an essential part of who we are.  Body and person exist as a unified whole.  We express a profound disrespect for our bodies when we deny their fundamental role in shaping our identity.  Such thinking sets children up to be at odds with their own bodies. 

As parents, our most essential responsibility is to help our children form a framework for understanding their world.  We very much build and contextualize our children’s sense of reality.  To strip children of their gender identity is to take from them a key element in understanding themselves and others.

Our children deserve the opportunity to develop a holistic view of their identity that incorporates their physical body and their inner person.  As parents, we must maintain that their gender corresponds with their biological sex, even if their preferences and habits do not conform to cultural gender stereotypes. 

By raising their children as genderless theybies, parents teach them to denigrate and even deny their own bodies.  As a result, these parents actually deprive their children of the very thing they are trying so hard to give them -- a strong and enduring sense of personal identity.

 

Danielle Greene is a mathematics teacher and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Image: Pixabay / Pixabay License
 
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