If I ever become a parent, I’d look to this couple for a bit of inspiration. Judging from the public reaction to the Swedish parents’ story, I’d probably be accused of everything from child abuse to conducting a cruel social experiment… for not revealing the child’s biological sex to the world. Aside from hir mom and dad and folks who’ve changed hir diaper, nobody knows whether little “Pop” is male or female.
“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother said. “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”
“Amen,” I say. Others, however, have reacted with horror and amazement. Even some commenters on this post at Feministe are aghast. Holly supports these parents’ decision and offers compelling reasons why.
Commenting on the story, writer and psychologist Susan Pinker said, “Ignoring children’s natures simply doesn’t work… Child-rearing should not be about providing an opportunity to prove an ideological point, but about responding to each child’s needs as an individual.” That makes no sense at all. Responding to Pop’s needs as an individual – rather than as a gender – is exactly what hir parents are doing. In what way are these parents ignoring Pop’s nature? They are not stifling the child, but leaving all doors open to hir. But accusations that the parents are keeping something important from Pop run rampant, as though zie is being deprived of the joy of sexist pigeonholing. Conflation of “sex” and “gender” is commonplace as well.
The parents are not withholding the child’s gender from hir. That is not something parents can tell a child in the first place; that is for Pop to discover and reveal if zie wishes. I’m sure zie knows what’s between hir legs. But that’s not the same as gender. What Pop’s parents are doing is keeping hir sex a secret from others, presumably because they (rightly) predict people will treat hir differently according to hir sex.
Eventually Pop will probably gravitate towards a gender, like hir peers. Hir body and hir gender may not “match up.” Zie could be trans or intersex or genderqueer. Eventually zie will probably let hir sex and hir gender identity be known. And eventually people will be able to treat Pop the way they think people of hir sex should be treated. Eventually people will be able to make assumptions about Pop that have nothing to do with hir actual personality, desires or abilities. Until then, I think it’s beautiful that Pop’s parents are letting hir be free from all that.