By Gabrielle Kassel, Contributing writer
“What are you having?” “Boy or a girl?” “Do you know the gender?” As soon as a parent reveals that they’re expecting — whether physically via a bump or by sharing the news — they are flooded with questions about their child’s gender. Friends and family will use their answer to determine what color onesies they should buy (blue or pink), the toys they’ll gift (trucks or Barbies), and the color dye they’ll use for the gender reveal party cake. And that’s all before the child is even born! After birth, children quickly internalize gender expectations around what girls and boys look like and wear, as well as how they should act.
Some parents, in an attempt to avoid limiting their children’s growth and interests, are leaning into gender creative parenting. Read on to learn what gender creative parenting is, exactly, and how it can benefit kids.
What is gender creative parenting?
Also known as gender neutral parenting, gender creative parenting is the broad term used for parents who are actively working to avoid imposing gender-expectations on their children. The leading thesis behind gender-neutral parenting is that a child’s genitals do not dictate what activities they do, how they act or what they wear.
Some parents practice gender creative parenting by buying a variety of clothing and toys for their kids, allowing the child to decide what they wear and what they gravitate toward.
Other parents do their best to remove gender stereotypes from their home altogether. The parents in this latter group might name their children gender-ambiguous names like Sky or Jordan, use they/them pronouns for their child, and choose to label their child’s gender as “X” on the birth certificate, something currently allowed in six states. These parents wait for their child to tell them what gender, if any, they identify with.
What’s the point of gender creative parenting?
Despite what nay-sayers and gender-essentialists may believe, parents do not raise their kids gender-neutrally as a political statement. They do it to give their children the opportunity to become as expansive as possible, without the limitations of gender-bias.
After the publication of a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which suggests a relationship between rigidly enforced gender stereotypes and physical and mental health risks in young adults, some parents have chosen a gender-neutral parenting route to promise the overall wellbeing and health of their child.
How to implement gender creative parenting
As a parent, your work on gender creative parenting begins before your children are born, and continues as they grow up.
1. Do your research.
Gender creative parenting requires that the parents understand what gender is, as well as the ways in which gender-based biases can negatively impact the growth of all children. A good place to learn this information is with classic Gender 101 studies texts like Gender Trouble by Judith Butler and Gender: Your Guide by Lee Airton. A must-read account of gender creative parenting is Raising Them by Dr. Kyl Myers.
2. Explore your own gender and gender biases.
If you’re interested in gender creative parenting because you’ve already explored your own gender and unpacked your internalized gender biases, skip this step! Otherwise, prior to becoming a parent, it can be helpful to question your own gender as well as consider the ways in which gender-based assumptions have impacted you.
To do that you might:
- Follow people from across the gender spectrum on social media.
- Listen to podcasts on gender and sexuality like Gender Reveal, En(ba)by, Bad in Bed.
- Read gender memoirs like Sissy by Jacob Tobia, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, and Amateur by Thomas Page McBee.
3. Outline your parenting approach
Again, there is no single way to raise a gender creative child. Whether you’re parenting alone, with another individual, or with a community of co-parents, it’s important to agree on what raising a gender-neutral child will mean to you and your family.
Before the child is born, you want to be able to answer questions like:
- Do we want to find out the sex of the child before they are born? Who, if anyone, will have access to that information?
- What are we going to name our child? Will we choose a name that is not traditionally used for one gender category?
- What pronouns will we be using for the child?
- Will we explain gender stereotypes and expectations to our child? How? At what age?
- How will we push-back against the gendered messages they receive outside of the home?
- How will we respond to other people who try to impose gender stereotypes on our child?
- How will we combat the rigid gender expectations of society? Of school? Of extracurricular activities?
If you’re unable to come to a conclusion on your own, consider hiring a therapist who specializes in working with non-traditional families or the LGBTQ+ community.
4. Think about the language you want to use
Often in parenting we use gendered language, especially when praising or cheering on your child. In traditional parenting, praising and punishing your child are two of the main times gendered language comes up. For example: “You’re such a strong girl!” and , or “What a smart little boy you are!”.
Especially if you were raised in an environment that used gendered language, it’s easy to fall back into these gendered phrases, unless you have an alternative top-of-mind. Making a list with the qualities you want to help nurture in your child can be helpful.
5. Form a community
As the saying goes, it takes a village, and that stands for parents using all kinds of parenting philosophies. So, if possible, try to find a group of other gender creative parents to be in community with, either online or in person.
To find an in-person group, try Googling “gender-neutral parents near me” or “gender creative l playgroups near me”. Another option is to hit up MeetUp.com or to ask the leader of your local parenting groups. To find an online support group, put out a call on social media, or to introduce yourself in the comments of social platforms run by other gender creative parents like @RaisingZoomer.
This content series was created in partnership with Family Equality, an organization advancing legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families and for those who wish to form them. Learn more at https://www.familyequality.org/.