Boy or girl?

A couple in Sweden has a two-year-old child whose gender has never been revealed. By keeping the child’s gender a secret the couple is hoping to give the child a life free from a gender mold. Whoa, right? Is gender identity completely a social construct?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s column was written in response to this article that appeared last month in The Local. To fully understand the discussion you should read the article. However, the first commentary does include a brief explanation, so you’ll get the gist.

The Salgados

A couple in Sweden has a two-year-old child (“Pop”) whose gender has never been revealed. Aside from a very select few people who change Pop’s diaper, it is a secret to the world. Pop wears trousers and dresses, keeps a neutral haircut and plays like any other toddler. Except this isn’t just any other toddler, in any other family. By keeping Pop’s gender a secret the couple are hoping to give Pop a more free life without a forced gender mold from the beginning. Whoa, right? Is gender identity completely a social construct?

When we were pregnant with our first child we couldn’t wait to find out the gender. Surprisingly, we didn’t really have a preference but maybe we were looking to connect on some level. We didn’t rush out and buy a baseball and glove in my fifth month of pregnancy, but it wasn’t long after our son was born that my husband proudly held him in a vintage tiny Dan Marino jersey. All the babies have worn the very same jersey since.

We had dolls and dress up for our sons. They attended a progressive preschool and here we are with two pretty sensitive boys who happen to still be obsessed with legos and star wars. I will tell you social influence definitely played a role in the gender identity of my boys over time.

Then our daughter arrived on the scene, who as a toddler living in a total boy world would dig out my shoes and try them on before she could even speak. She adores pretty, frilly, girly things and yet can totally hold her own in a wrestling match with her brothers. She is much more aggressive by nature than the two boys put together. Is it nature or nurture? I’m not sure but I think it’s a pretty big decision to make for your child, to deny the knowledge of any part of their identity. At what point will this decision require them to become more insular from the world? What effect will this have on Pop interacting with peers?

What is wrong with acknowledging our gender differences and yet still allow children to explore traits of both? Is it impossible in our society? Like the writer of this article, I’ll be waiting to see what this family looks like in ten years. Until then, we’ll be taking children to the grocery store dressed in tutus with camo shorts underneath and a superhero cape.

The Catrows

I have to be honest. When I read the article about Pop and Pop’s parents’ choice to not reveal Pop’s gender, I got a little frustrated. And not just because we can’t use pronouns when talking about Pop (and calling a two-year-old “it” just seems wrong).

I got frustrated because it seems that Pop’s parents are, in a way, using Pop to make a point. Now, I hate to make statements like that because I’m working under the assumption that Pop’s parents are actively drawing attention to and promoting this choice, which might not be the case. But regardless, it seems like an overly extreme approach to trying to diffuse gender stereotypes.

We opted to not find out the sex of our baby when I was pregnant. This decision stemmed mostly from wanting the “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” moment in the delivery room. But we also wanted to avoid bombarding the kid with the “Here, you are a boy so you obviously like trucks and lions and outer space” spiel, or the “Hey little girl, you clearly want to be a pretty, pretty princess covered in pink and glitter and flowers” scenario.

So we ended up having a boy. You could say we dress him “as a boy.” As he continues to be more interested in the parts of his body, we tell him what they’re called, saying “Boys have those.” And we say things like “Good job, boy” or “You’re such a sweet boy.” However, we don’t follow that up with “And since you’re a boy you will do this and that.”

It’s always been my understanding (and I’m sure you will correct me if I’m wrong) that “gender” refers more to the state of being male or female based on social or cultural factors, rather than biological ones; “Sex” refers to biological features like anatomy and chromosomal makeup. I feel like refusing to acknowledging whether Pop is male or female might end up back-firing on them because rather than forcing people to “look beyond” whether Pop is a boy or a girl, I’ll bet they’re causing people to be fixated by it, causing a level of scrutiny that is a lot for any kid to bear.

Like Patience, I don’t understand what is wrong with acknowledging (and – dare I say it? – celebrating) the differences between males and females. You can do so without using those differences as restrictions on how your child “should” act and think. Meanwhile, you can (and should) encourage him or her to explore whatever avenues he or she finds interesting, without necessarily labeling those avenues (for your child or others) as “tomboy-ish” or “effeminate.”

My son *is* a boy, he *is* male. I don’t see anything wrong with acknowledging and labeling that for him. That’s not to say that I’ll direct him only towards “boy” activities and discourage him from pursuing “feminine” interests. In my opinion, as long as he’s being kind and respectful to others and not breaking any laws, he can do whatever the hell he wants.

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Patience Salgado

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