How to Give Your Child a Gender-Neutral Upbringing
Sex: "our biological and physical anatomy. Biological sex is used to assign gender at birth."
Gender Identity: "unlike biological sex—which is assigned at birth and based on physical characteristics—gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt sense of being male or female (sometimes even both or neither)."
Gender Expression: "everything that communicates our gender to others: clothing, hairstyles, body language, mannerisms, how we speak, how we play, and our social interactions and roles."
Sexual Orientation: "being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender. Our sexual orientation and our gender identity are separate, distinct parts of our overall identity."
If you are confused or curious about anything, just googling it quickly will allow you to access a plethora of resources.
Now, let's get started!!
- DON'T throw a gender-reveal party for your baby, or expect their gender assignment at birth to fit their gender identity as they grow. A gender-reveal party is premature, seeing as you don't know if your child will identify as that gender later on. You can of course tell family and friends the sex of your baby, but don't make a big deal of it. You can also give your child a gender-neutral name or refer to them as they/them, ze/zir, or any other gender-neutral pronouns until they are old enough to tell you which pronouns they prefer, if you are so inclined. Here's a list of gender-neutral pronouns.
- DON'T colour-code. Don't get all blue things if you're expecting a boy, or all pink things if you're expecting a girl. You could aim for 50/50 blue and pink, or choose other colours along with blue and pink for the baby's room, décor, clothes, etc. Some great gender-neutral colours are yellow, green, red, and purple.
- DO expressly tell your family and friends NOT to buy, or not to exclusively buy, gendered items for your child's birth (and subsequent birthdays and holidays). We all have that aunt or grandmother or uncle who insists on buying their little nieces and granddaughters pink dresses with frills, baby dolls, Easy Bake Ovens and pink pink pink everything (and the reverse for their nephews and grandsons). Depending on your child's preferences as they grow, you can let your relatives know whether to buy less items associated with your child's assigned gender, or even none at all.
2. TODDLERHOOD AND CHILDHOOD
- DO keep your child informed. Never be afraid to answer any questions your child may ask about other people's (or their own) sexuality, gender expression, sex, etc. Silence breeds miscommunication, ignorance, and worst of all, shame.
i.e. Q: Why are those two women holding hands, Mommy?
A: Because they are in a relationship, sweetie.
Q: Why does that girl look like a boy, Daddy?
A: Because that is how they are comfortable expressing themselves.
You'll be surprised how often children will be satisfied with simple, honest answers like these. Of course, you can go into more depth if they ask further questions, and as they get older.
- DON'T be femmephobic.
Femmephobia: "the devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine" [x].
- That is, don't elevate traditionally masculine traits and activities above feminine ones. Also, do not degrade feminine traits and activities. If your daughter wants to play with trucks and have short hair, let her. But if your son wants to play with dolls and wear dresses, let him. Remember, there is NOTHING shameful or weird about a boy wanting to wear a dress, bake, wear make-up, etc. Everyone should be free to express, dress, and act in any combination of masculine and feminine ways that they desire, without judgment or shame.
- DO point out needless gendered marketing to your kids. Ask them why girls need pink and purple "NERF Rebelle" toys instead of the regular ones. Can't girls use regular NERF guns? What about deodorant? Why are men's deodorants given powerful names like "Mountain Top" or "Fresh Breeze" while women's deodorants are almost all floral scents? Why can't men wear floral deodorants if they choose? And what is particularly feminine about flowers, anyway? Watch the lightbulbs go off in their head. Most likely they'll get pretty angry about it; I know my 7-year-old sister did!
- DO regularly vocalize support for your child's interests. Kids pick up on the rigid gender binary very quickly, starting in preschool and cementing itself in elementary school. GIrls get picked on for being too masculine, boys get picked on for being too feminine, and peer pressure is a huge problem. Therefore, it's crucial to remind your child that the gender binary does not exist, that there is no such thing as "girl things" or "boy things," and that whatever combination of activities they are interested in is perfectly normal, and great! If your daughter wants to dress up as Batman or your son wants to dress up as Cinderella, give them the confidence and support they need to be less affected by the (inevitable) comments of others.
- DO make it clear that you will love and support your teen no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Adolescence is a time when teens learn more about themselves, their beliefs, values, dreams, and desires. It's also a time when your child will likely question their sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Remind your teen frequently that they do not need to settle on any labels, and that it is perfectly normal to feel confused about their gender, their bodies, or their sexual orientation. Let your teen know that you love them unconditionally and that you will support them whether they end up identifying as queer or wanting to transition to a different gender.
- Even though teens may not admit it, the support and love of their parents does mean a lot to them, and it will help to provide stability for them throughout the tumultuous teen years.