Recently, a story I remember hearing a few years back was pushed back into the media spotlight - British couple Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper had a child whose sex they refused to reveal publicly, in order to avoid pressuring him (her?) into any kind of gender stereotype. For five years, the public knew nothing but the child’s name (Sasha), and the parents referred to her (him?) as “The Infant,” to avoid gender-specific pronouns.
Once Sasha reached primary school, however, his sex became too difficult to conceal, and his mother and father recently revealed that Sasha is a male. The couple is now facing widespread criticism for their decision, being called everything from “looney” to “abusive.” After reading several different articles about the couple’s methods of parenting and their responses to critics, I’m inclined (at least to a point) to agree.
First, there is the fact that Sasha is “only allowed to play with ‘gender-neutral toys’ in their television-free home.” On the one hand, I can understand it: no Fairy Princess Barbies or ‘roided-up G.I. Joes, and no commercials or sitcoms to imprint him with media stereotypes of what a boy or girl “should” be like. On the other hand, though, are they truly letting Sasha choose his own gender identity if they kept toys and shows like those out of his world entirely? And isn’t branding G.I. Joe as a “boy toy” and Barbie a “girl toy” a pretty non-gender-neutral act?
Sasha is also “encouraged” to wear more feminine attire on weekends (when he is not required to wear his school uniform), but is “banned from sporting combat trousers.” Despite this, Sasha’s father claims that he and his partner ”are not forcing” Sasha’s clothing choice to either side. This seems a little contradicting.
While I truly can understand the fact that they didn’t want their child bombarded by society’s ideas of what a boy or girl “should” be like, it seems as though they neglected to teach their child a few essentials about the world outside of his own home.
It is a simple, undeniable fact: two different biological sexes exist. Sasha is a boy. He has boy “parts.” It’s one thing to try and keep your child from being pressured by society into a stereotype; it’s another thing entirely when you decide not to teach your child, in his most impressionable years, the fact that differences between males and females do exist. Clearly, these parents want to keep their son away from the societal pressures of gender norms. But how much pressure are they putting on their male child by “encouraging” him to wear clothing tailored to fit a female body, while simultaneously keeping him away from toys that are, in their minds, too feminine?
It is also apparent that this couple wishes to teach their child by example, so I would be very interested to find out whether Sasha’s father ever wears dresses, ruffles, or floral prints.
Everyone gravitates toward a certain sexuality in their own time. Individuals have always been able to discover their own gender identity, whether it be in spite of or because of the influences they encounter in their upbringing. Additionally, understanding one’s own sexuality and gender role within society’s constructs is fundamental to the way a person carries, conducts, and perceives him- or herself. Sasha is not being given the opportunity to do this with the great variety of clothing items and toys his parents either encourage or ban.
Although the purpose in their chosen parenting method is to allow Sasha total freedom in his gender exploration and expression, Cooper and Laxton seem to be giving him anything but.
Add to all of this the fact that these parents are publicizing, on a world-wide scale, the very abnormal way they are raising their child, and I can understand the critics who accuse these parents of abuse (although I would lean more toward the word “exploitation”). What will it do to a child if, whenever he goes in public, he is noticed not because of who he is or what he has done, but because of what his parents are doing to him? As the mother of a little boy, I cringe when I think of how many times, before his sex was revealed, he must have seen people in public gawking, pointing, and whispering.
“Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?” It breaks my heart to think of the long-term effect this could have on child.
While I don’t wish for my son to grow up under the impression that as a male, he must be, dress, or act one way or another in order to be loved or accepted, I truly believe this couple has taken this so-called “gender-neutral” upbringing to an almost unethical extreme. Their son, for the first five years of his life, was not able to even say, “I’m a boy” – a phrase that would have given him a foundation for the expression of his own identity. How potentially damaging is it to a preschooler if you force him or her to conceal such an integral part of who he or she is?
It makes me think: do we not, as parents, have a responsibility to teach our children the basic differences between sexes and genders, and encourage them to form their identity, whatever that may be?