A Florida couple who had a baby are making headlines as they’ve elected to raise their child gender neutral and are referring to their little bundle of joy as a “theyby”.
Gender norms are an influence all around us from a very early age – just look at any toy aisle.
In order to combat these gender norms from shaping the development of their child, Ari Dennis opted to leave the gender of the baby “unknown” on the birth certificate.
“We did not assign a sex at birth, which means when they were born, they had genitals, we know what they are, we just chose to acknowledge that those genitals don’t indicate anything about gender,” Ari said in a report by the local news station WTSP.
The 1-year-old child, named Sparrow, will be allowed to choose their gender when they are old enough to understand the concept of gender identity. Their older sibling, Hazel, who is 7-years-old, wasn’t raised as a “theyby”. Instead Hazel found out about gender at 4-years-old, and says that they identify as a “demigirl”, meaning someone who is part girl.
Even though Hazel’s identity is demigirl, they don’t appreciate being referred to using she/her and prefer the more neutral pronouns they/them. Hazel says that their classmates get confused, but are generally respectful of their identity.
Hazel told NBC, “I’m sure they’ll get into the habit at some time, but they do call me she/her more than they/them…they’re not mean to me about it at all.”
While most people might find the concept of raising a “theyby” unusual, Ari says that there’s actually a growing movement among parents to raise their children in a similar manner. There’s a closed Facebook group that has around 350 members called “Parenting Theybies”.
Group members are mainly parents who’ve expressed interest in raising genderless children, or who don’t want to impose strict gender roles on their children.
Regardless of the support of the group, Ari has received a fair share of criticism from others regarding the choice to raise Sparrow without an assigned gender. The biggest worry that people express is that Sparrow will grow up confused. But Ari doesn’t see a need to worry.
“There’s no way this can go wrong. People will be like, ‘Oh the child will be confused!’ No. If gender is really something in you, then no one’s going to change that.”
Ari went on to further discuss the matter by saying that the language in which they use to talk to their “theyby” will play a huge part in their development. The lack of gender roles won’t be determined solely on the types of toys they play with or the clothes they choose to wear.
“I just call my baby ‘beautiful’ and ‘pretty’ and ‘handsome’ and ‘strong,’ back and forth, I’ll use both, and I’ll compliment different manifestations of personality traits,” Ari explained.
Ari isn’t the only parent raising a gender neutral child to receive attention from the mainstream media. Back in 2011, a Toronto couple made headlines with their child Storm. Even though back then the couple was harshly criticized, today, 5-year-old Storm is quite confident in regards to their gender identity. Storm prefers the female pronoun, “she”.
Because it’s a fairly new parenting practice, gender-neutral parenting hasn’t received much in terms of scientific studies to delve into the potential psychological or developmental pros/cons of raising a child this way – or even if there are any pros/cons at all in the first place. There has, however, been extensive research studies conducted with regards to childhood gender norms.
An assistant professor of pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York, Dr. John Seever, says that a greater understanding of gender norms and an acknowledgment of the wide gender spectrum is actually helpful to kids who identify somewhere under the banner of transgender. The young members of the trans community face higher rates of suicide and depression than their cisgender counterparts, so a sentiment of understanding from others around them really does go a long way.
For Ari, the decision to raise Sparrow as gender neutral is one of the biggest and best things that could have been done, and has an additional piece of advice for any parents who might feel the need to constrict their child’s gender.
“In my opinion, assigning your child a gender and giving them gender-coded lessons their whole life is much more coercive than what we do.”
What do you think of raising gender neutral children? Do you know any parents who are raising gender neutral children?