Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The truth about Sasha, the ‘gender-neutral’ five-year-old

Here's what I'm telling everyone now I've had a chance to write something down:

The truth about Sasha, the ‘gender-neutral’ five-year-old

When Sasha was born, we'd asked the midwives not to tell us whether the baby was a boy or a girl. For about half an hour, we just held the baby and got to know it. When we announced Sasha's birth by email to all our friends, we just said "It's a baby!"

I tried not saying what sex Sasha was when I went to local postnatal classes, but quickly realised that people only ask because they're trying to be nice and because there's nothing else you can ask about a baby except its weight. Sasha had been a November baby and as soon as the weather got warm enough was frolicking around the garden with no clothes on anyway. So everyone in our village who knows us knows what sex Sasha is.

But I did write a blog about my experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting (and lots of other things). Because I am a writer and editor by trade, with accessibility as a key criterion, and because writing non-sexist language is part of making copy accessible, I decided to see if it was possible to write about Sasha without using sex-specific terms. To date, I have never revealed Sasha's sex online, in my blog. Some people have got the Internet muddled up with Real Life.

We can't think of any way we could have "brought up little Sasha as gender-neutral" - what would that mean? What we have done is try to give our child a gender-rich environment, with toys some people might say are girls' toys alongside those they might call boy's toys. We've also tried to make sure that dolls, for example, have different skin tones so Sasha doesn't think the world is white (Nana (grandmother) being Anglo-Indian probably helps with that too!). Kieran has a son and daughter from a previous relationship who live with us some of the time, and we have a dressing-up basket with magic wands and cutlasses, capes and and shawls, fairy wings and tiger suits, and tutus for everyone.

We also try not to assume that Sasha will be just like us, so we try not to assume that our child will be musical (as we are) or will go to university (as we did) - we don't want to set expectations that Sash might not be able to fulfil.

All we're doing is what most parents do - trying to do our very best for our child.

Beck and A


Unknown said...

This post seems defensive and if that is the case, I just want to say that who cares what people say. Ultimately, he is your son and it is noones business. I know countless moms who paint their sons toenails and let them play dressup...even put makeup on them for fun. Who cares? We all do it.

LuLu said...

Thank you! My niece, who is a mix of ethnic groups but is primarily Hispanic, threw a Barbie birthday party. Part of me cringed because I dislike Barbie as a girl's role model intensely, but another part of me saw this as a learning opportunity. I gave my niece two dolls that day. 1. An African American veterinarian barbie doll, to show her that beauty and brains can come in all shapes of color. and 2. The Playmates Hearts for Hearts Doll, Consuelo from Mexico, which is a lot more age appropriate and discusses social issues that are happening outside the US.
So...Thank you. For showing other moms that not everything has to fit so neatly into boxes all the time.

Carmel said...

well done you. a gentile and intelligent response to the hype. Gender rich versus the gender neutral portrayed by the press makes a lot more sense! None of us as parents should set expectations for our off spring of any age that they cannot or choose not to fulfil... it is their life. all we can and should do is position them best to be able to cope and respond to what the world delivers - and it can be a very cruel place. Your methodology seems well intentioned but if sasha does ever go to school in girls clothes he is going to get the ass ripped out of him so I hope you have equipped him well to deal with that on his own when you are not around to protect or guide him. Children can be even more cruel to each other and anyone who appears in anyway different so arm him well - it is a big ask to expect him to be able to deal with your honourable ideals at his tender age - and even if he can the conflict may leave an indelible mark. How did this all get into the press in the first place - it makes the criticism that this is some sort of social experiment plausibl;e but surely this cannot be true? What motive would you have to share this very personal philosophy? You are not trying to change the world with one child so why go public - or did public find you?

I've 3 v well balanced kids (25/21/18) - 2 boys one girl in the middle - all down to earth honest open non judgemental and informed young adults now - aware of their own gender and sexuality and comfortable with it - all free to do say dress play work read watch what and how they please. We have a very good relationship all round but I did not need to engineer it. I taught them the importance of considering the needs of others before doing something that had a wider impact, to say sorry adn mean it when/if they did something wrong and to accept a sincerely delivered apology from others if/when offered and not, under any circumstances to bear grudges or have a 'get back' mentality..... nothing more was necessary. I think that obsessing about gender can cause problems that are not there in reality and is often a curse of new parents - even of those less idealistic that you may be.Just be kind to sasha, love him, tell him how much he is loved every day, praise his every achievement and pass over his shortcommings - sometimes, and there will be times, when there is little good that you can find to say about a situation, just tell him how well he is breathing in and out today! and he will feel praised - that with love is actually all they need and more that many kids get from many parents these days! Love cx

JG1234 said...

What the heck is your problem? You are so stupid.

You don't want to set expectations you think Sasha can't fulfill?! What?!?! Are you already saying your child probably can't be intelligent enough to make it to college? If no one ever gave you expectations, you would have no idea of what's right, wrong, and what's proper and improper! YOU ARE SO SCREWED UP!

Why hide Sasha's identity to the world? He was born a boy! WHY HIDE IT?! Because you hate men? Is that it? You're raising Sasha in your own little bubble, and THAT IS NOT NORMAL. Let Sasha be raised in the REAL WORLD. And the reality is that he is a boy. Quit trying to turn him into a girl. Let him decide that when he's an adult.

Wow. You are so screwed that I can't think of anything else to say to you. It's like beating a dead horse.

Oh yeah, and you say you don't want Sasha to be put in a box. Ugh. You put yourself in all kinds of boxes, you hypocrite. Leave the poor boy alone and deal with your own screwed-up thoughts yourself. Don't use him as a specimen in your sick experiment.

I feel very sorry for Sasha, and also for you in that you can't seem to realize what a horrible mistake you've made in adopting your "gender-neutral" parenting style.

And FYI, Barbie dolls ARE GIRL TOYS. NOT "toys some people might say are girls' toys."


Listen to the masses because I think you're the only one around who thinks your raising your kid right while everyone else thinks otherwise. Time to take the hint and open your eyes.

Guilherme Franco said...

I think you education philosophy is excellent and is important that the people thing about it. I agree whit many things that I read about Sasha education. Kiss from Portugal to all your family

Shannon said...

I got a chance to read your blog from an internet article about you raising Sascha gender neutrally. I'm really glad you wrote this on your blog because I think it's clear that what you are actually doing as a parent and what the world is perceiving you as doing are two totally different things.

That being said if I were a writer I think it would be an interesting experiment to see if I could not refer to my child in gender specific ways in my work - I definitely think that would present a challenge.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Keith said...

Dear Ms. Laxton,
I have followed this story with great interest, and I was wondering some things I hope you could answer for me. And please don't mistake my curiosity for judgment, but I must say that it seems that it seems to me at least, that you are pushing the young man to the more feminine side of the spectrum. You say in Your Cambridge new interview that you won’t dress him in overtly masculine clothes: no skulls, camouflage or combats. Why does the same not apply to hyper feminine clothing? And you have mentioned that putting people in defined roles due to gender is ridiculousness, yet you your self identify as a " radical feminist". Do you think that has any bearing on what you choose to be gender neutral as opposed to overtly masculine? I hope this correspondence finds you and your family well, and I look forward to your reply, if at all possible.

Best regards,

Keith G

ArmyNavyGame said...

I guess I'm having difficulty understanding why skulls, camos or combats are unacceptable, but a fairy princess outfit is okay for your family's christmas card. Not saying that the fairy princess outfit is bad. Just saying that although you seem to be saying your child can chose anything it seems an awful lot like your child can chose any clothes, as long as they're feminine.

Anyway, I also don't agree with some of the harsher criticisms directed towards you. I don't see how what you're doing is very harmful, but it seems as though there's a clear agenda here, and that you're bending over backwards to square the circle and put it forth.

Sara said...

While I don't believe in belittling parents for their choices in parenting styles (such as the previous commenter), I personally would not have taken your gender-neutrality this far. My son is 14 months old, and he has a baby doll. It was meant to be a gift for a family friend's daughter. But she fell ill, we never made it over, and I gave it to my son to play with. He's about as interested in that as he is in most of his toys (ie. play with it for 2-5 minutes, and throw it to the side in favour of something else that catches his eye!).

I see nothing wrong in letting him have toys that aren't traditionally "boys" toys. Does that mean I will buy him a "My Little Pony"? Probably not... unless he sees it at the store and REALLY wants it. But that's just it; those are only toys.

That's not the same as choosing a gender-neutral name, or making him dress in both boys and girls clothes. I would never do that because as some people say, children do need some sense of identity. Did you tell Sasha what gender he was? Did he understand that his daddy has the same parts as he does, which makes them both boys? I don't understand how you could hide that from a child, so that's why I'm asking.

My son doesn't wear "hyper-male" clothing, but I do shop in the boys section. I won't buy him pink or girly clothes, because let's face it, who wants their kid to be confused for something that they're not? Do you think he would appreciate being made fun of at school because he's a boy wearing girls clothes? I get that people will be teased at school anyways, but let's not make it so easy and obvious to do so. Adults who cross-dress are frowned upon enough as it is... let's not get them started doing it when they're tiny babies/children.

Beck said...

Hmm, no, I don't approve of overly sexualised clothes for either boys or girls. And I abhor the whole princess thing - could there be any more vacuous ambition? So we have cutlasses and boleros - it became obvious pretty quickly that there was no way to ban weapons - and fairy outfits. I think there's a wide spectrum, and we all mark our limits at different places. But marking the limits is what parenting is all about. Isn't it?

Schrale said...

JG1234 - Please quit with the male supremecy bullshittery and using the "masses" as an example of your collective superior knowing. Good job you're not the one raising Sasha, you pesky masses, you!

If anything's going to be bad for Sasha, it's the vitriol directed at the decisions of the parents whom he loves. Quit the hating and perpetuating. YOU are the bullies that you warn Sasha of.

The only problem is there aren't more parents like Beck and A.

All the best, Beck. YOU ROCK.

Nikki Magennis said...

JG1234 - Wow, that vitriol is spectacular. Leaves me wondering if it's a tabloid hack in disguise trying to stir things. Or a common or garden troll. Or - if it's genuine - someone horribly wracked with denial.

Anyway, I'm a bit baffled that anybody would care what parents give their child to play with. My son has dolls and whatever he seems to show interest in, unless it's too big, hideous or expensive. I try to avoid pushing him too much towards anything and I certainly don't deny him things based on his gender.

Anyway, best of luck. I'm sure most people won't, in fact, think it's that big a deal at all. Aside from a few tabloid readers.

Beck said...

No indeed, Nikki. It's what everyone did until a bunch of evil marketing people thought you could make more money if you could convince parents that boys and girls are completely different.

Unknown said...

Apologies if this is a duplicate, I am having google problems, my point was that it is not ever the parents fault or the childs fault if a child is bullied- it is the fault of the family of the bullies and the bully themselves! It's often used against gay parents, but most people would not say that mixed race couples should not have had kids 50 years ago although mixed race kids would almost certainly have suffered some bullying!

I am the child of white heterosexuals. I was picked on throughout school. I didn't care, until my Mum made every effort to persuade me to "be more normal" and "fit in". So I tried to give up debating about politics with the other odd balls and started to pretend my favourite colour was pink, try to wear the lipsticks and mascaras that my Mum bought me and put away my Mozart CD's and start listening to Britney. None of this worked, but the end result was that I stopped thinking that the bullies were wrong and started to think that I was wrong.

Ettina said...

"I guess I'm having difficulty understanding why skulls, camos or combats are unacceptable, but a fairy princess outfit is okay for your family's christmas card."

Maybe because they're related to violence? That's why my Mom refused to get camo for my baby brother when I (knowing nothing about war) suggested it. She didn't want to imagine her sweet little baby as a soldier.

Trying to be gender neutral doesn't mean you can't set standards for your kid's dress on other bases. Just like I don't want my kid (whatever gender they turn out to be) wearing a dress before they can walk steadily, because I think dresses on a crawler look unpleasant and impractical. That doesn't mean I'll be trying to make my kid masculine.

Beck said...

Exactly! Except it isn't how they look, it's how they function - isn't it? They look unpleasant -however 'pretty' they might be - because they're impractical. Yay!