By Laura Gwilliams
Parents in London recently revealed the sex of Sasha Laxton, a five year old child they chose to raise gender-neutral. They hoped the decision to raise the child as neither a bouncing baby boy or girl would allow the child a life of greater choice, free from the constraints of gender stereotyping. However, many have concerns about the impact this will have on the child’s development.
On announcing the birth of a new bundle of joy to friends and family, ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ is invariably one of the first questions to be asked. The transition from an ‘it’ to a human being in society appears to be marked, at least partially, by the assignment of a sex.
By refusing to conform to gender specificities, Sasha’s parents explain their wish to avoid the gender stereotypes which can impact a child’s life in a multitude of ways. Bringing up a child as gender-neutral separates the rigid mapping of the sex/gender relationship, reducing the prescriptive nature of what activities a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ can enjoy; the toys they can play with, the friends they make, and even the subjects at school they excel at. All of which are likely to impact development and attainment later in life.
Furthermore, in choosing to keep such information private, it forces society to gender-neutralise their behaviour in interacting with Sasha, reducing further gender specific socialisation which may occur during the early years of development, such as differences in language behaviour.
Although the Laxtons have now publicly announced that Sasha’s sex is male, they explain they neither promote nor deter the wearing of gender specific clothes such as dresses or the use of gender specific toys, leaving choices up to Sasha as a human rather than Sasha as a boy.
But there are concerns that bringing up a gender-neutral child in a gender specific society will do more harm than good.
As gender is such an integral part of a person’s self-identity, there are concerns that Sasha will have difficulty establishing an identity within a society that values the structure of gender so highly. When looking at the world around, there will be a gender separation that Sasha will not fit into, even when looking at his own mother and father. The idea of not fitting into such a world must be lonely, if not scary.
It seems though, life within the bubble of the home environment is not main the concern. It is when Sasha begins public schooling and interacts with children who are likely to have different views and values to those of the Laxtons that the impact of these differences will come to light. Society encourages and rewards ‘normal’ behaviour, and so any deviation from this in a social setting is likely to result in bullying – detrimental to any child’s self-esteem, but arguably more so for an individual who may feel alone in their identity.
The Laxtons are one of the first couples in Britain to decide to raise a child gender-neutral, with parents making similar decisions in Canada with their baby Storm, as well as in Sweden with two year old Pop. However, it is unclear so far the exact impact this will have on such children.
Although one can understand the good intentions of parents choosing to raise their children gender-neutral, children being brought up in this way are essentially social experiments. The gender specified society we live in values and relies upon such a structure, and so even from the most pragmatic perspective like selecting an appropriate pronoun, individuals who do not conform to this binary will face a multitude of problems.
The imposition of any strong beliefs from an early age is undoubtedly going to have an affect on the belief system of the child, and one must hope such intentions are in the right place. But regardless on intent, the essential question is whether or not it fair to put a child in the firing line of such a life-orientating decision.