When Bobby McCullough and Lesley Fleishman, a couple from Brooklyn, New York, agreed that they were going to raise their child as a "theyby" — an individual who's raised as neither a girl nor a boy specifically until the child is old enough to vocalise their own gender — it was only after a lot of careful consideration . . . and some social media research.
In fact, Bobby first came across the concept when he saw a news article about how a Canadian baby was issued a genderless birth certificate. The soon-to-be father joined a Facebook group that was dedicated to the "theyby" movement.
He told New York Magazine that the gender-neutral parenting style aligned with how he and Lesley view gender constructs.
"This specific group really empowered the hell out of us to do this," he said. "[The Facebook page] was my favourite place to go on the internet. It was just like, 'Wow, there's something that we can do parenting-wise that completely goes with our value system.'"
Although Lesley was skeptical at first, she eventually came around to the idea and opted to raise their child, Sojourner Wildfire, without a set gender. And as far as pronouns go, Bobby and Lesley stuck with "they" and "them" when referring to Sojourner.
"As a concept, I was always like, 'Sure, this makes total sense,'" said Lesley. "But it was just the pronouns conversation. I mean, having a baby is already difficult, but then having to explain that to your grandma?"
While in the hospital delivering their new bundle of joy, they had strict instructions for the doctors and nurses to not announce a gender upon the baby's birth. "'At minimum, do not describe the anatomy or what you think the anatomy means when this baby's born.' We definitely wanted to prevent them being gendered in any intense moment. And everybody was aware of that."
The idea of raising a child as gender-neutral is a relatively new phenomenon, but more and more parents throughout the US are adopting the philosophy, of which the core belief is that gender is a social construct rather than a biological necessity.
What to know before raising your child as gender-neutral
If you're considering going down this path with your own family, there a few things to know before diving into the lifestyle.
1. You're going to have to talk to friends and family about pronouns
Raising a child gender-neutral means that you're going to have several conversations with everyone from your parents to your doctor about your choice. If you're opting to use the pronouns "they" or "them" to describe your new baby, make that clear from the start. And don't forget: this concept of raising a child in a gender-neutral way is still fairly new, so don't be surprised if it takes your loved ones time to get used to using these specific pronouns.
2. It's going to take some effort to steer clear of traditional clothing
As soon as people hear you're expecting, the avalanche of blue and pink clothing typically comes in droves, but thankfully, more companies that specialise in unisex baby clothes are popping up, which means more options for parents in the green, yellow, and gray colour palettes.
Toys don't technically have gender, despite what others may think. There have been numerous studies that have found that girls and boys tend to enjoy playing with toys that are created specifically for their gender, but when you're raising a gender-neutral child, those rules might not apply.
3. Let your children embrace their individuality
According to science-based research, babies' brains have zero concept of gender. And what's more? There's no evidence of a specific male or female brain since gender norms are learned as children get older. For children who are being raised as gender-neutral, they may grow up to have a slew of different interests that are a combination of traditionally male or female hobbies — and that's okay.
4. Even though you're raising your child to be gender-neutral, sexism still exists in the world
No, you won't have to have this conversation for a few years, but you'll certainly need to have it eventually. Gender-specific stereotypes are a real thing, and discussing them earlier rather than later with your child may bode well for their future.