Alex Blaze

Outside the binary

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 28, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: childhood development, feminism, gender, kids, parents, pop, sex, sexual orientation, sweden

Via feministing, here's a story about a couple in Sweden who's raising their child without gender pronouns or gendered behavior. In fact, they're keeping their child's sex a secret from the world at large in hopes that the child will be treated as an individual instead of a man or a woman.

Pop's parents [see footnote], both 24, made a decision when their baby was born to keep Pop's sex a secret. Aside from a select few - those who have changed the child's diaper - nobody knows Pop's gender; if anyone enquires, Pop's parents simply say they don't disclose this information.

In an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March, the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

"We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset," Pop's mother said. "It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop's gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.

It's an interesting idea, and despite what the gender fascist quoted in the article says, it won't hurt Pop to not be forced into a box when it comes to gender. If she's correct that kids naturally gravitate towards either the male or female gender, then there'll be no problem here - Pop will decide for Pop-self if Pop is a boy or a girl at the age when Pop is naturally drawn to that gender.

It doesn't seem like the parents are trying to raise "Pop" to be gender-free; it seems like they just recognize that it can be limiting to tell another person whether they are male or female. I've read enough from the transgender contributors on TBP to understand that being one gender is, on some level, hard-wired into people (something that as a cis-man I don't have to think about too much since I was socialized as a male, have male body, and strongly identify as male).

That doesn't mean that everything that comes with being male or female (as in, that which is a result of being treated in accordance with one's apparent gender) is, in fact, hard-wired. And as Ann points out, it's something that the kid will eventually have to choose as society pressures rather forcefully people into the binary. Not that there's an issue with that. Pop will at least be free to declare him/herself as a boy or a girl, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Ultimately, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to just treat a child as if he/she weere a human being instead of a boy or a girl. And whatever bad side people can bring up (that this child will eventually have to choose or that this child will show characteristics of male or female eventually), it seems like they're inevitabilities anyway. More power to the parents of Pop, even though their experiment will probably be ruined by the time Pop starts school and will feel pressured to choose.

I don't agree with the parents that gender is solely a social construct, but if it isn't there doesn't seem to be any reason to be so insecure as to force one gender or the other on a child. These parents sound involved enough that we don't have to worry about this kid, and nothing else should really matter.

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Societal pressures to conform to a gender start even before the kid is born. I've noticed that whenever a friend is about to have a child, the first question other people ask is "is it going to be a boy or a girl???" This question erases those of us who are trans or intersex. I wish people would stop asking it. And, as the story of Pop shows, society doesn't know how to cope when they don't get an answer to the question, which is why Pop's story is making international news and the parents are being chastised by so-called experts.

Good luck to Pop.

So long as they're keeping the best interests of the child in mind, and not exploiting him for political statements, good for them.

I just hope that Pop doesn't become alienated from his peers due to the unconventional approach of his/her parents. Social isolation at such early stages of life can be very damaging to a child's personality development.

Way to gender that kid! I like how you used male pronouns for someone who currently has no gender identity, after reading an article expressly about NOT gendering that person. Good job.

I'm confused. Is there a reason you used a male pronoun in the opening of this story, then use gender nuetral for the rest of it or was that a mistake? Lucrece uses a male pronoun for Pop, followed by gender neutral too. Is there something I'm missing?

My mistake. I'm used to using him/her and vice-versa, but I tend to always cut bits of my sentence when typing to fast.

That, or you can interpret it as some veiled bias.

No, my mistake. Got mixed up. Thanks for pointing it out.

The parents approach is interesting and would be great in a perfect world.

I'm concerned about how the parents are going to keep this up without isolating Pop from other children and society.

How will Pop react when the kids in the neighborhood know whether they are boys or girls and Pop doesn't? How will the other kids react to Pop? Not well, I fear.

It seems like it would be equivalent to giving your kid a stupid haircut and expecting other kids to treat the kid the same as everyone else.

Keeping Pop's gender secret could create even more questions for Pop and, I suspect bullying and ostracization by other kids and their parents. Potentially (and, perhaps, likely) Pop could end up with even more problems than might be caused by being perceived as a gender that doesn't fit.

I would feel much better about this if the family lived in a community of people with similar ideas and all raising their children the same way.

In fact, I think this would be a great social experiment if it could be designed properly.

I hope that Bilerico will continue to cover this.

I will be curious to see whether Pop decides to be a boy or a girl - or something else. And, if Pop decides to be a boy, will that be due to seeing that society likes boys better than girls or a real choice?


This dates me, I know, but this post reminded me of the book X: A FABULOUS CHILD'S STORY by Lois Gould. It was a feminist hit published by a feminist press, about parents who do not tell anyone the gender of their child. I think I have found it online here (although I can't vouch that it is exactly the same as the book because I misplaced my copy of the book long ago)::

This is ridiculous. They are exploiting their child to prove a point about gender.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being either male or female or anywhere in between. They will end up teaching the kid that his/her genitalia is more important than anything else in their life, but should be kept secret and hidden. That's not enlightened at all.

The parents are not trying to say that being male or female is wrong. After all, biologicaly humans generally are all tied to the binary of sex. For the majority of us we are born male or female, we know it in some internal way, and are perfectly happy with it.

They are not going to be teaching the child to be ashamed of it's genitallia, but rather that it's being is not ultimately tied to it. If by some small chance the child is transsexual, that is a great lesson to lear. He/she will be able to gravitate towards the internal gender, rather than being forced by others to conform to the external sexual characteristics. This saves the child from much of the confusion and pain that it would face normally.

If the child is not trans, then no real harm is done, and there is one more enlightened male in this world if that is what it turns out to be.

And we all know this world needs all the enlightened males it can get.

That's about the same thing my parents were told when they were "experimenting" with raising kids with two moms.

It's very clear to me that the parent's see the end result as a better safer life for their child. Sure, folks will disagree, but even if you think their approach is wrong, that's very different from valuing a political point over their kids safety and well being.

I don't think I'd want to do the same as them when I have kids, but this is certainly doing far less harm than attempts to specifically gender young kids (which kills a toddler every now and then when a dad 'rough houses' with them to prevent them from being a sissy).

Mostly, though, I think the flaw is just that they are missing one key part of socialization. It's not just that boys are encouraged to be strong and girls are are encouraged to be nurturing. It's that EVERYONE is told that boys are strong and girls are nurturing. If you've got any sense of identification of one over the other, you'll learn those messages. Everyone saw me as a boy, but everytime I learned that boys acted one way or another, I strived to NOT be that. When I learned that boys were strong and girls were nurturing, I avoided sports and learned to cook. I imagine that if Pop feels that way about either gender, then the way folks see Pop's gender won't matter, Pop will internalize much of it anyway.

In the meantime, though, Pop and Pop's family deserves our support and respect. Pop's still a few years away from school. Let Pop live this way, and as soon as Pop decides Pop wants to live another way, Pop will be able to with the full support of Pop's partents. This isn't a secret Pop is being forced to keep, but private medical information that Pop's parents won't reveal without Pop's consent.

And don't discount the possibility that this may be Pop's preference. Some friends of mine tried to do a similar thing when their child requested it, firmly stating that they were neither a boy or a girl and that they didn't want to be called he or she, just by their name.

diddlygrl | June 29, 2009 9:03 AM

Pop will be whomever Pop is and I think that will be true leven when the child interacts with other children. I find that a lot of the gender typing that children do is because it is something they see and learn from their parents and siblings.

As a little kid I didn't really care one way or the other if I played with girls or boys, I actually liked playing with the girls better because the boys were in general rougher. I was pressured however, by my peers and parents, to play with the boys since, when it came time to pee I could do it standing and from a distance, rather than sitting on the toilet. Didn't seem like such a great distinction at the time to me, but shows you what I know.

I AM confused, but I suspect that has as much to do with category confusion in the piece as anything native to my own mind, sex or gender.

I would have thought those who change Pop's diapers would see Pop's anatomical sex. And while, after Butler, many believe--have adopted a theoretical/philosophical stance--that any way of describing what was once thought of as the primary sexual characteristic is itself gender.

To be sure, when the doctor presiding over our birth declares "Its a boy" or "Its a girl" he--used to be usually a he--is assigning birth gender.

But when you say male or female these terms, historically, are sex; feminine, masculine, woman, man refer to gender.

Again, post Butler, many believe these are the same, in fact, to quote one of Butler's famous phrases, everything "always already" is gender.

There are some--including Julia Serano and Jay Prosser--who challenge this view. And in the process open up space for transsexual people to be transsexual rather than transgender. And by making this statement, I open up an ontological challenge to the program of making transsexual people transgender.

No, we are not the same.

But back to Pop.

I thought the David Reimer tragedy demonstrated with sad effectiveness no matter what misguided attempts at nurturing a gender identity/gender expression, the foundational sex identity--what I would with Serano call "subconscious sex"--abides.

In her essay on Reimer, Butler never did understand his rage. Her whole position simply does not comprehend there is something outside/before The Law.

Whether the experiment is by nature, an ambitious doctor or even loving parents, it is the child--and the sexed person the child always already is--that suffers.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | June 29, 2009 4:39 PM

I see no harm in what these parents are doing, but I think they'll be surprised to discover that their child will most likely automatically begin to identify with one or the other parent, according to hir gender identity, by the age of 3 years.

However, though hir gender is hardwired from birth, Pop could grow up in a home where gender stereotypes aren't enforced (depending how well hir parents are able to root out the stereotypes that they themselves were taught from an early age). Pop's gender identity will be free to develop naturally and without shame.

I would've been very happy to grow up without being labeled as either gender. For that matter, as an adult, I would still be happy to not be constantly gendered by others.

Pink and Blue lines are stupid. At this point one would hope that we have come this far = but we haven't. Instead of recess lines of "Boys line up here for flag football and girls line up here for origami..."
That THE simplest instruction as say...

Flag football here:
Origami here:
Those who want to read here:

Giving children some F*$^@(&! options to DECIDE for themselves has NOTHING to do w/gender politics and/or conditioning, but the ability to finally let children TO each be and decide for themselves.

Pop isn't going to end up in therapy because of "gender rolls"... but because it's a DUMB**S name. Pop. Please. It makes as much sense as naming a kid Blanket.

"Pop" isn't even the childs real name. It's a "stage name". What more do people need to see that this child is being PIMPED out by it's own parents???

Parents do A LOT of bull***t things in the "interest" of the children.
Jon & Kate +8... The Drueggers...
H E double hockey sticks... throw in the Osmonds and The Jackson 5!! And that was over 35yrs ago.

This isn't about little baby andro "Pop"... this about gender public politics and two parents making a statement w/their child.

THAT... is bull***t.

If the parents wanted to truly raise their child in a gender neutral environment, they don't need the publicity to do so.

The parents are pimping out their child for gender politics.
The "Johns" are lined up and ready to pay.

A Pimp is a Pimp...
Money, fame, sex, drugs... whatever.
Little Baby Andro Pop is their "b**ch".

How about THAT for some real "gender" politics?
Pimps come in all sexes, colors and agendas.

It's just harder for most folks to recognize them without the 70's fuzzy hat.