Remember that old Saturday Night Live character "Pat," whose gender was impossible to decipher? It prompted everyone who encountered him/her to ask polite, yet pointed questions in an (inevitably ineffective) attempt to figure out if he or she was male or female.
Imagine raising your child, for the first five years of his/her life, as sort of a real, live (albeit pint-sized) Pat. Sounds far-fetched, but that's what one British couple did, waiting for five whole years before letting anyone but the very closest family members know the gender of their child, Sasha. The couple dressed little Sasha alternately in boys' and girls' clothes, offered the child only "gender-neutral" toys to play with, and kept the pernicious influence of TV out of their home -- never telling neighbors, friends, and even some family members whether Sasha was a boy or a girl. At least not until very recently, when Sasha started school and they felt compelled to come clean.
Sasha is a ...
Boy! (Though you wouldn't know it to look at the photos of him that ran in The Telegraph and The Sun -- in which, it must be admitted, the child does look happy in his hot-pink top, fairy wings, and pearls.)
So ... um ... why would anyone do that to their child, you may ask? Sasha's mother, Beck Laxton, a web editor, said she and Sasha's dad, Kieran Cooper, a computer software designer, did it because they objected to gender stereotypes, which they feel are "fundamentally stupid." But they admitted that people mostly just thought they were out of their minds -- and it wasn't so easy to find playdates for poor Sasha. (Is anyone surprised about that?)
Perhaps we can all be grateful, on Sasha's behalf, that the couple gave up the info about the little boy's gender when they did, so he could begin to form whatever gender identity he chooses -- male, female ... whatever ... some identity, any identity. As sympathetic as I am about pushing back against gender stereotypes -- Why shouldn't little boys be allowed to wear princess outfits, adore the color pink, and carry Hello Kitty lunchboxes? Why shouldn't little girls play baseball, play with trucks, and aspire to be construction workers and professional football players? -- I think this couple may have pushed things a bit too far, making gender-neutrality into more of a stunt than anything else.
I understand their frustration. When shopping online, I'm always irritated at how swiftly I'm funneled into "boys' toys" and "girls' toys" sections, just for example, and I did find it sad how quickly after starting preschool my son declared his distaste for (and my daughter her newfound love for) the color pink. And I'm all for keeping gender-neutral toys around. But covering up your child's gender? That just seems unnecessarily coy, even dishonest -- and yes, as the families' neighbors apparently also concluded, discomfiting and weird.
Will it be damaging to young Sasha? Will it be liberating? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here's hoping, the next time Sasha takes out his gender-neutral toys, he'll at least have some friends to share them with.
What do you think of this couple's decision to keep their child's gender a secret for the first five years of his life?
Image via libertygrace0/Flickr