Parents Who Kept Child's Gender a Secret Took Things Too Far


genderRemember 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


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nonmember avatar Jessy

While I agree that they may have taken things to far or executed their idea of raising a gender neutral child poorly in some ways (eg. Sasha has be banned from wearing the cargo shorts portion of his school uniform) I think that their hearts were in the right place.

Biological sex is totally different from gender. Gender is a social construct used in manynwaysmto dictact how a person must act and interact in the world, based on their biological sex. Why would we want to force a child or any person into a narrow of what is masculine and what is feminine?

fraoch fraoch

Aside from when he was an infant, how can people NOT tell he's a boy? His bone sctructure and body scream it.

Eversnow Eversnow

Gender is not a sterotype. It's something you are born with. If your born with a penis, You're a boy. If you're born with a vagina, You're a girl. I think it's kinda twisted that they use him for their own social experiments. They are raising a gender neutral child, yet he is band from were boys "combat trousers" and can only were a girls ruched sleeve shirt and is encouraged to wear flowery shirts on the weekends? It sounds like these people wanted a daughter and got a disappointment. I see no harm in letting a child wear what he wants to wear and letting them do what they want to do, but gender neutral parenting does not require encouragement.  Putting him in a room with one side with typical "female" items and one with typical "male" items and let him choose is more fair then what they are doing. Nutty parents using there kids as social guinea pigs should constitute as child abuse.  O.o

teddy... teddysmama09

i'm curious, when talking about Sasha did the refer to him  as "it"? Or would they just repeatedly use his name, ie" " Sashas schedual consists of Sasha getting and making Sashas bed. Then Sasha goes into the bathroom and brushes Sashas teeth etc..." IT just seems that this would get compllicated and it would only be a matter of time before they slippped a "he" or "his" in there.

I really don't think this social experiment proves anything, but I do think it could have negative effects on the child.

peppypak peppypak

I think these people have serious problems.  You are born either male or female... it's not a stereotype.  It's fine to let boys play with dolls or girls play with trucks, but you don't need to hide the gender in order to let your child play with toys that are stereotyped into one gender or the other.  It just sounds like the parents didn't feel like hearing it if their boy played with dolls, so they just hid his gender from everyone, which seems kind of lazy/ insane to me.  I also think it's absurd that the child isn't just wearing the normal school uniform.  How are you going to teach your child about rules if you are allowing them to ignore something as basic as a school's dress code?  The whole thing is completely whacked.  I hope the kid turns out OK.

nonmember avatar ele4phant

@Eversnow, not that I agree with his parents approach, but *technically* your sex is the parts you are born with, while gender is the identity you have for yourself (that IS often shaped by culture's expectations). Sex and gender match for the vast majority of people, but sometimes they don't. Whether this kid had gender neutral forced on him, and whether it will be damaging, I don't know, but still, sex and gender are two different things.

jagam... jagamama0710

Yep, I was going to say exactly what Eversnow said. If they had allowed both girly AND boy stuff then I would be slightly more understanding (but not by much). They didn't though...they allowed him to wear girly stuff but refused boy stuff. Bullshit you're trying to be neutral. They pushed him to embrace his feminine side while not allowing his "masculine" side if he chose.

It's the same thing as when people are all about it when girls want to play sports or get down and dirty but heaven forbid a girl actually like "girl" stuff. 

Just let kids be kids and stfu about "gender stereotypes". 

Prett... PrettyGirlMyers

These parents should be checked for mental illness, seriously.

JesKent JesKent

This is insane. All of this is insane. Even some of these comments. I understand not wanting to label your child or "slot them into boxes", but you're going to the other extreme--you make it sound like you won't love your child if they fall into gender norms. Norms exist for a reason, stores think girls like pink because, gasp, most girls DO! It's just a majority decision, not some attack on our vaginas.

rough... roughface22

just because you're born with a certain genitalia, does not make you the corresponding gender. just wanted to clarify for some of the readers/commenters who assume otherwise. not everyone is born into the correct body. the parents here seem like they were trying to do the right thing in the worst way, but at least they understand the concept of physical gender not defining you.

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