A British couple who kept their child’s gender a secret for five years have revealed that the child is male. Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper say that they kept their son’s sex under wraps because they wanted him to grow up free from society’s preconceived ideas about what constitutes gender-appropriate behavior.
The couple, who asked their midwives to withhold information even from them about the child’s gender for a half-hour after his birth, named their child Sasha and referred to him as “the infant,” rather than using gender-specific pronouns. Until recently, even most of the child’s relatives were uncertain whether Sasha was a girl or a boy.
Sasha’s parents allowed no television in their home and restricted him to gender-neutral toys. Rather than restricting him to gender-neutral clothing, however, they dressed him in boys’ clothing and girls’ clothing on alternate days.
Sasha’s enrollment in school prompted the decision to finally reveal his gender. His parents say that it became too difficult to keep Sasha’s gender a secret once he was attending school regularly. Laxton and Cooper are still unwilling to bow to convention, however. Even though his fellow students now know that Sasha is a boy, his school uniform still contains the same shirt girls at his school wear, complete with feminine gathers across the front. Further, his parents encourage him to wear flowered blouses on weekends.
In an interview, Laxton stated that she wanted to avoid exposing Sasha to gender stereotyping because she considers it “fundamentally stupid,” and reported that she considers her own early gender conditioning harmful.
“Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person they become…I just want him to fulfill his potential, and I wouldn’t push him in any direction.”
Decades ago, psychologist Sandra Bem pioneered the idea that masculine and feminine gender roles are restrictive and advanced the theory that androgyny is healthier. Although she later revised her theories somewhat, Bem attempted to raise her children without confining them to gender roles. However, she never tried to hide their sex or to force them to be gender neutral.
Psychologist Daragh McDermott, of Anglia Ruskin University, said that no one knows how raising a child to be gender neutral will affect the child because there has been little research conducted on the subject. However, he points out that it is impossible to raise a child without exposure to gender conditioning or stereotypes, since school, the media and society in general consciously and unconsciously enforce society’s gender roles. Studies have shown that even parents unconsciously reinforce gender norms during their interactions with their newborn infants. No matter what parents do, he says, children will develop their own gender identification, whether masculine, feminine or gender-neutral.