A new parenting movement is gaining popularity, inspiring new parents to replace gendered terminology like “boy” and “girl” (along with normative pronouns for the baby) with a new term: “theyby.” The new term aims to better represent all forms of gender identities, such as nonbinary, trans, or two-spirit.
The purpose is to allow children to choose their own gender identity rather than being pushed to adopt one. This approach has been around since at least 2011, when a Canadian couple gained notoriety for raising their child, Storm, without gender designations.
Parents in the U.S. are increasingly raising children outside traditional gender norms — allowing boys and girls to play with the same toys and wear the same clothes — though experts say this is happening mostly in progressive, well-to-do enclaves. But what makes this “gender-open” style of parenting stand out, and even controversial in some circles, is that the parents do not reveal the sex of their children to anyone. Even the children, who are aware of their own body parts and how they may differ from others, are not taught to associate those body parts with being a boy or girl. If no one knows a child’s sex, these parents theorize, the child can’t be pigeonholed into gender stereotypes.
Some developmental experts see gender-open parenting as a noble goal, but they also wonder how it will hold up once kids enter a gendered world that can be hostile to those who don’t fit clearly into categories. Gender-nonconforming children are more likely to be bullied.
“Once your child meets the outer world, which may be day care, or preschool, or grandparents — it’s pretty much impossible to maintain a gender-free state,” Lise Eliot, professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School and author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” said in an email. “And depending on how conventional your community is, you could be setting your child up for bullying or exclusion.”
It’s still pretty rare, NBC News claims; only around 220 families — mostly upper-class, white, and progressive — are so committed to raising their children “gender neutral” that they’ve joined a Facebook support group. But the ones who are committed are really committed.