An article in the English-language Swedish news source The Local, tells the story of “Pop” and parents “Nora” and “Jonas” (all are pseudonyms). At the end of The Local’s article is a link to an interview (original Swedish, English machine-translation) with the parents regarding the reasons for their controversial decision, their life with Pop to date, and comments from three professionals: a psychologist/newspaper columnist, a gender equality consultant, and a pediatric endocrinologist.
Pop’s parents are raising Pop in this way as a result of the feminist belief that gender is purely a social construct (I personally disagree) . They believe Pop will grow up less constrained if allowed to develop without the societally-imposed baggage of gender role expectations. “If I can keep my child from being forced into a slot, I want to do it,” Jonas said.*
Nora and Jonas believe that they can already see the effects in Pop of their alternative upbringing, “I believe that the self-confidence and personality that Pop has shaped will remain for a lifetime,” Nora said. Nora and Jonas describe Pop as a confident and stable person.
Pop is currently 3 and a half and living with parents (no siblings yet, although Nora is currently expecting her second child in August). Pop has a range of clothing (from dresses to pants) and clothing colors to choose from daily, and Pop’s hair changes regularly. More often than not, Pop chooses what Pop will look like on any given day. Though Pop is aware of the physical differences between males and females, the parents never use personal pronouns when referring to Pop. Much as this post is phrased, they just refer to Pop.
Nora and Jonas allow others to assume Pop’s gender without correction. When asked directly, they respond with something to the effect of “I’ve chosen not to disclose my child’s sex.”* Some people approve of the concept, others do not, but the couple doesn’t often have trouble with naysayers because, according to Nora, people are afraid of conflict. According to Jonas, Pop has remained as quiet to outsiders as he and Nora have.
The part of this story that I found most fascinating is that only other people don’t know Pop’s gender. Pop is fully aware of Pop’s gender. Pop’s parents have discussed gender in general and Pop’s gender in specific with Pop, just not with others. The parents believe that the time to reveal Pop’s gender is when Pop is ready to do so.
Nora and Jonas believe in what they are doing, and approve of how Pop is developing, so they’re planning on raising their second child the same way, i.e. raising a child instead of raising a girl or a boy.
Pop’s story, as Nora and Jonas present it, reminds me of a Lois Gould story purportedly published in Ms. in 1972 with the title “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story.” X is the fictional story of a baby raised without gender that focuses on the trouble this causes other people rather than the (mostly minor) troubles this causes X.
Polare is an in-service magazine that provides a forum for the discussion/debate of gender issues and is published quarterly by The Gender Centre Inc. The Department of Community Services funds The Gender Center Inc. under the S.A.A.P. Program and is supported through Australia’s New South Wales Health Department, AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch.
In a gender-issue discussion magazine, this particular story found its home. It’s a timeless piece that still speaks to us clearly 37 years after its (purported) first publication. Excerpts are below, click through to read the entire story of X.
Once upon a time, a baby named X was born. This baby was named X so that nobody could tell whether it was a boy or a girl. Its parents could tell, of course, but they couldn’t tell anybody else. They couldn’t even tell Baby X at first.
. . .
Also, long before Baby X was born, all those scientists had to be paid to work out the details of the Xperiment, and to write the Official Instruction Manual for Baby X’s parents and, most important of all, to find the right set of parents to bring up Baby X. These parents had to be selected very carefully. Thousands of volunteers had to take thousands of tests and answer thousands of tricky questions. Almost everybody failed because, it turned out, almost everybody really wanted either a baby boy or a baby girl, and not Baby X at all. Also, almost everybody was afraid that a Baby X would be a lot more trouble than a boy or a girl. (They were probably right, the scientists admitted, but Baby X needed parents who wouldn’t mind the Xtra trouble.)
. . .
But, finally, the scientists found the Joneses, who really wanted to raise an X more than any other kind of baby – no matter how much trouble it would be. Ms. and Mr. Jones had to promise they would take equal turns caring for X, and feeding it, and singing it lullabies. And they had to promise never to hire any baby-sitters. The government scientists knew perfectly well that a baby-sitter would probably peek at X in the bathtub, too.
The day the Joneses brought their baby home, lots of friends and relatives came over to see it. None of them knew about the secret Xperiment, though. So the first thing they asked was what kind of a baby X was. When the Joneses smiled and said, “It’s an X,” nobody knew what to say. They couldn’t say, “Look at her cute little dimples!” And they couldn’t say, “Look at his husky little biceps!” And they couldn’t even say just plain “kitchycoo”. In fact, they all thought the Joneses were playing some kind of rude joke.
. . .
On page 1654 of the Official Instruction Manual, the scientists prescribed: “plenty of bouncing and plenty of cuddling, both, X ought to be strong and sweet and active. Forget about dainty altogether”.
. . .
Mr Jones wandered helplessly up and down the aisles trying to find out what X needed. But everything in the store was piled up in sections marked “Boys” or “Girls”.
There were “Boy’s’ Pyjamas” and “Girls’ Underwear” and “Boys’ Fire Engines” and “Girl’s Housekeeping Sets”. Mr. Jones went home without buying anything for X. That night he and Ms. Jones consulted page 2326 of the Official Instruction Manual. “Buy plenty of everything”, it said firmly.
So they bought plenty of sturdy blue pyjamas in the Boys’ Department and cheerful flowered underwear in the Girls’ Department. And they bought all kinds of toys. A boy doll that made pee-pee and cried, “Pa-pa”. And a girl doll that talked in three languages and said “I am the Pres-i-dent of Gen-er-al Mo-tors”. They also bought a story-book about a brave princess who rescued a handsome prince from his ivory tower, and another one about a sister and brother who grew up to be a baseball star and a ballet star, and you had to guess which was which.
Whenever the Joneses pushed Baby X’s stroller in the park, smiling strangers would come over and coo: “Is that a boy or a girl?” The Joneses would smile back and say, “It’s an X”. The strangers would stop smiling then, and often snarl something nasty – as if the Joneses had snarled at them.
. . .
Finally, Joe and Peggy’s parents decided to call an emergency meeting of the school’s Parents’ Association, to discuss “The X Problem”. They sent a report to the principal stating that X was a “disruptive influence”.
. . .
So the Principal reluctantly notified X’s parents that numerous complaints about X’s behaviour had come to the school’s attention. And that after the Psychiatrist’s Xaminiation, the school would decide what to do about X.
. . .
Wiping his eyes and clearing his throat, the psychiatrist began in a hoarse whisper.
“In my opinion”, he whispered – you could tell he must be very upset – “in my opinion, young X here -“
“Yes? Yes” shouted a parent impatiently. “Sssssh!” sssshed the Principal.
What do you think about the real case of Pop and the fictional case of X? How much of gender is biological, and how much is societal? Are Nora and Jonas enlightened or barbaric? Short of physical damage, where does the parental right to raise a child as one sees fit end and insanity begin? How realistic is X’s outcome when compared with Pop’s parent-reported current status? Do we want to follow Pop’s life with a series of interviews and psychiatric evaluations over the next 20 years, or would such have unintended side effects on Pop’s development, therefore raising questions about the observations gleaned?
*The machine translation from Swedish to English is not of high quality, so these “quotations” are paraphrased.