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In A World Of Binaries, I Want To Raise My Kid Gender Neutral And There May Be A Way

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A few months back, in a discussion with some friends over feminism and parenthood, I passionately claimed that if I ever have a child, I would raise them gender-neutral — without imposing any particular gender identity upon them, and let them choose it for themselves. I didn’t really spare much thought to the logistics of this claim — of how I could ever achieve this in a world that genders you at every step — until now.

The Binaries Are Everywhere

We live in a world where all aspects of our lifestyles are governed by gender binary based segregation, whether it be toilets, clothes, skincare products, and even public transport (several countries like Japan, Israel, India, Brazil, Mexico and so on have separate compartments for women in their subways) — in such a world, is it possible for a child to remain free from the constructs of gender, and to choose their gender expression independent of social and cultural influence?

Once a baby is born, it is immediately assigned a (binary) sex, according to its anatomy and genitals. That in itself is problematic, but what’s even more so is how quickly this assigned sex turns into an assigned gender, coming with its set of norms and specific roles which are often extremely harmful and damaging. Actual gender or gender identity, however, is the mental (and sometimes physical) sense and expression of who you are. It can correspond to your assigned sex, but can also completely differ from it — and that’s the beauty of it. It exists on a spectrum, which means that it does not restrict one’s identity to a single male/female binary and this is what children should be made privy to, from a very young age. In an ideal world, children should be kept away from unnecessary gendering, be given the liberty to choose their own pronouns and their own identity. But like I said earlier, this is not an ideal world. This is a world which, if someone identifies as anything other than cisgender, will continue to ask them about their genitalia, about their assigned sex. So, how can someone like me, who would want to raise their children gender-neutral, do so?

Encouraging The Child’s Expression

The first step, I can imagine, is to possibly keep my future kid away from any sort of patriarchally coded gender roles. I would want to encourage them to be whoever they want, and to perform any kind of role that they would feel comfortable with. For example, if my child is assigned male at birth and loves wearing dresses and make-up — I would never want to discourage them from expressing themselves! It’s important to not impose any forms of traditional “masculinity” and “femininity” upon one’s child, and instead, let them discover and choose for themselves what their expression is going to be—and all my efforts would be combined in making that possible, however difficult that might be in the world we live in.

But these come later. What about when the child is newly born, and newly assigned a sex — how does one proceed then? Do I name them according to their assigned sex (i.e. give them a female name if they are designated female)? Do I dress them according to their assigned sex? What pronoun do I use for them before they develop the faculty to choose one for themselves? These are extremely slippery territories to navigate, because, even when you have the best intentions at heart, something may go wrong because the gender binary is a big hulking demon that is not easily vanquished. However, there are some solutions I can think of.

Naming and Shopping For A Genderneutral Child

Genderneutral names are slowly becoming quite popular, with celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Kristen Bell naming their kids in a way which leaves their gender ambiguous. Infact, the tumblr blog feministparenting offers this lovely list of genderneutral baby names that one can refer to whilst naming their children. However, when it comes to attire, it’s harder to define what is genderneutral, because clothing is that mired in binaries. But, there have been retail stores like Target and Babies R Us which have come up with clothing lines for young children that are gender neutral. Therefore, though this wouldn’t be easy to accomplish, at least there is some hope.

The toys children play with are again dangerously gendered (girls play with dolls, boys play with cars and so on), and this is another thing which needs to be challenged. As a parent, I would want to encourage my kid to play with anything and everything that they get pleasure playing with! Target, again, has an excellent collection of genderneutral toys and other children’s products which give me hope of achieving this.

Pronouns and Toilets: How Do I Do Them Right?

What’s trickiest in this situation is the usage of the right pronouns. Before the child has the knowledge or capacity to choose their own pronouns, it’s important to not slot them into binaries. It’s difficult to make sure that this happens, considering that language itself is gendered in many aspects, and breaking out of those binaries are extremely difficult. Perhaps, a somewhat effective way can be using they/them pronouns for the child in the interim—till they can decide for themselves — and again, trying to refrain from using ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ too often while referring to them (Instead, I would prefer to use genderneutral terms of endearment like ‘sweetheart’, ‘pumpkin’ etc instead).

The use of toilets is, however, a major problem. Public toilets almost everywhere are highly segregated on the basis of gender binaries, and many places even have laws against non-cisgendered people using the bathroom of their preferred gender. This is one major drawback, and something which is sadly, hard to combat. The only way could be to stay away from public bathrooms, but that is indeed a tragic solution.

Now, these things may sound easy to say, but are extremely difficult to accomplish. And even if I do succeed in raising my kid without binaries, it’s highly likely that those around me will not be receptive to it. My child could be exposed to bullying, and both emotional and bodily violence because society is still not very accepting towards those who try to break the status quo. I’ll expect resistance from pretty much everyone, because people will insist on knowing “what the kid actually is” and will tell me that I am suppressing or abusing my child (ironic, right?) But that will not discourage me from trying, and shouldn’t discourage you either. Stopbullying is a government agency that provides a list of resources and support groups (based on specific identities such as gender and sexual orientation, race, etc) on their website here which one can consult.

The issue of gender neutral parenting is a complex one mostly because it lies at the intersection of a bunch of different issues – intersex issues, transgender issues, and feminist issues. But more than that, it’s about giving one’s child the space and the support system of being who they want to be. There are so many people who grow up in environments which suppress and crush their gender expression, and it’s important to change that, and create a culture of acceptance.

Image Credit: YouTube/Benny.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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