The likes of Fox News and Breitbart are up in arms over the idea of “theybies,” children raised without gender signifiers until the child is old enough to tell their parents what gender they are. We’re not going to link their conservative arguments — by this point, you already know them — but we dig the idea of letting kids express their own gender.
The idea of raising “theybies” is pretty simple. If, as Courtney Act put it, “gender is about what’s between your ears, and your sex is about what’s between your legs,” it makes sense to wait until children tell us rather than assign a gender as an infant.
Even if a child turns out to be cisgender — meaning their gender identity and sex assigned at birth match — there are still benefits to raising the child without gender designations in their early life. Studies have shown that humans are socialized into gender roles from a very young age.
Despite all babies basically looking the same and not really doing much of anything, girl babies are generally called “pretty” and “sweet” whereas boy babies are called “handsome” and “tough.”
Even these simple language choices “help” children to learn who they’re supposed to be. Girls grow up learning that their physical appearance matters disproportionally more than that of boys and that they’re supposed to be submissive, whereas boys learn they’re supposed to tamp down their emotions.
It seems that many critics of raising theybies believe that parents are forcing their beliefs on the children, making them confused about who they are. But instead, children raised this way are allowed to choose; when they’re old enough, they can tell their parents whether or not they’re a boy or a girl (or something else) and at that point, the gender-neutral references will stop (assuming the child doesn’t continue to identify as gender-neutral).
Without forcing a gender on children, we allow them more freedom to be who they want to be and ultimately the kind of people they are.