7 Ways To Raise Boys Without The Gender Binary
When the ultrasound technician told me I was going to have a son, I knew I wouldn't limit my child's experiences to the rigid constructs of male or female. I wanted my child to know they could embody both, neither, or anything in between. It was in that moment that I realized I wanted to find ways to raise boys without the gender binary. Though I didn't initially know how to articulate it, the commitment to bringing up a child without an emphasis on gender grew stronger with every passing day. In fact, according to The New York Times, the decision to practice gender-neutral parenting is on the rise. But don't worry if you're not sure where to begin.
If I'm being completely honest, I had no idea how to raise a boy. I'm a cisgender woman with a sister, so I didn't really have much knowledge about the male experience. When you're a first-time parent, it's easy to get overwhelmed, but trust me when I say you're not alone. Every single one of my friends has confessed to feeling clueless as a new parent. So if you're anything like me, you're probably curious about how to raise your son without the gender binary. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to show your child that they don't have to conform to traditional roles.
1. Watch Your Language
I'm not talking about whether or not you swear in front of your kids — I mean, who hasn't dropped the accidental f-bomb after stepping on a Lego? I'm referring to the way language can unintentionally create gender divides. As psychology professor Dr. David Ludden told Psychology Today, simply switching to neutral pronouns can avoid gender binary restrictions. It's a change you can make immediately.
2. Know The Difference Between Sex and Gender
Knowing that "sex" and "gender" are two different things is solid first step to take on your journey to raising a boy without the gender binary. According to the Gender Spectrum organization, understanding that "sex" refers to anatomy and "gender" refers to identity is a great place to start. Of course there are layers of complexity, but even basic definitions can help.
3. Don't Ignore It
In my attempt to be unbiased about gender, I'd removed a huge talking point between my son and I. As my therapist noted, not calling out the gender binary can be just as confusing for your child as the construct itself. So now, my son and I will openly discuss how he feels about divisions of gender — like bathrooms — instead of focusing solely on being neutral.
4. Bring Everyone On Board
A great way to raise a boy without the gender binary is to make sure the people in his life are on the same page. As Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently noted, your child's teachers, relatives, and physician can influence their gender narrative. Even if it doesn't seem like a fun conversation to start, it's worth it to have the people who play a role in your son's life be a part of the same team.
5. Avoid Absolutes
If your son doesn't identify as 100 percent male, that doesn't necessarily mean they are transgender. The same goes for the reverse scenario. As National Geographic reported, countries all over the world have understood for ages that gender is a spectrum. Remember that your child can identify as biologically male and still express themselves in an entirely different way.
6. Keep Up
Early on, I learned that it's adults who like to have clear, permanent labels — not children. For my son, there's no intention behind his actions when he's playing with my makeup. He does it because he enjoys it and says he, "likes all the colors." But the very next second you may find him hammering away because, "the table needs fixing." The point is, I've found that raising my son without the gender binary has a lot to do with just accepting who he is from moment to moment.
7. Play Without Borders
Whether there are signs or not, many stores still display toys with a heavy gender implication. Though you might not be able to change that overnight, you can control how you play at home. Psychologist Dr. Marni Axelrad told Parents that parents should, "have a variety of toys available — cars, dolls, etc. — and let the children decide what they want to play with." It's helpful to remember that toys aren't innately designed for only one gender. Additionally, you can, "encourage imaginative play on all levels, not just specific to a child's gender," Axelrad explained. Play time is about having fun, not reinforcing gender roles.