Male, female, transgender, nonbinary, and gender-neutral are some of the common ways to discuss how we identify — or don’t — with our genders. While some people identify with the gender that matches their assigned sex at birth right away, some don’t and often struggle with a societal expectation that they should identify with the sex and gender they’re assigned. But that’s not how life goes. And when Kori Doty — a transgender and nonbinary Canadian parent who wanted their baby’s gender unassigned — succeeded in their efforts to raise their child without any of these gender labels, future kids may have the freedom to decide who they are without such constraints. After Doty was subject to online criticism and attacks from people who said things like "Well your kid could identify as an animal," they issued an awesome statement shutting down haters.
While this parent’s decision may seem unusual to some, the argument behind it makes complete sense. In an recent interview with TODAY, Doty — who prefers the pronoun "they" — explained why they’ve decided to raise their 8-month-old child, Searyl Atli, without an assigned gender.
“I had thought about parenting in this way for many years before becoming pregnant,” Doty told TODAY. "Children actually have very little physiological divergence between sexes until puberty — any differences in development come from the ways that we treat them."
According to CBC News, Doty gave birth to Searyl at a friend’s house last November in British Columbia and the province would not issue the child a birth certificate without a gender.
But, Doty was determined to let their baby Searyl independently decide their own gender when they’re ready. And eventually, the government issued them a healthcare card with a "U" for gender — which likely stands for "undetermined" or "unassigned" — where an "M" or "F" would normally be listed.
According to TODAY, Searyl still hasn't been issued a birth certificate, but they do have access to Canada’s universal health care system. It's not the perfect outcome, but it's progress and it's a step toward public inclusivity. And that's necessary, especially because unsolicited and cruel criticism is still commonplace.
For instance, during a recent interview on Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan pressed Doty on their parenting decision, saying that he had found it problematic because the baby "doesn't have an identity." Morgan then asked Doty if they'd be OK if Searl "wanted to identify as a monkey."
"We will probably have some important conversations about beasties and science and things that are appropriate," Doty replied to Morgan. "Because they are human beings, they are a human being, and we are talking about gender, we are not talking about species. They are a human being I’m raising them as a human being."
Doty continued: "What someone’s genitals look like when they are born doesn’t actually give us an accurate indication of who they will be."
In fact, children will start to adopt gender-stereotyped behaviors early on — between 2 and 3 years old — and the environment they're raised in can play a major role in determining the gender they choose to identify with, which is separate from their assigned sex at birth.
And creating an environment free of these constraints and stereotypes is beneficial to children's development. As Katherine Rachlin, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist and gender specialist, told TODAY:
Transgender people struggle with having to change such paperwork when they assert their true gender, so not beginning life with inaccurate paperwork would indeed be a good thing... The parent is not saying that they will not allow their child to have a gender or express gender. They are creating an open and flexible environment in which all gender expression is OK.
Searyl might be the first infant ever to be given a genderless health ID card and, as a parent, Doty hopes this type of documentation will help their child feel less frustrated and accepted as they grow up and start to think about their gender identity. Doty told CBC News earlier this month.
I'm raising Searyl in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I'm recognizing them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box.
While Doty is not the first parent to raise their child without gender labels, it is a first for the Canadian government. And with this type of initiative and awareness, society and parents are reminded that children need this freedom to choose who they are — and not feel it's decided for them by a label on an official document. And with Doty's determination for their own child, they've paved the way for more kids to have this opportunity, too.