Parents Who Hid Child’s Gender for Five Years Now Face Backlash

A British couple raised their child as "gender neutral" to avoid stereotypes. Why are people so upset about it?

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When Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper had their son, Sasha Laxton, five years ago, they decided that rather than make a big splashy “It’s A Boy!” announcement, they’d keep the news to themselves. Instead, they only told a select number of relatives that little Sasha was a he; to everyone else the child was referred to as “the infant” and described without gendered pronouns.

“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?” Laxton told her local news outlet, Cambridge News. “It affects what they wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person that they become.”

Sasha’s unique upbringing went beyond language. His bedroom was painted yellow, he was encouraged to play with all types of toys, including dolls, and he wore whatever hand-me-downs fit him, whether they were his older stepbrother’s or his older stepsister’s. While around the house, Sasha was even known to dress up in a tutu and wings or a pink two-piece swimsuit. His mother said that she saw no problem with the whole thing, pointing out that, “We don’t make Sasha go out in girls’ clothes. We are not forcing it.”

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In fact, the only reason that Sasha has even entered into the gender foray is that he has entered primary school and Beck felt it would be too difficult to continue to hide it. Yet now that Sasha’s gender has been revealed — and his story has hit the British papers — everyone and their mother seems to have an opinion on it. Critics and Internet commenters (which are practically synonymous these days) have labeled his parents everything from abusive to crazy, with calls that little Sasha should be taken into child services.

The reaction seems quite extreme, considering Sasha himself has said that he thinks gender-based rules like “pink is for girls and blue is for boys” are silly. Laxton also noted that neither her son’s gender-neutral upbringing nor the big reveal has perturbed the child much. “I don’t think I’d do it if I thought it was going to make him unhappy, but at the moment he’s not really bothered either way. We haven’t had any difficult scenarios yet.”

So what is it exactly that’s setting people off?

While there’s typically backlash whenever a sensational story calls typical methods of parenting into question (who could forget Tiger Mom Amy Chua?) that doesn’t quite explain the vitriol being tossed Laxton’s way. Melanie Phillips, a columnist at the right-wing Daily Mail, explains her issue with the situation, writing on Monday that if people go against gender norms, society could be “brainwashed into pretending that the differences between male and female don’t exist — in order to reconstruct society into some unattainable utopia of sexual and gender identicality.”

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But what Phillips and the majority of commenters angered by Laxton’s move have failed to separate is the difference between gender and sex. Laxton has made no reference to preventing Sasha from knowing his sex, defined by his reproductive organs and which, of course, differ from that of a female. Laxton has simply made an effort, albeit an extreme one, to keep Sasha in the dark about his gender and the conventions associated with it. Why should a child who’s born male be made to feel it’s wrong to play with dolls but not G.I. Joes? What sort of biological factors wired into his brain deem one sort of action-figure appropriate, while ruling out a similar plastic figure?

While some critical commenters have expressed concern that such imprecise gender lines could leave Sasha confused about his sexuality in the future, their comments speak more of their own bias against LGBT people than anything else. Most, if not all, of people who’ve come to question their gender identity were raised among the very stereotypes Sasha’s been shielded from.

It’s certainly worth noting that if anything was to make Sasha feel ostracized or different, it certainly wouldn’t be his mother’s choices. It’s much more likely to be the anger leveled at him for being raised differently.

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