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Sex-neutral? Gender-creative? Raising kids in a shifting cultural landscape [Opinion]

July 30, 2018

Recently, on the same day, NBC News covered two seemingly disparate stories that unwittingly link the long arc of cultural change in America over the last 50 years.

One story broke this news: The iconic home to Marcia, Greg, Jan, Peter, Cindy and Bobby (along with housekeeper Alice) — known to millions of boomers as “The Brady Bunch House” — is up for sale by its real-life owners in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. And if art were to imitate life today, parents Mike and Carol Brady likewise might refer to their brood not as girls and boys but as “theybies.”

That supposition is based upon NBC’s other story.

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Real-life parents in Cambridge, Mass., it reported, are raising “Theybies” or children being brought up without gender designation. One father, Nate Sharpe, said, “For us, it means raising our kids with gender-neutral pronouns — so, ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘their,’ rather than assigning ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘him,’ ‘her’ from birth based on their anatomy.”

This newfangled or “gender-creative” style of parenting received widespread attention in 2011 when a Toronto couple announced they were raising their child without gender identification. (A Facebook community exists for such rearing, numbered roughly at 220.) Indeed, these progressive parents see their child’s gender in a spectrum, as fluid rather than static.

Many children are given — assigned? — androgynous or neutral sounding names like “Jazz,” “Scout,” “Sojourner,” “Storm,” and “Zoomer.” The parents of these children see gender as a social construct rather than a biological imperative.

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During simpler times, social construction of gender was never in doubt — male or female, hence binary — while today’s alternate constructions allow individual gender expressions. Some argue that the questioning — if not defiance — of long-held biological truths complicates sociological order. But National Geographic reported in 2017 that gender identity is now a “shifting landscape” where science is helping “understand gender.”

(In 2014, Facebook introduced dozens of options for users to identify their gender.)

Last April thecut.com noted that for a small but growing cohort of parents today, “the unisex movement of the ’60s and the ‘gender neutral’ parenting trends that have followed have come up woefully short.” Accordingly, they believe that the gender binary “must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialization begins.” This clears the way for their child’s “future gender exploration” and for “wholesale cultural change.”

Might this controversial social experiment be considered unreasonably extreme?

The Cut noted that in some families, for example, commonly accepted pronouns are “scrambled in books” to give equal airtime to “female and non-binary heroes.” Additionally, meticulous parents are “careful to shop in both the boys’ and girls’ sections of stores,” to avoid clothing that is “hypergendered.” And for others, birth certificates without gender designation are prized possessions.

Meanwhile, that classic Brady Bunch theme song may need adjustment in 2018. “Here’s the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely theybies …”

“Word Wise” is an occasional series highlighting words or phrases finding their way into popular culture. It is written by James P. Freeman, a New England writer. He is a columnist with The New Boston Post and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.

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