Revealing a child’s gender at age 5

This genre of news story pops up every now and then: parents decide not to reveal the gender of their child to the public for several years. I have used a 2009 story about a Swedish kid named “Pop” as an example in class. Here is a more recent example from a few days ago:

Laxton, a UK-based web editor, and her partner, Cooper, decided to keep Sasha’s sex a secret when he was still in the womb. The birth announcement stated the gender-neutral name of their child, but skipped the big reveal. Up until recently, the couple only told a few close friends and family members that Sasha was a boy and managed to keep the rest of the world in the dark. But now that he’s starting school the secret’s out…

But the sandbox is just a precursor to the classroom. When Sasha turned five and headed to school, Laxton was forced to make her son’s sex public. That meant Sasha would have to get used to being a boy in the eyes of his peers. Still, his mom is intervening. While the school requires different uniforms for boys and girls, Sasha wears a girl’s blouse with his pants…

Last year another couple, Kathy Witterick, 38, and David Stocker, 39, of Toronto made a similar decision when they had their baby, Storm. At the time, certain psychiatric experts voiced concern over their decision. “To have a sense of self and personal identity is a critical part of normal healthy development,” Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC News. “This blocks that and sets the child up for bullying, scapegoating and marginalization.”…

As for Laxton, she says she’s open to her son pursing any career or sexual preference he chooses as he matures. “As long as he has good relationships and good friends,” she says, “then nothing else matters, does it?”

When I present a story like this to students, they tend to think that the child will be harmed because they will be confused about their identity and will end up enduring taunts from classmates. This seems to line up with the experts cited in this story. Now that I think about it, I can’t say that I have seen any cited experts saying the child would be just fine but perhaps I missed it.

At the same time, these are great examples to talk about the boundaries of the nature vs. nurture debate. Could a child even be treated neutrally? At some point will society “force” the children to pick a side?

By this point in time, do we have any studies of kids who have grown up in these settings? It might also be interesting to see if there are patterns in the parents who follow this path.

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