Only half a million readers have sent me the New York magazine story about people trying to raise their children with no consciousness of gender at all. This is well and truly the end of all sanity. Here’s how it begins:
For months leading up to the birth of his child, Bobby McCullough was nervous. His partner, Lesley Fleishman, had enjoyed an easy and uncomplicated pregnancy. The couple’s sunny Brooklyn apartment was now stocked with a crib and diapers and soft, tiny clothes. They were as ready to enter parenthood as any two people could be, and they welcomed it. But still, McCullough worried that the first few seconds of his child’s life would unfurl like some Hollywood script, the wriggling newborn lifted up into the air while “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” rang out across the hospital room — both pronouncement and fate. “It just would have fucked us up,” he says now, eight weeks later, as, nuzzled against his chest, his tiny baby sleeps, a sweetly mewing black-haired dollop of a human. And so he told hospital staff, “ ‘At minimum, do not describe the anatomy, or what you think the anatomy means, when this baby’s born.’ We definitely wanted to prevent them being gendered in any intense moment. And everybody was aware of that.”
In fact, McCullough and Fleishman already knew what anatomy their child would have. They’d learned it toward the end of the first trimester through a fairly routine test and had instinctually sent an email to close friends and family with the news. They didn’t particularly care what the baby’s sex was but also didn’t feel that it needed to be kept a secret. Then, just a few days later, an article showed up in McCullough’s Facebook feed about a Canadian baby who had been issued a health card without a gender designation — perhaps the first instance in the world of a government entity not assigning a gender at birth. For McCullough, this was a revelation. “Definitely the concept of not enforcing gender stereotypes was something that was on our radar, but we simply didn’t know or have the idea on our own to not assign the baby a gender,” he says. He began scouring the internet, looking for more information, for other families who might have made the same choice, for guidelines as to how one might go about it. He found a Facebook group and asked to join. Soon he was privy to the names and photos and thoughts and conversations of a small but hard-core group of families who were raising theybies — babies whose parents had decided not to reveal their sex, who used they/them pronouns for their children, and whose goal was to create an early childhood free of gendered ideas of how a child should dress, act, play, and be.
For McCullough, who is black and describes himself as an “outspoken ally” of the trans community, it was a sort of utopia come to life. “This specific group really empowered the hell out of us to do this,” he says. “It was my favorite place to go on the internet. It was just like, ‘Wow, there’s something that we can do parenting-wise that completely goes with our value system.’ ”
For a small but growing cohort of parents — ones who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary — the unisex movement of the ’60s and the “gender neutral” parenting trends that have followed have come up woefully short. For them, society’s gender troubles cannot be solved by giving all children dolls and trucks to play with or dressing them all in the color beige; the gender binary must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialization begins, clearing the way both for their child’s future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change.
It’s not something that they can keep in the family. These parents expect the entire world to affirm their madness:
When it comes to preschool and day care, many of the most progressive places are also the most expensive — and still may not yet be progressive enough. Leah Jacobs, the parent of a gender-creative toddler named Scout whose family recently moved from the Bay Area (very gender open) to Pittsburgh (far less so), tells of going to visit day-care providers and waiting to drop what she knew could be a bombshell: “We don’t really do this whole gender thing. Do you think you could use gender-neutral pronouns for our child?” As she explains it, “There was a lot of fear we experienced because you don’t know how other people are going to respond to that. This is like asking people to essentially provide you their philosophy on the nature of gender and whether they understand it as nonbinary and nonessential and all these things that are not just about, ‘Can we pick up and drop off between 8 and 8:30?’ ”
Once Jacobs, whose partner identifies as nonbinary, selected a day-care provider, she sent an email further explaining her stance and asking that the caregivers — who would certainly be changing Scout’s diapers — not share Scout’s anatomy with anyone else. “It was a little hard at first,” says Jenny Lee, who was one of Scout’s teachers. “Not because we had any sort of philosophical challenge with it — we were really behind what they were doing — just because of the grammar. But what it ended up doing, I think, was making us really aware of all the things in our class that were gendered unnecessarily. This baby doll that’s wearing blue we would call ‘he.’ But why? Why does Old MacDonald have to be a man?” Other parents at the day care were mostly accommodating as well, though one still continued to use a gendered pronoun for Scout. “They were just totally out of the loop,” says Jacobs, who learned her lesson and made cards introducing Scout and gender-open parenting when they moved up to the toddler class. The kids, according to Lee, couldn’t care less.
There is an element of proselytizing — if not an Über-progressive form of virtue signaling — on the part of some parents. Choosing to raise a theyby cannot help but function as a statement to the outside world. And Myers is okay with that: “I’m very tired of the heteronormative and cisnormative model. I’m very tired of the patriarchy. A part of why we are parenting this way is because intersex people exist, and transgender people exist, and queer people exist, and sex and gender occur on a spectrum, yet our culture loves to think people, all 7 billion of them, can and should be reduced to either/or.”
The story says that this kind of thing hasn’t been going on for long enough to know what kind of effect it’s going to have on the kids raised this way. So far, the evidence is only anecdotal. Here’s one:
Now 13, she also shares this expanded view of gender with her community. When a nonprofit put on a sex-ed panel at her school, she was the one who asked why they weren’t talking about trans or gay relationships alongside straight, cis ones. “She thinks critically,” continues the parent, who views gender-open parenting as one facet of a larger education in social justice. And, the parent laughs, “Every queer and trans kid somehow manages to invite theirself over to our house.”
Reader Annie, one of those who sent me the piece, writes:
I can’t quote just one line to you because every line is equally mad. Why impose the bigotry of anatomy on a child at all? Why tell them they’re a human being? Isn’t that imposing the child’s creative choices? Why identify them as having green eyes or brown hair, or being tall, or a certain weight? Why is sex singled out as the one capacity to be rewritten?
The true danger in this normalizing promotion is people will tut-tut, but repeated exposure weakens the defenses if the first principles aren’t solid. Thus we saw people shocked at the idea that a “man” could be pregnant seven or eight years ago. Everyone agreed, openly, that it was still a female’s anatomy and a man wasn’t really pregnant. Today, to acknowledge the field of “women’s health” is a political gesture, identifying the speaker as a TERF or social conservative.
This is exactly right. If you and your children are part of a community that accepts this ideology, then your children will have their imaginations and consciences formed by it, whether you like it or not. It is impossible to understate how radical this is. These people are denying that boys and girls exist. These people are mad — and their kind of madness is a social contagion.
Three years ago, I blogged about this article from St. Anselm College political scientist Dale Kuehne, who wrote of “the gender tipping point.” Excerpts:
Young people today are much less binary when it comes to understanding identity because “male” and “female” as categories don’t express a unique or comprehensive identity.
When I tell this to many adult audiences, they laugh, believing that young people will grow out of this “stage.” They’re surprised that I don’t share their sense of the immaturity of our youth.
That’s because the young people with whom I interact are extraordinarily perceptive, compared to adults. As one high school student recently asked me, “Why does our school demand that we figure out if we are male or female or some variation? How could we figure it out even if we cared about gender? Can you tell me what it feels like to be woman? Can you tell me what it feels like to be a man? Of course not. No one knows.”
… In short, if the ultimate source of reference is the self, and if no other self than the individual is a reference point, how can you know who or what you are?
Indeed. The kids are right.
Prof. Kuehne calls this “liquid identity” — which, in my view, is liquid modernity applied to the Self. There is no end to the madness, to the unraveling of the human person, if an individual’s desires are the ultimate measure of reality. And do not lose reader Annie’s critical point: if your first principles aren’t solid, you will ultimately be conditioned to accept anything.
Today I had a good conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. He’s a Catholic father of young children. He asked about my work. I told him about The Benedict Option book. He hadn’t read it. I explained the concept, and he listened intently. This is a conservative man who holds an advanced degree, does hard, complicated work, and is serious about raising his kids to be faithful Catholics. Yet it was clear to me that he was largely unaware of what’s happening in the broader culture — not, God knows, because he’s a bad man or a neglectful parent, but because things are changing so fast, and so profoundly, that it’s hard for ordinary people doing everyday jobs to keep up.
In a way, we’re lucky here in the Deep South. A Texas friend of mine said to me yesterday that whatever problems we deal with in this part of the country, “At least people here know that a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl.” Yes, they do — but for how much longer? The South is not an island. Kids here share the same popular culture as kids everywhere. I suspect that if a university did a survey of the gender attitudes of children and teenagers in the South, a lot of parents would be surprised.
A personal example. I have a friend here in Louisiana whose high school senior daughter I spoke with some time ago. She told me that there was a girl in her class who identified as non-binary — meaning neither male nor female. The thing is, the girl was not stable in her gender identity. Some days she was female; other days she was male. But there was no telling which she was on any given day, because she dressed androgynously. You only knew when you referred to her as “he” or “she” in her presence, and were challenged by the girl for misgendering her.
You can imagine how funny this must have been. But it was not funny, ultimately, because to misgender someone was a serious offense in the emerging culture of that school, I was told. I didn’t think to ask if the administration at the school would have punished someone for misgendering another student, but I do recall the student with whom I spoke saying that the administration was enthusiastic about promoting a culture of “inclusion” — meaning that the adults running the school affirmed gender ideology, and promoted it within the culture of its community.
That’s Louisiana. Another friend of mine, this one living on the East Coast, tells me that his 16-year-old daughter came home from school one day informing him that people who believe in the “gender binary” are the equivalent of racists. Imagine that: basic biology, to say nothing of traditional Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as the equivalent of white supremacy.
You think this is a hasty generalization? Well, consider this story on the website of GLSEN, the major LGBT rights organization promoting its cause within schools. Here’s the headline:
Intersectionality! From the story:
I identify as Latinx and Black. As I’ve learned more about my identity, and after reading texts like Strong Families’ Femifesto, I’ve grown in my belief that the gender binary – the idea of “male” and “female” as the only two genders – is a system created by and for white people, not brown bois like me.
Since European colonization, white people have actively erased examples of Indigenous and other non-white cultures having various sexual orientations and non-binary gender identities and expressions. For example, Two-Spirit Indigenous folks, whose identity falls outside the gender binary, are hardly anywhere to be found in my school history textbooks or mainstream media, despite their important contributions to Indigenous culture.
White people have used the gender binary to force white-focused gender norms on people of color – one of the many ways that white people have controlled people of color. This means that no matter how hard I try to fit into the label of “boy” or “girl,” I will never be afforded the same status as a white person of that gender.
Although I identify as a trans, gender non-conforming boy, my identity is rooted in a racist and binary system that is not made for me. To truly feel liberated, I cannot be confined by the gender binary, which means I’m constantly pushing back against white gender norms. To support me in school, educators and my fellow students must fight all ways white supremacy shows up in our lives. Because only through dismantling white supremacy can we destroy systems like the gender binary.
Now, that is insane, and transparently manipulative. But GLSEN is popular, and powerful. And it has lots of major corporate support, including — at the highest level — The Walt Disney Company, arguably the most important storyteller in the life of American children.
Those who tell the stories of a people control their future. A small but important example: There is a much-lauded new storybook, Jerome By Heart, about a little boy’s love for his male friend. The picture book, just published in English translation (from the original French), is being celebrated for focusing on “the queerness of children,” and as “the next level of queer representation in picture books.”
It’s all unraveling. All that was solid and coherent is shattering into fragments. Wake up! Don’t ignore this warning:
When I first told Father Cassian about the Benedict Option, he mulled my words and replied gravely , “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”
Do I think everybody’s going to start raising their children as theybies? No, I do not. What I do worry about is that this kind of thing, and its celebration by the news and entertainment media and by mainstream institutions (especially schools), will only add to the growing confusion about what is real, and what is not, and whether or not reality can be made to cohere. The word “symbol” comes from the Greek words meaning “to throw with.” It later came to mean something that testifies to wholeness and authenticity. In the Orthodox Church, the Nicene Creed is sometimes called the “Symbol Of Faith,” because it gathers together the core truths of Christianity.
The human self is a symbol, in the Jungian sense of something that stands for a thing that cannot be fully comprehended. Our culture is quickly deconstructing the self. This process is the opposite of symbolic; it is diabolic.
What our culture is doing can be explained, I think, in biological terms, in psychological terms, in terms of natural law, and in other ways. This will go over the heads of most of us. If we want to hold on to sanity in this time of diabolic confusion, we will stay close to the Church — and not heterodox forms of Christianity that have cast aside an orthodox Biblical understanding of what the human person is. And we have to do this in community.
This theyby stuff is crazy hipster stuff, but at this point, haven’t we learned that you can’t just laugh at things like this and expect them to go away? A lot of people are going to suffer before this burns itself out.