Moral panic about “genderless” kids

Est Reading Time: 4 min

There have been some stories over the last few years of parents who are raising a “genderless” child. Of course, this always gets a severe case of moral panic and I have found even people who are usually a bit less prone to such stuff lose their shit a little. Two of the famouse cases are of Storm from Toronto in 2011 and Pop from Sweden in 2009.

The level of outrage that this type of stuff inspires highlights how invested a lot of people are in traditional gender binaries. It was very common for this to be declared child abuse and there were almost certainly calls for the children to be taken away from their respective parents. The other accusations were that parents were:

  • using their children to make an ideological point
  • setting them up for a lifetime of bullying
  • they’re experimenting on their child
  • the children are “screwed” or will grow up confused — the parents are depriving them of something essential
  • the parents are stupid and arguing with biology — you can’t make children into something they’re not

As you can already tell, I think the panic is pointless. For example, in terms of experimenting on children, experimentation has been done by every single parent ever. The difference is that this is seen as drastic, again because people’s investment is so extreme. Also, the people engaged in the moral panic seem confused about what the parents are actually doing. Both sets of parents seem to be taking two actions:

  1. holding off in “revealing” the gender of the child to the outside world
  2. taking steps not to direct the child’s development towards male or female stereotypes

People who object to action #1 are in effect saying: “I deserve the right to slot your child into my concept of gender binary, dammit!” People who object to action #2 are in effect saying: “It’s not a choice to enforce a gender binary in your child but to actually not enforce it — now THAT’S oppressive!” The default — of parents enforcing gender — is so entrenched that the authoritarian aspect of that choice is completely ignored since we’re so used to it. Not to be all psychologically reductive and shit but, status quo bias anyone? The analogy would be homophobic Christians who genuinely think that it’s oppressive to try and stop them from being hateful to LGBT people.

So just to make this clear: not enforcing gender conformity is not the same as enforcing gender non-conformity. Allowing religious freedom is not the same as imposing atheism or Islam, letting people have more food options than “meat and three veg” is not vegan terrorism and providing multi-lingual government services is not forcing people to abandon English. The parents’ plan is not to go around making their male-identified child wear a tutu against his will 24/7 — because THAT WOULD BE WRONG. The fact that people can’t tell the difference between actual freedom and imposing non-conformity speaks volumes about how invested they are in gender as something that has to be imposed with force.

Those who mention bullying might be seen to have a point — but only on the surface. If you think about it for a second, we wouldn’t say that parents should take steps to prevent their children from “becoming”(??) LGBT even though their chances of being discriminated against will rise dramatically compared to someone who’s straight and cis. If you think about it for two seconds, the whole concepts starts to unravel more. The people are not objecting because of hypothetical bullying of a child who is gender conforming. The assumption is that they will be gender non-conforming — but this is only justified if you think that gender IS a social construct that must be rigidly enforced by parents in order to survive.

This brings us to the main contradiction those who support enforcement of the binary face. People seem to simultaneously believe two things: (1) the child is likely to be gender non-conforming (which will be very bad and will cause them to be bullied) and (2) the parents are hopeless hippies whose political correctness warps their brain from understanding Basic Biology and who don’t realise that gender is not a social construct.

I’m no logician but these are in direct contradiction. If you think the parents are hippies and their kumbaya experiment won’t work then fine. The child will probably find a gender identity that conforms to the one society thinks relates to their genitals and ALL WILL BE FINE. If on the other hand you think kids are required to be coerced by parents in order to conform to the binary then YOU’RE the social constructivist. Furthermore, supporting the status quo means knowing that there’s a 2%-5% chance that the child will NOT identify as their assigned gender. It means knowingly causing the child a tremendous amount of suffering if they happen to be trans all while double-thinking that coercion is unnecessary because of biological nature. These are not hypotheticals but have very strong real world consequences. It seems much better to not get too actively involved in a child’s gender identity and let the chips fall where they may.

What are you, chicken?