Sasha, a five-year-old boy from UK, has been raised by his parents, who kept his gender secret, as a “gender neutral” child.
From the moment Sasha was born, Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper have been at pains not to lumber their son with the stereotyping they fear that gender brings.
The parents simply called him “the infant” and kept his gender a secret from all but a few close friends and relatives.
As Sasha grew older, he was encouraged to play with dolls as much as Lego, slept in a neutral yellow room and was allowed to wear both boys’ and girls’ clothes.
Now, Sasha is five and at school Beck Laxton, 46, and Kieran Cooper, 44, believe it will be almost impossible to keep it up.
Last year parents in Canada who refused to say whether their child was a boy or girl stirred up outrage and accusations they were turning their child into a freak.
Sasha’s parents, who have faced their own share of raised eyebrows, are thought to be among the first British parents to speak about this far-from-traditional method of raising a child. They are keen to highlight the issue publicly and get other parents talking about it.
“I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping,” Beck Laxton explained.
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?
“Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person they become. I start to get cross with it if it skews their potential.”
The process began even before Sasha was born, with his parents choosing not to be told their baby’s sex after scans during the pregnancy. It wasn’t because they wanted to be a surprise, they just wanted to avoid the inevitable expectations of what having a boy or girl meant.
After Sasha was born, they waited 30 minutes before asking midwives his sex because they “did not want to prejudice his life with gender”. They gave him a name that suited both boys and girls and referred to him as “the infant” rather than a son or daughter.
It is only now that Sasha has started primary school that the secret has become impossible to keep and they have started telling the wider world that the child is a boy.
Beck Laxton, a web designer from Sawston, Cambridgeshire, admitted that keeping her child’s gender under wraps for so long had not been easy. At her mother and baby group, she said she was regarded as “that loony woman who doesn’t know whether her baby is a boy or a girl”.
“I could never persuade anyone in the group to come round for coffee,” she said.
“They just thought I was mental.”
At school, Sasha sometimes wears a ruched-sleeved and scalloped-collared shirt from the girl’s uniform list. But he has yet to encounter any teasing or bullying. “Nobody’s ever mentioned it and I would hope that if they actually said something to Sasha, he’d be confident enough to make a good response,” his mother said.
Sasha’s father, a computer software designer, said the child is aware he is a boy and has been allowed to grow up taking an interest in whatever he wants.
“If Sasha wants to dress up in girls’ clothes then so be it,” Kieran Cooper said. “But we’re not forcing it.
“The girl’s clothes and fancy dress are for fun at home. We don’t make Sasha go out in girl’s clothes.”
Beck Laxton said her own background had influenced her view about gender stereotypes.
“My mother’s very sporty and my dad was very emotional. We’d watch The Wizard of Oz and always start crying, whereas my mum would think we were really soppy,” she said.
“So it’s always seemed obvious to me that stereotypes didn’t fit the people I knew.”
Dr. Daragh McDermott, a psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, said it was difficult to predict any long-term effects of Sasha’s unconventional upbringing.
“It’s hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little research examining this topic,” Dr. Daragh McDermott said.
“That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialization with other children and adults, as well as mass media.
“As a child grows they develop their own independent sense of self that will include their own individual gender identification.”
Last year, Canadians Kathy Witterick and David Stocker insisted that they would raise their baby Storm as a gender-neutral child.
Of that case, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, a U.S. child psychiatrist, said he was “disturbed” that well-meaning parents could be so misguided.
“When children are born, they’re not a blank slate,” he said.
“We do have male brains and female brains. There’s a reason why boys do more rough and tumble play; there’s a reason why girls have better language development skills.”