A small but growing number of families have begun raising their children as “theybies” — a practice that entails not telling their young children — or those who interact with them — about their biological gender. Speaking with NBC News, Nate and Julia Sharpe, a couple from Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that over the course of Julia’s pregnancy with fraternal twins, Zyler and Kadyn, they were bothered by gendered stereotyping and indoctrination that begins even before birth.
“We read about how from when they’re 20-week fetuses, they’re already starting to be gendered, and people are calling the little girls ‘princesses,’ and buying certain things for different children,” Julia explained. “We wanted to prevent that, so that’s how it started. And then about a couple weeks before they were born, Nate just said, ‘What if we didn’t tell people ever?’”
Now 3 years old, Zyler and Kadyn still have little concept of the terms “he” or “she” outside of the fact that they can be used as pronouns. Their rooms are filled with toys targeted at both genders, and the kids play with what they want and how they want to without any notion of whether doing so is girly or boyish. At some point in the near future, however, the Sharpe’s know that their children will have to enter a world where the way in which one’s gender is perceived has a significant impact on one’s life.
According to a 2012 survey, roughly one in four elementary schoolers said they saw gender-nonconforming classmates being bullied — and a similar 2015 study found that more than 95 percent of LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 21 reported that they had been told they weren’t “masculine” or “feminine” enough. But for parents of theybies, these risks are worth the benefits of allowing their children the chance to determine their identity for themselves.
Dr. John Steever, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York, says that the practice has the potential to prevent gender dysphoria — a mental condition that causes severe distress in those who identify as a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the younger generations tend to be much more progressive on the topic than their parents — a survey of children born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s found that 56 percent knew peers who identified using gender-neutral terms.
One parent of a theybie, Ari Dennis, said that for him and his husband, the decision to raise their child without forcing gender stereotypes was a simple one.
“In my opinion,” he said, “assigning your child a gender and giving them gender-coded lessons their whole life is much more coercive than what we do.”
Read the full story at NBC News.