A few days ago, Grimes and Elon Musk welcomed their firstborn child named X Æ A-12. After the internet was done making memes about the newborn’s name and searching for its hidden meaning, people were quick to pick up on a significant detail about the child’s future upbringing: Grimes and Musk have decided to raise X Æ A-12 through gender-neutral parenting. What exactly is gender-neutral parenting and why should parents start considering it for their own kids?
In a live broadcast in February, Grimes explained that she and Musk wanted to adopt a gender-neutral parenting style in case their child doesn’t identify with their biological sex: “I don’t want to gender them in case that’s not how they feel in their life.” The pair is not the first celebrity couple to embrace this—Brangelina were openly supportive of their oldest child John (named Shiloh at birth) exploring their gender identity after saying they wished to be a boy. In 2017, Megan Fox was criticised by the media for allowing her two sons to wear dresses.
Although gender-neutral parenting is still frowned upon by most conservative and religious news outlets, more and more parents are ditching gender reveal parties in exchange for gender-neutral baby showers. Some countries are now allowing parents the option of labelling their children’s gender as ‘X’ on their birth certificates, and Sweden has even incorporated a gender-neutral pronoun, ‘hen’, into its vocabulary.
Gender-neutral parenting is about breaking away from the binary and allowing the youngest members of our society to explore their gender identity without any social restrictions. Because it is still new to our society, this parenting style comes in different forms. What exactly are the benefits of being a gender-neutral parent?
While ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are synonymous, they are not equivalent to one another. Sex is biological, whereas gender is social, performative and arguably, limiting. Philosopher Judith Butler first coined the term ‘gender performance’ in 1988, which defines gender as something learned and performed in our daily activities, purely based on the constructed notions of femininity or masculinity.
For instance in children, activities such as playing dress-up are seen as ‘girly’, whereas playing with toy cars is considered ‘boyish’—in the same way, the colour pink is exclusively associated with baby girls, and blue with boys.
Picking activities for your children depending on their assigned gender limits their self-expression. People who shamed Megan Fox for letting her sons wear dresses did exactly that. Many experts argue that this also negatively impacts the child’s personal growth and ability to reach their full potential later in life, as our childhood experiences and upbringing are formative to our development.
A 2016 study published in The Guardian article Gendered toys could deter girls from career in engineering, report says found that only 11 per cent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) toys were listed for girls, which was directly linked to the gender gap within the tech industry heavily dominated by men. There has since been a spike in marketing STEM-related products to girls, as well as in the representation of women in STEM as role models for young girls, but it is still important for us to ensure that it does not stop at that.
Stuti Agarwal, perhaps better known as @mombae.blogger on Instagram is a Mumbai-based parent blogger who frequently talks about the importance of gender-neutral parenting on her account. The mother to a two and a half year old boy and a six month old girl was also raised in a non gender-biased household.
Speaking to Screen Shot about how she has conversations around gender equality with her son, Agarwal says: “I try to make him learn to do all the housework, which is still traditionally taken as a woman’s job. Even though he is young, I keep telling him that he has to learn all of the skills because later on in life he will face problems if he doesn’t know the general basic skills like cooking.”
At the moment, Agarwal is teaching her son how to make roti from Play-Doh and has even bought him a kitchen set he loves playing with. Speaking about how their neighbours ridiculed the kitchen set as being a ‘girly’ activity, Agarwal responded: “Please don’t say things like that because I want to teach him that cooking is not a girl’s job—not just a girl’s job.” She explains that her children are “free to do what they want to do. My son can be a chef, my daughter can be a policewoman, whatever they want to be.”
While for many parents gender-neutral parenting is about removing gender stereotypes and fighting inequality, some parents are choosing to ditch the concept of gender altogether by keeping their child’s biological sex private from the public until the child makes a decision on how they identify.
Gen Zers are most familiar with non-binary pronouns and expressions, and more and more new gens are rejecting the gender binary themselves. Raising children as gender-neutral can provide them with a safe space and allow them freedom of expression without any restrictions.
This month sees the launch of Enby, a new, gender-neutral sex toy. Wild Flower, an independent sex shop based in Brooklyn, has designed the toy in-house. Founded by Amy and Nick Boyajian, both of whom identify as non-binary, Enby is their first own-brand toy, named after the common shorthand for non-binary people, NB, pronounced ‘enby’.
As a retailer, Wild Flower is committed to inclusive and sensitive attitudes toward sex. The shop’s website has a blog with sections dedicated to “mindfulness & sex” and “non-monogamous relationships”, for example. On its Instagram, it features a gorgeous range of individuals—people of all ages, genders and sizes—as well as some hilarious memes. Wild Flower’s merchandise reads: “Trust Yourself, Feel Yourself, Touch Yourself, Please Yourself, Hear Yourself, Know Yourself, Fuck Yourself, Love Yourself”.
Much of the sex industry is still surprisingly gendered, often unnecessarily. Identical toys might be packaged and marketed entirely differently in order to appeal to women and men. Online, toys are generally categorised into ‘for him’ and ‘for her’, even though, to be blunt, a dildo is a dildo, regardless of the user’s gender.
Slowly but surely, however, more options are becoming available for trans and non-binary people, designed with diverse bodies and queer pleasure in mind. Amy and Nick consulted various members of the LGBTQ community while developing their toy. One trans friend of theirs complained about how she had thrown away all of her sex toys after her surgery, because they were no longer compatible with her body. Other trans people have explained how they often resort to toys not marketed at their gender identity, which can worsen existing gender dysphoria.
Enby looks somewhat unusual, unlike any other toy on the market, but this just demonstrates its innovation. It is something different and new. It’s available in black and deep purple, colours chosen for being gender-neutral, especially compared to the pinks and reds that dominate the market. The Enby can be humped, used to masturbate, tucked into a harness. “Hump it, stroke it, tuck it, share it”, reads the product page—it’s like a dirty Bop It.
Enby might not be the first toy to claim the title of being gender-neutral. PicoBong launched the Transformer in 2014, offering “millions of sex toys in one” with its product description listing the sex toy’s possibilities, “It’s a rabbit vibe, a clitoral massager, a cock-ring, a G-spot stimulator, a prostate massager, a double-ended vibe, and much more”. However, its success was debatable. One review summarised, “In trying to create a sex toy that can be used by everyone, PicoBong made a sex toy that is useful to no one”.
The Enby, meanwhile, has received stellar reviews so far, with an average of 4.89 stars out of 5 and comments such as “A game changer” and “Super validating”. Enby is available to pre-order and ships from the U.S. at the end of July. I discovered it myself last month at a community market in Manhattan. I now regret not investigating further at the time.
An online review at Allure recommended the Enby to a transgender man, concluding with: “Overall, I’d recommend Enby for anyone, regardless of gender or genitalia. As with any other sex toy, you’ll have to play around with it to determine how it best works for your body, but it’s absolutely worth it once you find that sweet spot”.
Enby represents a new direction for the sex toy industry, one that is more open, diverse and inclusive. Just like in the porn industry, small, independent brands are inevitably leading the way, but with such positive results, hopefully bigger brands will follow suit. After all, everybody—and every body—deserves pleasure.