This couple chose to raise their child outside the gender binary: ‘You don’t have to fit into that very narrow box’
We live in a society where gender revealing parties go viral on a weekly basis. Seeing pink or blue can make a family burst into cheers or tears, but not all parents are excited about these kinds of celebrations.
Whitneé and J. Garrett-Walker are mothers who have decided to raise their child without the gender binary. Married since 2016, the couple decided to start a family in 2019, which deepened their conversations about possible parenting styles.
“We had all these conversations about how we would or wouldn’t age and what kinds of things we wanted to do differently than our parents might or might not have done,” J tells Yahoo Life. “The conversation about gender didn’t take place until much later in the pregnancy. And then I jumped on her and I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t think we should tell anyone the gender of the baby.’”
The couple had already decided to be surprised by the baby’s gender at birth, but Whitneé was initially taken aback by J’s suggestion. She was excited to share the baby’s gender with her family, and the two had profound feelings. discussions about how this would work. “We had to figure out how to balance what was comfortable for me and what was comfortable for her,” Whitneé says.
For J, her suggestion to emphasize gender was inspired by her own experiences.
“As a non-gender person, I think that influenced my decision to have this conversation with my wife before the baby was born, because people put so many gender-based expectations on children. As a young child, I was put on a lot of gender-based expectations,” says J. “Even as I grew up, and when I started to deviate from the expected gender expectations, people had a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. To me it felt like I didn’t want my child to go through that.”
The couple agreed to keep their child’s digital footprint to a minimum, not reveal their faces or assign a gender on social media. The mothers chose to use s/he pronouns for their child, and also agreed not to share the gender assigned at birth with anyone outside of close relatives. In February 2020, Whitneé and J welcomed their child Cadence. Their name was chosen because it was gender inclusive and, most importantly, it was the only name that both moms agreed on 100 percent!
While most people in their lives have accepted their choice, the couple has encountered some resistance. At Cadence’s baby shower, J made a poster to explain their conception process, and why they chose to use she/she pronouns.
“We have done our best to train people much in advance. And it still didn’t stop us from seeing many of the interesting responses,” Whitneé said.
“For the people who don’t use she/they pronouns and they’re part of our family, it’s not that big of a deal for us. But what’s a big problem for us is when they try to contain Cadence and say -because you were born with X, because you were born with assigned X at birth. You can only do this. So if Cadence is assigned a woman at birth, you become a ballerina or become a whatever. , Cadence can do whatever they want to do.”
Whitneé and J describe their marriage and motherhood on their Instagram, Queering Black Love. They’ve found support and critics for taking Cadence outside of the gender binary, but as a PhD and developmental psychologist, J sees some of these interactions as teachable moments.
“One person on Instagram said, ‘Obviously Cadence is a girl.’ And I was like, oh, so how is it clear?” J remembers. “As a person who teaches about gender and sexuality, I want to challenge you to answer the question of what characteristics made you think that Cadence is a girl?”
According to the Mayo Clinic, most children begin to determine their gender for themselves around age 3. As Cadence approaches 18 months, their mothers have enjoyed watching them grow up to be themselves free of gender stereotypes.
“It was really interesting to see how Cadence was attracted to certain things, developed certain mannerisms, did not develop certain mannerisms, and was just free to be whatever they want,” Whitneé says. “Taking a step back in this way to raise our child… it is really raising for liberation.”
As Cadence grows, their mothers want to keep the lines of communication open. J and Whitneé plan to let Cadence know what gender they were given at birth, but will love and accept them no matter how they identify.
“You don’t have to fit into that very narrow box. You are free to be whoever you want to be. Whatever you look like, just make sure you’re honest and true to yourself,” says J.
Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove
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