Raising Gender

Raising Gender-Expansive Kids in a Post-Modern World

Madan KumarApr 25, '23

As time passes on and changes, we change with it too. A lot changes within us individually, as a society and with the world in general. As we grow older, hindsight shows us that there are more than just a handful of things we imbibe from our parents, and of those, there are things we swear we would never pass on to the next generation. 

When it comes to parenting, it is something that catches us all by surprise. No matter how much you prepare yourself to be a good parent, there are still days where you would question your own sanity and the way you would raise your own kids. For a new parent, their joy knows no bounds when they discover that they are expecting, and all the more when they discover the gender of their child - be it boy or girl. 

For Indian parents a gender reveal has meant a lot more and has also come at a heavy price to the child’s individuality and the way we propagate gender as a society. Back in the day (and also in several places today), a girl child was considered bad news and many Indian parents hoped and prayed for a boy child. The narrative gets darker when we delve into the repercussions of such practices and the practices themselves, but that’s not the focus of this article, so we’ll leave that for another time. While much may have changed from those regressive days, it requires mention that there are still parts of India that practice gender preferences and give preferential treatment to one gender over the other way before a child is even born. 

In order to understand what it means to raise kids who are free to choose the gender they wish to ascribe to, it first necessitates that we understand what that “gender” means. 

Gender Expansive

Understanding gender 

Gender has caused quite the stir and has been an enigma for several years, both on a social scale as well as on an individual level. Gender is prescribed to children before they even know what it means to be a gender. Gender reveal parties are classified into shades of pink and blue. It never unravels as a self-chosen association or identity, but rather as a self-imposed, societally acceptable identity. That begs the question of how and when one decides, who decides, and what are the possibilities that permit an existence that is outside of gender. All the more when gender is chosen for them before having given them a chance to know what it means.

Judith Butler says in her book Undoing Gender that one isn’t born a gender, but rather one becomes one through repeated acts of performing a gender. If you tell yourself something for long enough, fact or fiction aside, that becomes your truth and reality. But that isn’t to say that it is what you are, but rather that you’ve said it and performed it enough times to ultimately become it. 

Simone De Beauvoir says something very similar about the social performance that defines womanhood that “one isn’t born a woman, but rather one becomes one”. Many of us attribute gender to the biological dispositions of our bodies. But one’s biological or assigned sex has everything to do with biology, anatomy and chromosomes, and very little to do with one’s gender. When we say gender, we mean what’s expected in terms of one’s performance in society, the set standards that define who is man, woman or trans, and the characteristics that dictate how men, women and trans are supposed to act or behave. 

Raising gender-expansive kids

One of the most important ways to raise gender-expansive kids is to first educate yourselves as parents on what it means to be a gender before being blindsided by such a limitation. The topic of gender has sprung wide open and information has become more accessible to parents who are open to embracing their children and the choices they make. There are many parents today who understand the baggage that comes with assigning genders to a child before they have the chance to decide it for themselves. 

Many celebrities of the likes of Kate Hudson, Angeline Jolie or Cher, have openly showcased their support for their children’s choices and raise them beyond the gender-based roles and stereotypes that are externally prescribed to them. Countries like Sweden have even gone so far as to include gender-neutral pronouns like “hen” in their representation to foster a culture of acceptance and inclusivity. 

Imbibing a culture gender-openness in your homes

Just like they say that charity begins at home, the change in our society when it comes to gender will have to first unravel at home. Once we understand what it means to undo one’s gender, imbibing a culture of gender-openness and queerness becomes easier for both parents and children. 

One of the main reasons to imbibe a culture of gender-openness is to embrace the worldview that society doesn’t and shouldn’t dictate a person’s individuality but the individual themselves. Conscious parenting allows room for a child to try and err, it allows room for them to fall several times before they find their path and discover their identity, rather than have it fed and dictated to them. Parenting shouldn’t have to categorise a child’s inclinations and preferences into dual spectrums of blues and pinks but rather make room for the child to choose a colour or colours that work for them and support them in their choices.

From a young age, it’s important to steer children away from dual choices that feed into the toxic stereotypes of gender, and have open discussions with kids. Nurture every child’s choices as that of their own, whether that means they enjoy playing with dolls or enjoy cross-dressing. Give them the option of choosing from a range rather than ultimatums of this or that, and see where their creativity and individuality takes them. Showing them that the possibilities of their existence are many and that there is no pressure to ascribe to either sets the groundwork in raising children that are mentally and emotionally strong and secure in who they are and what they want. 

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Getting the vocabulary right 

Embrace the pronouns and get the vocabulary right from a young age so that children feel seen, safe, embraced and heard. From a young age, it is possible to steer children away from the thinking that girls only wear pink, that girls cry, or vice versa where boys wear blue and boys don’t cry. Using the right terminologies can help children tackle issues like bullying at schools where other kids are raised in an environment that fosters these stereotypes. 


For example, Dr. Christia Spears Brown, a Ph.D. holder and a gender-neutral parenting expert gives an example of how one could include the right vocabulary into day-to-day conversations and happenings with children. She says in the situation of when a boy chooses to carry a pink backpack to school but fears the bullying, a gender-expansive response could be something like, Son, this is a great backpack, I love this pink backpack. But if someone says something about you having a pink backpack, what's something you can say back? This helps them come up with concrete comebacks, making it into a joke or something to diffuse the situation." 


Raising children in an open and nurturing environment not only helps them with their own identities, but also breeds empathy and an acceptance that all lives matter and that every life is just as valid and deserving of opportunities. It fosters the understanding that opportunities should be made available to all and not just to the ones who conform. 

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Gender-neutral parenting isn’t easy, especially considering the fact that most parents have also been born and raised within this societal conditioning that dictates the terms by which they should exist. However, having the openness to embrace newer trains of thoughts and the endless possibilities of the human experience goes a long way in making the world a safer and more inclusive space for all kinds of people to co-exist without the biases of gender.

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