A story that defies understanding until you realize... how old the parents are.
It's a boy! And he's five. Beck Laxton, 46, and partner Kieran Cooper, 44, have spent half the decade concealing the gender of their son, Sasha. "I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping," Laxton said.
I'm confused. Is being stereotyped as a boy worse than being stereotyped as a court jester with an extra chromosome? "Wha--! That is so offensive!" Agreed. So why did she do it?
"Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?"
On a hunch I checked out her blog to see how opposed she was to slotting people into boxes:
I may be wrong, but this appears to be a woman whose whole life is boxes.
The premise for this unstory is that the parents wanted to prevent any gender stereotyping, so hid the child's gender from everyone to let him [sic] grow unstereotyped.
The problem is that the parents already know the sex. They can't unknow it. They aren't acting from no information, they are acting in reaction to the information. They are saying they are raising him gender neutral, but what they are actually doing, precisely, is choosing not to raise him as a boy.
Sasha's gender was almost revealed when he took to running around their garden naked, but Beck was resolute and encouraged him to play with dolls to hide his masculinity.
Hide it from whom? The kid knows he's a boy. If he wants to play with dolls that's one thing, but evidently the dolls aren't for him, for his benefit, but as a signal to other people.
Not wanting other people to affect his development is fine, but as parents they are the most important influence in his early years, and their chief lesson is that who he is is less relevant than the appearance of who he is. They are telling him reality doesn't exist. Not "boys can do whatever they want" but "pretend you are not a boy."
As a "radical feminist", would she have encouraged the same denial from a daughter?
Here's where things stop being hilarious:
When Sasha turned five and headed to school, Laxton was forced to make her son's sex public...
This is an extremely revealing sentence, because it shows the hierarchy of power in this woman's mind: she doesn't believe in God, she can overrule biology; but the school system is inviolable. The school system! What next, a pet store? A pumpkin?
She could have home schooled him; she could have refused to tell the school. But instead, she acquiesced to their demand. There's a very specific reason she did this: she is afraid to break society's rules. That's why she got someone else to be transgressive for her.
She wants to be (thought of as) a progressive, to (appear to) challenge society's rules, but being a coward she instead forces her kid to bear all of the negative consequences of this challenge. Is she wearing a man's suit to work? Has she stopped shaving her legs "to hide her femininity"? Is she willing to risk that someone will punch her in the face at the bus stop? Is she willing to sacrifice her own carefully managed identity "to make people think a bit"?
At the risk of me being the kind of sexist she has parenthetically announced she is against, let me say the father in this story is even worse than she is, because he should know better. If you need me to explain why this is, I can't. Amazon suggests you'd enjoy The Descendants.
This story seems like it is about gender roles but it is actually about the deeper generational pathology that comes out in a million different ways, which are all the same way. This isn't about a progressive way of raising children, this is about the consequences of narcissism.
What drove her to using her child as a you-go-first skydiving partner is the desire to be something coupled with the terror of doing anything-- which results in ambivalence and inertia camouflaged in a consumerist lifestyle full of meaningless choices. This leaves a lot of unused emotional energy left over for me me me. She's had 46 years to obsess over her identity, and this is what she came up with, a hail mary pass in the second half of a mid-life crisis.
According to the astronomical guide Being And Nothingness, infinite freedom is proportional to infinite terror, which is why the infinite universe is filled not with nothing or even magic pixie dust but with dark matter. Boo. You may think you want freedom, but the Cenobites can imagine a whole lot more freedom than you can and are just waiting for you to go first. That existential terror is itself frustrating, it is the point of the terror. That's why if you really want a bonerific sex scene you turn off the internet and put on a horror movie. Good luck trying to masturbate to it, though. Which is why it's so memorably hot.
This is why I know that while Beck seems like a hippie-atheist-feminist-freethinker, she is undoubtedly a completely ordinary middle class housewife, no different than the Kansas PTA members she would hatefully roll her eyes at for voting Tory instead of Labour. Her life has been marked by nothing eventful, nothing challenging, nothing unusual, nothing difficult, so she will have created drama out of ordinary events in order to self-identify. "Oh, God," she'd say as she parks her Subaru at the Gymboree. "These mums are all so desperately conformist. Marry the father of my child? How utterly bourgeois. Did I mention my child is a court jester?"
Still, his mom is intervening. While the school requires different uniforms for boys and girls, Sasha wears a girl's blouse with his pants.
Everyone slow down. This is no longer a gender-neutral child potentially making his own choices, but a boy dressed like a girl, overtly and on purpose. Beck is raising a transvestite.
If you had asked her if she wanted to raise a transvestite she'd have said no-- she wants a child free of stereotypes-- because there are stereotypes of boys and girls but not of boys who dress like girls. That mixed logic reveals the true intent of her "gender-neutral" project. It isn't for the kid, it is for her. If it wasn't for her, you wouldn't have heard about it. Wasn't the whole point not to call attention to the gender? Oh, I had it backwards, the whole point was entirely to focus on the gender. Sigh. The main character in this story is herself. The kid is supporting cast. He is not a person, he is a blog topic.Of course she wants the best for him, of course she loves him, I'm not saying she doesn't. Neo loved Trinity, too, but I hope it is not necessary to explain which way the force vectors pointed. The purpose of this game show was to be the parent of such a kid, not to benefit the kid. Amy Chua went on the same game show, but at least in her case the kids won some prizes for coming in second.
Let me repeat an important quote:
Did you see that wonderful melodrama, Stella Dallas with Barbara Stanwyck? She has a daughter who wants to marry into the upper class, but she is an embarrassment to her daughter. So, the mother - on purpose - played an extremely vulgar, promiscuous mother in front of her daughter's lover, so that the daughter could drop her, without guilt. The daughter could be furious with her and marry the rich guy. That's a more difficult sacrifice. It's not "I will make a big sacrifice and remain deep in their heart." No, in making the sacrifice, you risk your reputation itself. Is this an extreme case? No, I think every good parent should do this.
The true temptation of education is how to raise your child by sacrificing your reputation. It's not my son who should admire me as a role model and so on. I'm not saying you should, to be vulgar, masturbate in front of your son in order to appear as an idiot. But, to avoid this trap - the typical pedagogical trap, which is, apparently you want to help your son, but the real goal is to remain the ideal figure for your son - you must sacrifice that.
She is doing the exact opposite: sacrificing her child's reputation, subjecting him to potential ridicule and god knows what else, not for his benefit but in order to promote her own identity. It's not the gender neutrality that's going to mess this kid up, though it might; but being raised by parents who are using their kid as something other than an end in himself. As was said in a movie I hope has no parallel here: this isn't going to have a happy ending.