Have you heard about “theybys”? Well, they’re trying to be a thing.
As New York magazine reports, the “theyby” trend is a group of parents attempting to rear gender-neutral children. It’s kind of cool! Until you think of a word like “theyby” which has the coarse ring of a word like “metrosexual,” a necessary evil of nomenclature.
Here’s the basic breakdown of what a “theyby” is from the story.
For a small but growing cohort of parents — ones who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary — the unisex movement of the ’60s and the “gender neutral” parenting trends that have followed have come up woefully short. For them, society’s gender troubles cannot be solved by giving all children dolls and trucks to play with or dressing them all in the color beige; the gender binary must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialization begins, clearing the way both for their child’s future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change.
It was actually the anger that drew the attention of Kyl Myers, now the parent of a 2-year-old theyby, Zoomer. A gender-studies student at the University of Utah at the time, Myers understood gender to be not a biological imperative but rather a social construct. “I had read the stories about Storm, I had seen the comments, and I just thought, I have such a different experience with the world and a different idea about gender than these people do. Sure, there are biological differences among the sexes, I get that. But once I was exposed to it, I couldn’t unsee or unlearn that gender is a social construction.”
Interesting. I get this, obviously, but it’s also a bit of forcing things onto another thing, no? For a creature – a baby – that has no idea about language or communication, there’s not really a way to construct anything since they barely know how to construct being human. It’s a little strange, in that regard, putting a giant cart before the horse.
This said, going gender neutral with toys and clothing is a great thing. More people in general should be doing this! It seems like a way to foster unity and a sort of understanding that we – No matter what or how we identify with or as. – are all one. That is beautiful.
However, if said person, human, etc. has no idea what pronouns or gender or sexuality is? This is all a projection.
It reminds me of a story I did for Popsugar last year on how to approach gender neutral pronouns. It was quite eye-opening! Not that this is same-same at all but I’m reminded of what the pronoun expert said regarding dog pronouns: don’t worry about them. They don’t understand gender so we shouldn’t project this onto them.
I love that. To support this, one of my professors – a really rad, really alternative queer person who uses she/her and they/them pronouns – is raising a child and has, surprisingly, sidestepped the “theyby.” Of all people who I thought would go “theyby,” this person has not. Why? As she says in introducing her baby, the child uses he pronouns until he understands what pronouns mean. The child was born male and the parent is waiting until the child understands very adult notions of gender and pronouns before adjusting accordingly. The child, to my knowledge, is growing up very gender neutral in general but these little details – that he was born male, that he doesn’t understand gender or pronouns yet – isn’t being thrust upon him.
That seems like a very simple, smart approach to this: let the child be a child until they can understand what you understand. The conversation can arise as early as two or as late as twelve or twenty two but what sounds “right” about what my professor does is give some autonomy to the child versus completely subjecting a young person to an entire universe of thought that they won’t have the exciting privilege of discovering themselves.
Like sexuality, gender is a bit of a discovery. It takes some work to acknowledge that, yes, you are this and, no, you are not this. Sure, it might help to start flatly, at the center, but going full “theyby”? That’s less about the child and more about you. That doesn’t entirely seem cool.