In the early hours of the new year, while everyone was out partying or crawling home or falling asleep, a Kingston, Ont. couple was busy becoming parents to the first babies born in their city in 2020 — twins, it turned out, that they would be raising as gender neutral.
Artemis and Apollo (named after those twin Greek gods) were born around 3 a.m. on Jan. 1 at the Kingston General Hospital, and their parents, Cyndi Jones and Coady Nickerson, made the increasingly common decision to not release their genders.
“The gender-neutral thing that we’re going for is that, in the next decade, we’re hoping that our society is much more inclusive and allows people to kind of figure out who they are, as opposed to telling them who they are,” Jones told the Kingston Whig-Standard. “That’s one thing that is very important to us.”
Watch: Even toy manufacturers are starting to go gender neutral. Story continues below.
In fact, it’s something that’s important to what seems like an increasing number of parents who are choosing to raise their children outside of the gender binary.
Take the summer of 2017, for example, when a baby in Canada ostensibly became the first to be issued an I.D. without an assigned gender.
The baby’s parent, Kori Doty, was adamant that they wanted to raise their kid “outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box,” and that, “until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are,” the baby would not be gendered.
It’s even right there in the names! Gender-neutral and unisex baby names have literally never been more popular: between 1985 and 2015, according to U.S. data compiled by Net Credit, there was an 88 per cent rise in gender-neutral naming.
“There are myriad benefits to raising kids without gender — and without all the stereotypes that tend to haunt those categories.”
Even though gender-specific names still dominate those famous “top ten names” lists you can find all over the place, including here, gender-neutral names are now officially more broadly represented overall.
“Some of today’s young parents don’t want their children to conform to expectations of the old ‘boys climb trees and girls play with dolls’ variety, so they choose to give their children a genderless name that comes free of any stereotypical baggage,” Net Credit wrote in a news release in September.
“Also, a gender-neutral name can benefit a person later in life by helping to offset some of the conscious and unconscious bias that still exists in the academic and business worlds.”
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that strict gender expectations can actually increase a kid’s risk of facing physical and mental health issues, and that, no matter where a child lives, honest conversations about relationships, identity, and sexuality are best had young, so as to minimize the potentially negative effects of gender roles.
Then there’s the Swedish study from the same year, which found that kids who attended gender-neutral preschools were less likely to gender stereotype — a quality that researchers noted “could widen the opportunities available to them.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough, even the supposed “inventor” of the notorious gender-reveal party — you know, those events where parents come up with creative ways to announce, with colour-coded theatrics, that their kid is a boy or a girl — now thinks her “random contribution to the culture” is completely ridiculous.
“Who cares what gender the baby is?” she wrote in a Facebook post last year. “Assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of [the baby’s] potential and talents that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs.”
In the last few years, the way that people think and talk about gender has changed dramatically. Society at large appears to be significantly more aware of how gender stereotypes might negatively affect children. There are gender neutral preschools in Sweden, gender neutral uniforms in the U.K., and toy companies choosing to stop marketing their items to “boys” or “girls.”
So if Artemis and Apollo can be predictors of anything, we hope it’s this: 2020 will be a year of inclusion, of love, of acceptance, and of boundless freedom of expression.
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