Boy or girl The parents who refused to say for FIVE years finally reveal sex of their 'gender-neutral' child
His fairy wings, pink tutu and ballet pumps suggest this little boy has raided the dressing up box.
But if five-year-old Sasha wanted to wear this every day, his parents would have no problem at all.
In fact, as they are bringing him up to be ‘gender neutral’, they would see it simply as their son expressing himself.
Gender neutral: Sasha dressed as a fairy on the picture that was used on the family Christmas card in 2010
Not that they usually refer to him as ‘him’. From the moment Sasha was born, Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper have been at pains not to lumber their son with the stereotyping they fear that gender brings.
So they simply called him ‘the infant’ and kept his gender a secret from all but a few close friends and relatives. As he grew older, he was encouraged to play with dolls as much as Lego, slept in a neutral yellow room and was allowed to wear both boys’ and girls’ clothes.
But now that he is five and at school Miss Laxton, 46, and Mr Cooper, 44, believe it will be almost impossible to keep it up.
Last year parents in Canada who
refused to say whether their child was a boy or girl stirred up outrage
and accusations they were turning their child into a freak.
Sasha’s parents, who have faced their
own share of raised eyebrows, are thought to be among the first British
parents to speak about this far-from-traditional method of raising a
child. They are keen to highlight the issue publicly and get other
parents talking about it.
Sasha, pictured with his mother Beck, was referred to as 'the infant' to conceal his gender. But the secret became too hard to keep when he started primary school
‘I wanted to avoid all that
stereotyping,’ Miss Laxton explained yesterday. ‘Stereotypes seem
fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes
'Beck and Kieran were so desperate not to prejudice Sasha’s life with gender they
didn’t ask midwives his sex until 30 minutes after he was born. Only a handful of immediate family members were told of the baby’s gender'
‘Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person they become. I start to get cross with it if it skews their potential.’
The process began even before Sasha was born, with his parents choosing not to be told their baby’s sex after scans during the pregnancy. It wasn’t because they wanted a surprise, they just wanted to avoid the inevitable expectations of what having a boy or girl meant.
After he was born, they waited 30 minutes before asking midwives his sex because they ‘did not want to prejudice his life with gender’. They gave him a name that suited both boys and girls and referred to him as ‘the infant’ rather than a son or daughter.
It is only now that Sasha has started primary school that the secret has become impossible to keep and they have started telling the wider world that Sasha is a boy.
Miss Laxton, a web designer from Sawston, Cambridgeshire, admitted that keeping her child’s gender under wraps for so long had not been easy. At her mother and baby group, she said she was regarded as ‘that loony woman who doesn’t know whether her baby is a boy or a girl’. ‘I could never persuade anyone in the group to come round for coffee,’ she said. ‘They just thought I was mental.’
At school, Sasha sometimes wears a ruched-sleeved and scalloped-collared shirt from the girl’s uniform list. But he has yet to encounter any teasing or bullying. ‘Nobody’s ever mentioned it and I would hope that if they actually said something to Sasha, he’d be confident enough to make a good response,’ his mother said.
Sasha has worn both girls' and boys' clothes for the past five years. He has chosen to wear a blouse from the girls' uniform list to school
His father, a computer software
designer, said Sasha is aware he is a boy and has been allowed to grow
up taking an interest in whatever he wants. ‘If Sasha wants to dress up
in girls’ clothes then so be it,’ Mr Cooper said. ‘But we’re not forcing
‘The girl’s clothes and fancy dress are for fun at home. We don’t make Sasha go out in girl’s clothes.’
Miss Laxton said her own background had influenced her view about gender stereotypes.
‘My mother’s very sporty and my dad
was very emotional. We’d watch The Wizard of Oz and always start crying,
whereas my mum would think we were really soppy,’ she said. ‘So it’s
always seemed obvious to me that stereotypes didn’t fit the people I
Dr Daragh McDermott, a psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, said it was difficult to predict any long-term effects of Sasha’s unconventional upbringing.
‘It’s hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little research examining this topic,’ he said.
‘That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialisation with other children and adults, as well as mass media.
‘As a child grows they develop their own independent sense of self that will include their own individual gender identification.’
Last year, Canadians Kathy Witterick and David Stocker insisted that they would raise their baby Storm as a gender-neutral child.
Of that case, Dr Harold Koplewicz, a U.S. child psychiatrist, said he was ‘disturbed’ that well-meaning parents could be so misguided.
‘When children are born, they’re not a blank slate,’ he said. ‘We do have male brains and female brains. There’s a reason why boys do more rough and tumble play; there’s a reason why girls have better language development skills.’