I’m raising my child gender-neutral, and what I’ve learned is: It’s not enough.

When I prepared to become a mother for the first time in 2005, I was staunchly committed to raising my tiny new human in the most gender-neutral of ways.

We had opted to not learn his biological sexuality prior to his arrival, and registered for green and yellow newborn items, avoiding the stereotypical pink and blue at all costs. We declared that he would have access to all the colorings, dolls, and activities regardless of where they fell among societal gender norms. 12 years later, that child is an articulated, sensitive man-cub who is on the cusp of navigating gender and sexuality for himself for the first time.( Godspeed, kiddo ).

My second child, however, has been different. I raised both my kids gender-neutral, but Nova has espoused that in its full meaning, shunning gendered pronouns and styles in favor of being merely, well, Nova.

I’ve done a lot of growing and learning and evolving myself in both my parenting and politics along the way. In the past few years, what I’ve begun to realize is that, in many circumstances, these attempts at gender-neutral parenting may not be quite enough. In fact, I’ve been propelled from gender-neutral parenting and have landed on a call to action to break down the gender binary wholly .

In the first few years of life, Nova was just Nova.

Gender wasn’t precisely high on my list of concerns when it came to raising them. At 5 years old, my child already has lived and lost more than many folks do in their lifetimes.

Photo by Ashlee Dean Wells.

From a complicated pregnancy and surviving the death of their identical twin, to arriving 16 weeks premature and weighing only 1 pound, it’s fair to say that Nova has been fighting an uphill battle from the start. They continue to slay every obstacle in their path, but still, as a person living with special needs and permanent disabilities, there is a lot of autonomy they are forced to relinquish on a daily basis. I didn’t wishes to construct gender another option that Nova didn’t get at make for themselves.

Initially we use she/ her pronouns, and I set a dress on them every so often, but their gender still wasn’t a “thing.” We navigated our life and appointments, garment, toys, and activities in our typical neutral route while defaulting to “girl” here and there. Around their 3rd birthday, however, along with an explosion of speech and independence, came clear preferences that required more attention. They requested a new haircut that involved the word “bald” and refused to wear a dress “ever again.” Along with an even more androgynous appearance, new dialogues and trends in responses from our greater world began to emerge.

Seeing people react to and interact with Nova has taught me a lot about gender in the wider world.

In medical, social, and educational settings, I began to notice how differently people treated Nova when they presumed the latter are a son versus when they presumed the latter are a girl. When Nova was presumed a son, they were called “strong, brave, smart, funny.” When Nova was assumed a girl, they were called “sweet, delicate, cute, kind.” Different dialogue ensued, different possibilities were presented, there were different responses to behavior, and it was both fascinating and unsettling at the same time.

It wasn’t only adults though. Among children, Nova was often asked by other youth unless they are a son or a girl, to which Nova would( and still will) react, “I’m a Nova! ” or “I’m a human! ” When devoted this response, often, people of any age turn to me or the other mother and ask again, “Is Nova a son or a girl? ” To which we default back to Nova.

What surprised me is how frustrated and confused people are by Nova’s desire to be recognized free of gender.

I have watched adult humans grow visibility annoyed and have had multiple people tell me that they simply don’t know how to talk to Nova without first knowing their gender.

Photo by Ashlee Dean Wells.

It has been proven repeatedly that we treat even babies differently based on our hypothesis of their gender, but it’s perplex that the gender binary , norms, and expectations have such a stronghold on so many of us that we literally cannot communicate without their constructs .

Why is this?

I don’t have all the answers, and whatever they are, the answers are admittedly controversial and complex. What I do know, however, is that my household is one with a foundation of respect . The arbitrary concepts of gender are still beyond Nova’s grasp, but with so much in “peoples lives” out of their control, this seems like such an obvious and simple style we can choose to honor who they are. As they grow, develop, and ripen, we will continue to respect the ways in which they evolve and identify regardless of who they grow to be.

Over the past few months, there has been a natural progression of language in our home to refer to Nova with the non-binary/ neutral pronouns, they/ them, because language matters. Because by choosing or using female pronouns for them based on their genitalia and nothing else, we ARE gendering Nova and contributing to the binary ways in which others assure and respond to them, even if our goal is to remain gender neutral.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know where we go from here.

However, I do know that Nova has broken down the binary for me in such a simple route that I can’t pull myself back to it. In doing so, I’m not calling for a total elimination of gender, but instead an acknowledgment that neutrality may not be enough if our thinking is still rooted in a patriarchal binary that not everyone fits into .

Society may not yet be post-gender, but our home can easily be.

This story originally appeared in ravishly and is reprinted here with permission .

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