Zyler and Kaden love riding bikes, playing in the park, and building block towers in their living room. To outside observers, they seem like your average three-year-olds. But there is something different about these twins.
Zyler and Kaden are “theybies.” Their parents, Nate and Julia Sharpe, are attempting to raise them without gender distinctions. The Sharpes have not told anyone whether the twins are boys or girls—this includes friends, family, coworkers, and even the twins themselves.
The twins respond to the pronouns “they,” “their,” and “them,” dress in non-specific clothing and play with toys not typically attributed to their sex. The idea is that the toddlers will grow up without society forcing sex stereotypes on them. They will be able to decide for themselves which sex they want to identify with when they are older, their parents explain.
The Sharpes are not the only family attempting to raise their children free of every stereotype or characteristic of their sex. This NBC article, which featured the Sharpes, highlights several families and says there are around 200 members of a Facebook group dedicated to the “theyby” craze.
And it is not just individual families advocating for a “genderless” childhood. A week after the NBC article appeared, its British counterpart, the BBC, published a video with the hashtag “no more boys and girls.” The video featured two babies, a boy and a girl, who were dressed as the opposite sex. Unaware adults were then asked to play with the babies and, surprise, they chose toys specific to the sex the child was dressed as. The message: You have biases about boys and girls when interacting with children, and these are harmful.
Amusingly, the two children in the video showed little interest in the toys given to them. Little Edward, dressed as “Sophie,” seemed completely disinterested in a doll handed to him and swapped it out for a robot—presumably proving that Edward has already fallen prey to cultural sex stereotypes.
The BBC experiment involving two children pales in comparison to Sweden’s experiment. Sweden attempted to enforce sex-neutral toys through legislation. Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute wrote about this experiment in The Atlantic. The main issue, Sommers contends, is that child’s play is not neutral by nature and, therefore, if neutrality is to happen, it has to be enforced. She writes that the two sexes “are different, and nothing short of radical and sustained behavior modification could significantly change their elemental play preferences.”
Why not just let children play with what they want? The answer is that this is not about live-and-let-live, but advancing gender identity ideology which treats sex stereotypes as actually determining one’s sex.
If an eight-year-old boy prefers to play with dolls—he must be a girl. If a girl prefers to play with trucks—she must be a boy. There is little room for tomboys to grow up as girls or a boy to be less than macho. A child’s play preferences are destiny.
This philosophy of “gender-neutral” toys and, in its most radical form, “theybies,” is extremely new, only appearing in the last few decades. But for thousands of years, societies and cultures across the world have recognized the enduring differences between men and women. Is this simply an accident? Did we just now become enlightened to the fact that sex distinctions are not based in biology?
The uncomfortable truth is that this is a new radical philosophy with dangerous implications. If we can choose our sex, then why not allow children with gender dysphoria transition to the opposite sex? There are already many cases of children taking puberty blockers and receiving surgeries before they reach the age of 18.
And that is gaining traction despite many individuals coming forward to express deep regret for the “gender transition” surgeries they went through as adults. Many activists are arguing that children should be making life-altering decisions—including whether or not they want children themselves—before they reach puberty.
Gender dysphoria—or the psychological condition of believing you are the opposite sex—has a high comorbidity rate, meaning that those with gender dysphoria will likely to also suffer from other psychological disorders, such as depression. It is appearing that the increased acceptance of gender transition has created a social contagion among school-aged children—motivating more kids to proclaim that they were born in the wrong bodies. Many of these children might not have developed this belief if they had not heard about it from their teachers or friends.
Certainly, we all need to think carefully about sex stereotypes and whether their use is damaging. But creating a “genderless” environment for children which wars against the biological distinctions that inform their relationship to each other and the larger world around them is a dangerous game with lifelong—and often irreversible—impacts on children and society. There’s a reason that “there’s an adult in the room” when children are at play, and it should be to guide them in wisely growing—not confuse them about the elemental reality of being human. Children’s identities are not the play-things of activist adults.