Raised Without Gender

Sweden is the most forward-thinking country in the world when it comes to questioning gender The gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’ is now commonly used by most Swedes and government funded gender-neutral kindergartens often spark controversy in the foreign press With recent victories for the trans rights movement and more young people defining as something other than male and female than ever before I’m curious to find out what it’s like to grow up without the gender binary So, I’ve just arrived in Örebro in Sweden and I’m about to get me a family here attempting to bring up their kids free from all gender norms Amelia: Hello. Amelia. Nice to meet you Del: Nice to meet you Amelia: How are you? Niko: Del: This is Niko Hello! This is Margaretta and this is Mika Margaretta is my partner’s mother And where is your partner? (Del: At work) Okay Yeah, somebody’s got to bring home the veggie bacon So this is our humble abode I love the artwork Yeah, this is Mika and Niko’s artwork Mama is that your partner? Yeah, my partner goes by Matilda and Matt, but is also the one who gave birth, and I’m mapa It’s just was felt right to me because I’m intersex; I was born with characteristics of both male and female Even though my body didn’t develop along more masculine lines until puberty and so yeah my partner is not Trans strictly trans, but we share the same values that gendering is harmful Del is an American photographer who moved to Sweden for love Their work has, for over three decades, focused on queer identities and challenging gender norms Let me show you around the house (Amelia: Yes please) you can see the kids’ bedrooms This is Niko’s room and how old is Niko? Niko is two and a half (Amelia: And Mika is?) Almost five and a half Mika and Niko were both assigned male at birth but in this family the sexy were born with does not dictate your gender identity We don’t gender toys. We don’t gender colors So whatever they’re interested in– it’s like they can just play with whatever toys they want and you would never dictate what those toys were No, no absolutely not So they both have a lot of cars and they both have dolls And what about with clothing? Right now Mika is, for the past two months has worn a dress every day just about When Mika is wearing dresses, and because Mika has very very long hair most people assume that Mika is female If someone called Mika ‘female’ in front of Mika would you correct them or intervene? No, no, we’ve never we’ve never corrected anybody In fact if people call Mika ‘she’ we might go with that, too We use ‘he’ for them, sometimes it’s mixed and it depends, you know, because in Sweden we have ‘hen’, the gender-neutral pronoun in Swedish I think Mika has always said, when I’ve asked, it’s been ‘she’ or ‘hen’ Confused about what pronoun to use, I decide to call Mika and Niko by their names Did you hurt yourself my love? CRYING: I got a boo-boo Did you get a boo-boo? Should I kiss it? Blow on it? CRYING: Blow on it Okay Is that better now? Yeah Yeah, I think so, too How do you avoid gendering your children? We didn’t choose anything but gender-neutral names we chose not to know what sex they would be assigned when they were born Not answering the question “is it a boy or a girl?” to avoid the b-word and the g-word Changing pronouns in books instead of it always being Mama we say Mama and Mapa “What’s the matter sweetie?” asked mapa “It’s so dark!” “Don’t be afraid,” says mapa. “I’ll call the lantern fish” “sleep tight little rainbow fish” This is good. I got it fifty per-cent off, so, yes Are you going to share? (Amelia: Thank you!) with Amelia? That’s nice. (Amelia: Delicious!) I want to know how grandma Margaret feels about how her grandchildren are being raised Margaret and Del, do you think that you have similar or different

parenting methods? I can understand that there may be some things that are (Margaret: New) new and harder to understand What do you think those things are, like, the specifically Well, specifically to do things like gender I mean, the reason I like Margaretta so much is because she thinks I’m a great mapa, right? Yes, is very much Yeah Niko What’s your spoon for? When I first arrived it didn’t feel that strange that the kids were wearing dresses and stuff ‘cuz kids are kids and like kids like to play dress up And they are smart, funny, joyous kids to be around The next morning I help Del get Mika and Niko ready for Kindergarten Ready? There we go You want to wear? this one or this one You want this one, okay? We’re going to go with the red and black theme today, then. Good idea That’s not something I always have to say, but it would be good to know today for the film Just Mika okay. Let’s go Mika seems like neither a boy nor a girl just non-binary and when you ask Mika about Mika’s gender Mika just doesn’t really want to talk about it At home the kids can be as gender creative as they please, but now it’s time for kindergarten Mika hug and kiss I wonder what the other children make Mika’s gender expression Hey, how would you describe Mika? What is ‘hen’? What do you want to be when you grow up? A builder? What do you want to build? A house? What kind of children are you going to have? That’s nice. I don’t care how my children look like either The Swedish Government School Plan forbids enforcing gender stereotypes and has done since 1998 What are some of the ways in which you avoid gender norms when you are teaching? And what does this say? So these pictures are basically breaking down the boundaries of different stereotypes This is like a soft father figure Sleeping beauty says ‘no’ Lesbian mums When it comes to gender creative teaching the most influential person in Sweden is Lotta Rajalin who started the country’s first gender-neutral kindergarten So welcome into Egalia How would you describe Egalia? It’s all about democracy for children to have their right to be what they are what they feel like they are, regardless of gender class, sexuality It’s about anti-discrimination Do these dolls have a gender? No. Not what we can tell

But the children they play– they never ask. It’s not important for the children Here’s the office and I’m going to show you what we call the whole life spectrum We tend to divide this life spectra into two pieces one for boys and one for girls More often pink is for girls and blue is for boys And we call a body cool and strong and to girls we more often say that they should be helpful, nice, cute We have different expectations we take away this border and we don’t separate it in boyish and girlish and we give the whole life spectra to everyone So we are not limiting, we are just adding. We are not changing the children. We are changing our own thoughts While a more gender-neutral focus in kindergartens is fully adopted by the swedish government Even in liberal Sweden, there’s no shortage of critics Dr. Eberhard has written books on raising kids, and a recent article he wrote heavily criticized attitudes to gender in Swedish kindergartens Why do you disagree with the Swedish government’s recommendation that schools do not reinforce gender norms? I think it’s damaging because it tells us that behaviors that are typical for boys, typical for girls is problematic It’s a brainwashing strategy that you are eradicating sex differences, which I do oppose The major problem in Sweden, I would say, is that our boys fail in school, not the girls Our boys are committing suicide, not the girls So, the problem today in Sweden is with the boys If you have this law that you should treat boys like hens It implies that you should not behave like the boy you were born to be It should not be the government to tell our kids how they should react it should be up to them and I would like our kids to be kids That’s what the gender-neutral kindergarten said, too So in that sense we do agree, but the means of making this happen we disagree In your mind, what would be a better way of doing things? You cannot solve a problem by doing totally the opposite way I think then you create new problems Think I was expecting him to be a bit more hardline In a weird way he kind of seemed to agree with some of the values of the gender-neutral kindergarten that it should be out the individual except he doesn’t think we should erase boys and girls as categories While adults will clearly disagree on how to teach kids about gender. It’s ultimately the children who are affected I want to see how genderless teaching has influenced the kids at Mika’s kindergarten What are you doing? Are you climbing? They’ve got a good tree This is an easy tree That might be as high as I can go What do you think about gender? Are boys and girls equally good at climbing? What’s your favorite game? Do you play catch with girls as well? Can I come play with you guys? What’s your favorite thing about kindergarten? I think what I’ve learned here is that they’re not trying to erase gender They’re just trying to take out the discrepancies It seems a lot less sexist than other schools, and it seems really open to the idea of same-sex parents same-sex relationships with children that might not conform really tightly to male or female And I think that’s going to have a positive effect overall on the children Swedish kindergartens seem accommodating to rainbow families like Del’s, but I wonder if ordinary Swedish society is as open-minded Del takes Mika and Niko shopping As soon as we enter people start staring Do people normally stare? Yeah. I’m so used to it, I sort-of block it out, but sometimes I notice, and then sometimes I stare back at them It’s like, what the hell are you looking at? You think you look so good compared to me? I don’t think so Oh what’s beautiful? What is that? Maybe this is something for Mika They may be a little big for you, but I don’t know Wow, check this out Go ask mama what she thinks When I go swimming with the kids it’s not easy for me

I go to the male changing rooms and my body without clothes does not really pass Puberty I started growing a beard, one breasts developed one did not, my genitals were a bit different I still thought I was female, but I plucked my beard in secret for years and years And I did have shame, so I think every time I go out looking gender-non-conforming, you could say I think that does something it’s like a way of being micro-activist They bump into a family they know Hey Core, hey Magnus Good to see you Core is actually the only other kid we know in Örebro Who was assigned male at birth who also has long hair and wears dresses I would say nearly 99% of all the people that we meet say that that he is a girl Do you let Core choose their clothes and how they have their hair We let him choose in the way that is practical for us Now he has started to say that he’s a girl The other day he’s a boy and sometimes he’s a cat It’s good for him . It’s a part of his childhood he can be whatever he wants, or dress however he wants, for that short time, because society will have its toll on him anyway Core has been invited to play later, but first Mika has an appointment at the hairdresser’s How are you going to have your hair cut? I’ll never forget my most pivotal haircut when I was about Mika’s age a bowl cut like this Do you like that haircut on me? Why didn’t I? Because the hairdresser just cut it all off Would you like to have her that short? No. Why not? What do you think Mika? Good The hairdresser had called Mika ‘she’, so I asked Del how to address Mika today So you know there was a question, that question you don’t like so much What? They wanted to know if you, we wanted, if they should call you hon, han, or hen Hen hen You want them to call you hen? Like you, yes Like me? Okay Hey, Nika. Why don’t you like it when people ask Hen Hon, han, hen? Just don’t like it When you ask Mika about gender, Mika doesn’t always seem to want to talk about it Do you, why do you think that is? I don’t want Mika to be forced to choose Hoh, han, or hen I mean I think you’ve heard that Mika will say hen because I say hen I think Mika does and probably will model themselves more on me I try not to put my obsessions onto Mika, but I do believe that Mika has the ability to choose You know if Mika decides to be a dude Then, great, that’s fine. I will love Mika no less Mika wants to wear something nice to match the new haircut before Core arrives When you change, you put that on? Hey good. You’re getting inside Core wants to have just the same as me What are your favourite clothes? My dress, that I have on right now Do kids ever ask you if you’re a boy or a girl?

How do you feel about that? Grandma Margarette arrives to take Niko to the park She didn’t seem convinced about the gender aspect of Del’s parenting so I want to find out how she really feels Niko had told me today I’m a boy So I think he really knows what he is, and I hope that when Mika feels that he is really a man, later that he has no problem to be a man, then You said when Mika feels that he is a man, do you think when Mika is older Mika will feel that they are a man? I don’t know He likes flowers, and he likes pink, but he is always playing with cars if you give him a doll is not so interested but he does like wearing dresses. So maybe he’ll always like both? Do you think that could create any problems? That’s a question Does he like to wear dresses? Or does Del like that he wears dresses? So that Del has always said, “hey, look I have both a nice dress for you. Won’t you try one today?” I don’t know Sometimes you are worried about how will it be in school for Mika, when he comes with dresses and long hair and would you get one on his nose from the other children? Of course I’m worried about that Mika is leaving kindergarten soon and Del wants to find an understanding school for Mika They’ve been invited to spend the morning at a nearby Steiner school Here, Steiner schools are progressive and focus mainly on playing creativity I take Mika outside, so Del can chat to the teacher, Johanna If a child would come to you with the question about what is Mika, a boy or girl? How would you answer that? So, you didn’t answer them but interesting also that that was the first question they, I mean people get trained so early to It’s like we don’t know how to act with you if we don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl Maybe you haven’t had a circumstance where kids might be bullying another kid or or policing them and saying, “but you have a penis, so you shouldn’t have long hair” Tell me about the meeting you had with the teacher just now Johanna, I thought was really nice I was really happy because they’re coming from a place, it seems, of, like, not wanting to impose anything on kids Next week there’s a parents meeting so I will get to meet the parents of the kids who Mika will be going to school with and it’s very important to me that they understand when their kid comes and says, “Mika has a MApa. What’s a mapa?”

and they say, “No, no, that’s Mika’s PApa.” I don’t want them to do that. So I have to write a letter Dear parents Mika, our soon-to-be six year old child has a varied gender expression and two parents A Mama and a Mapa We are non-binary part of the larger Trans-Masculine Spectrum see the problem with this is I doubt that they even know what any of this means? I don’t even really know what Trans-Masculine Spectrum is Del: Oh really? Amelia: And I’m supposed to know about these things K. Let me explain further You can hyperlink out What I really want y’all to know is that I promise not to discriminate against you on the basis of either your sexuality or your cis-gender Your heterosexuality You may not have ever heard about Mapas but, now you have While the language around gender-identity has evolved to include more people, to those unfamiliar with these terms it can be difficult to grasp How do you feel about them leaving the environment that you’ve quite carefully created for them There is a big bad world out there and the prospect of Mika in particular being bullied because of their gender expression Of course, I don’t want them bullied, and of course it scares the hell out of me But I think that they have the tools to deal with it, and we talked about it My job is to create the framework from which they feel safe and they can go out from but a lot of people would say you’re deliberately bringing up your child to not fit in with the norm and that could be dangerous for them. What would you say to that? Would say, “you’re absolutely right.” People raise their children to be just like them. So we’re doing nothing different We’re absolutely ordinary in that way Let me just say They are both assigned male at birth. They’re both white They’re both able bodied. They’re intelligent They’ve got a full knapsack of privileges So if they have to deal with a little bit of discomfort because they have a mapa or because their gender expression doesn’t match what other people think it should be Gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress It sounds like from some of what you said you’re kind of trying to bring them up with an antidote for the amount of privilege they’ve been born with I don’t want to strip them of their unearned privilege I think a lot of the social problems we have in the world are down to the streaming that we force boys this way and girls this way Some of us have escaped those systems of regulation after my time in Sweden I found that while adults have strong ideas about gender Mika and kids their age but still working out what gender means to them The norms we have about the binary won’t change overnight But if kids would truly be given room to explore gender on their own terms Maybe a more fluid gender identity would gradually become more acceptable Wow! What about this? Wheeee! It’s exhausting Faster