As a sociologist and faculty member at the University of Utah, Dr. Kyl Myers has spent years studying the social constructs of sex and gender. But there's a next-level quality of practicing what you preach when you decide to apply the notion of "gender creative parenting" to your own child.
Born in 2016, Dr. Myers' child Zoomer has been raised without having a gender defined for others—using "they/them/z" pronouns, and allowing them to explore gender expression without limits. The experience is chronicled in Raising Them, a combination of personal memoir and resource for other parents considering parenting outside of gender binaries. Dr. Myers responded to questions ahead of a virtual author event for the book.
City Weekly: Given your field of study, was gender creative parenting an easy decision, or did you still wrestle with whether it was the right choice?
Kyl Myers: I knew that I wanted to do gender creative parenting years before I got pregnant. My partner and I felt like it was the right decision for our family. That said, I did struggle with not having any role models for parenting this way. Gender creative parents these days have more resources than I did, which can help ease anxieties about what this parenting path is like. (Spoiler: This parenting path is much easier than people assume and incredibly enjoyable and rewarding!)
CW: Did you always know that when you had a child, you wanted to document the experience and provide support for others who might want to make a similar decision?
KM: I felt a sense of responsibility to be a public advocate for gender creative parenting because I myself had so few resources. I figured if I was wishing there were more resources and community, others were probably searching too. I taught Gender and Sexuality at the University of Utah for years, and knew I could provide information about gender creative parenting in an accessible way.
CW: When you told family members how you were planning to raise Zoomer, how did you respond to their concerns, and what advice do you have for other parents for having those difficult conversations?
KM: I had been talking about feminism, and the gender spectrum, and anti-sexism for a long time before I became pregnant, so when I told my family that I planned to do gender creative parenting, the response was generally, "We're not surprised." Even though it wasn't a huge shock, my family had logistical questions, like "What is a gender-neutral term for niece/nephew?" It's nibling. And they had concerns about us being treated poorly by people who didn't agree with our parenting. Which is fair, but we felt like the reward would be worth the risk. I have an incredibly supportive family, which certainly makes parenting this way easier. The early conversations were a little nerve-wracking, but they were necessary to get our family on board before Zoomer was born. ... I took an approach of being proactive and gentle and kind, and I think that really helped.
CW: What have you observed so far in Zoomer's life that most falls in line with what you sort of expected, and what has most surprised you?
KM: Zoomer understands sex and gender in more nuanced ways than most kids (and many adults), and they don't say binary gendered things as much as their peers. That said, parenting this way takes consistent commitment, because I am frequently having to counter stereotypical messaging that is in the media and Zoomer's school and extracurricular activities. Like I expected, Zoomer started identifying with a gender and using some gendered pronouns around their fourth birthday (so they aren't confused about their gender, like some people assumed they would be). What pleasantly surprises me is how Zoomer uses inclusive language and doesn't perpetuate gender stereotypes for themself or others. It goes to show that young children are completely capable of learning to be anti-sexist and more inclusive and equitable.
CW: Have you already had conversations to prepare Zoomer for the realization that other people might think their gender presentation is unusual—kids asking "are you a boy or a girl," for example—and what are some positive ways for parents to deal with those interactions?
KM: I am aware of several times that Zoomer was asked "Are you a boy or a girl?" at preschool. Zoomer would typically respond by saying "I'm Zoomer," or "I'm a person!" and kids were typically content with that answer. ... Zoomer is very well-liked at school, and we're lucky to be in Salt Lake City, where so many parents are committed to accepting their kids for who they are, and teaching their children to be kind and inclusive of people who might be different from them.
I think it's most important to validate your kid, however conforming or non-conforming their gender identity and expression is. I advocate on behalf of Zoomer and all kids who play with gender in ways that aren't as typical to the norm. I compliment boys who wear skirts. I tell girls I love their short hair. All we can do is lead by example and be proactive protectors of all kids.
- Brent Courtney
- Dr. Kyl Myers
DR. KYL MYERS: RAISING THEM
The King's English Bookshop virtual author event
Sept. 8, 6-7 p.m.
Registration required, $28, includes autographed book