We live in a society where gender reveal parties go viral on a weekly basis. Seeing pink or blue can make a family erupt in cheers or tears, but not all parents are excited about these kinds of celebrations.
Whitneé and J. Garrett-Walker are mothers who have decided to raise their child free of the gender binary. Married since 2016, the couple decided to start a family in 2019, which deepened their talks about possible parenting styles.
“We had all these conversations about how we would parent or how we wouldn't parent and what types of things we wanted to do differently that maybe our parents did or didn't do,” J tells Yahoo Life. “The conversation about gender didn't happen until much later in the pregnancy. And then I kind of sprung it on her and I was like, ‘Hey, I don't think we should tell anyone the sex of the baby.’”
The couple had already decided to be surprised by the baby's sex at birth, but Whitneé was initially thrown by J’s suggestion. She was excited to share the baby’s sex with her family, and the two had deep discussions about how this would work. “We had to figure out how we come to a balance of what was comfortable for me and what was comfortable for her,” says Whitneé.
For J, her suggestion that they take the emphasis off of gender was inspired by her own experiences.
“As a person who's gender non-conforming, I think that did influence my decision to have this conversation with my wife before the baby was born, because people put so many gendered expectations on children. There were a lot of gendered expectations placed on me as a young child,” says J. “Even as I went into adulthood, and at the juncture which I started to deviate from the expected gender expectations, people had a lot of thoughts and feelings about that. For me, I felt like I didn't want my child to have to go through that.”
The couple came to an agreement to keep the digital footprint of their child to a minimum, not revealing their face or assigning a gender on social media. The mothers chose to use they/them pronouns for their child, and also agreed not to share the sex assigned at birth with anyone outside of close family members. In February 2020, Whitneé and J welcomed their child, Cadence. Their name was chosen because it was gender inclusive and most importantly, it was the only name both moms 100 percent agreed on!
While most people in their lives have accepted their choice, the couple has encountered some pushback. At Cadence’s baby shower, J made a poster to explain their process of conception, and why they were choosing to use they/them pronouns.
“We tried to do our best to educate folks a great deal ahead of time. And it still didn't keep us from a lot of the interesting responses,” says Whitneé.
"For the folks who don’t use they/them pronouns and they're part of our family, it's not that big of a deal to us. But what is a big deal to us is when they try to box Cadence in and say —because you were born with X, because you were born assigned X at birth, you can only do this. So if Cadence was assigned female at birth, you're going to be a ballerina or you're going to be a whatever. No, Cadence can do whatever they want to do.”
Whitneé and J chronicle their marriage and motherhood on their Instagram, Queering Black Love. They’ve encountered support and critics of their choice to raise Cadence outside of the gender binary, but as a PhD and developmental psychologist, J sees some of these interactions as teachable moments.
“One person on Instagram was like, 'It's obvious that Cadence is a girl.' And I was like, oh, so how's it obvious?” J recalls. “As a person who teaches gender and sexuality, I want to challenge you to answer the question of what markers have been shown to you to make you think that Cadence is a girl?"
According to the Mayo Clinic, most children start to define their gender for themselves around the age of 3. As Cadence approaches 18 months, their moms have enjoyed watching them grow into themselves, free of gender stereotypes.
“It’s been really interesting to watch Cadence gravitate towards certain things, develop certain mannerisms, not developed some mannerisms, and just be free to be whatever they want," says Whitneé. “Taking a step back to parent our child in this way..it really is parenting for liberation."
As Cadence grows, their mothers want to keep the lines of communication open. J and Whitneé plan to let Cadence know their sex assigned at birth, but will love and accept them however they identify.
“You do not need to fit into that very limited box. You are free to be who you want to be. However that looks for you, just make sure that you are honest and true to yourself,” says J.
Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove
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