Out in the Open

'I used to think that babies were born a girl or a boy': Why some parents are raising kids undefined by gender

When Bobby McCullough and his partner became new parents, they chose not to assign their child a gender. Bobby speaks with Piya about why the couple made the decision, and how loved ones and strangers have reacted to their gender-open parenting approach.

Bobby McCullough and his partner chose not to assign their child a gender at birth

Bobby McCullough and his partner Lesley Fleishman are raising their child without a prescribed gender. (Submitted by Bobby McCullough)

Bobby McCullough and his partner Lesley Fleishman believe that in order for their newborn child to have the best possible life, their baby should be raised without a prescribed gender.

"We want to raise our child the best we can, and this is that," McCullough told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay, "I would never assume anybody's sex or gender identity based on their anatomy."

The couple from Brooklyn was initially inspired by the story of a British Columbia parent who fought to omit their child's sex on their birth certificate.

"I was immediately kind of transformed. I just kind of realized that I could take the values that I already had with adults, and apply them to infants," explained McCullough.

In Ontario, people can currently choose between "M" for male, "F" for female and "X" for non-binary on their birth certificates. They can also opt not to display a sex designation at all. Gender-neutral birth certificates are also available in British Columbia, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and in the Northwest Territories.

'We put these kids in boxes'

Lesley Fleishman, with her one-year-old baby, Sojourner Wildfire. (Submitted by Bobby McCullough)

McCullough and his partner are part of a small but growing group of parents who've chosen to buck traditional gender when it comes to raising kids. And although the couple has done their best to explain to loved ones and family members the reasoning behind their decision, it has at times been difficult.

"We really had to start at square one and explain to some of our folks [the concept of] gender as a spectrum, not everybody is female or male, and then also explaining, 'Hey, we're also going to be using they/them pronouns,'" McCullough said.

Regardless of who supports them or doesn't, McCullough believes that gender and sex go far beyond the existing binary system.

I used to think that a baby was born a girl or a boy. I had to learn.- Bobby McCullough

"The gender inequality that we see in adults starts off really, really young. We put these kids in boxes. We say, 'You're a girl, you're a boy, these are the things you can do, these are the things you can wear.' And I think it really prohibits people from becoming who they really are," said McCullough.

And although his one-year-old, Sojourner Wildfire, is still too young to understand the concept of gender, McCullough hopes they are learning that they can be whoever they want to be, and that their parents will respect and support them.

"I used to think that a baby was born a girl or a boy. I had to learn. So I try to not forget that, and try to put myself in the place of other people that just haven't been exposed to this," McCullough said.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Whither Gender?"


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?