By Liana Jacob
MEET the family following the GENDER-NEUTRAL philosophy of parenting with their son dressing in ‘feminine’ clothes despite strangers asking if they’re SCARED their son will turn out GAY.
Stay-at-home-mum-of-three, Christina Hise-Johnson (35), from Indiana, USA, and her husband, Josh (39), have agreed to raise their children to be who they want to be without the societal gender labels.
Their son, Chandler (5), who is now home-schooled, was just two-years-old when he begged them to buy him a pair of pink shoes to which his parents agreed happily. It started from small possessions such as bowls, shoes, and now Chandler prefers to shop in the ‘girl’ section of shops with the complete support of his parents.
Despite being brought up in a caring household, the family receive some negative comments from strangers; some question Christina over their son’s lifestyle and some mistake him for a girl.
“We are asked questions like: ‘aren’t you scared he’s going to be gay?’ or ‘why would you let your boy dress like a girl?’ and ‘what is he wearing?’,” Christina said.
“I have had people tell me how beautiful our little girl is and when they find out he’s a boy they shake their heads and walk away.
“Those comments we respond to with understanding; if it is a child asking those questions, we ask the child what colour they like, then we ask if they like a rainbow because let’s face it everyone loves a rainbow.
“Then we explain that clothes are just clothes and colours are just colours, and everyone is unique, so we can all like what we like.
“Adults are a little different; we ask them what they like, whatever that is I use that and ask how it would feel if they weren’t allowed to like that thing.
“We will often at times ask if they have kids and if they do, we ask if that child has a favourite colour or show? Then we ask if they let that child get things in that colour or character. If the answer is yes, we ask why our child doesn’t deserve that same experience.
“Gender neutral parenting for us is allowing our children to make choices based on things that interest them.
“We do not limit those interests based on what the media says is ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ related. We teach that clothes, colours, and activities are not gender related.
“We allow our children to express themselves from an early age; we allow them to play with toys because they like them, we allow them to choose hair styles based on what they like.
“We do not put unrealistic gender roles on our children. We are not fans of the saying, ‘boys will be boys’. We do not believe that your gender is a reason to act a certain way.
“We want our children to always be allowed to be who they are and not who society or anyone else says they should be.
“Growing up I watched as friends were forced to play certain sports because that’s what their parents played, I watched as my friends were forced to hide who they were because of fear of judgement.
“We want our kids to always be able to be firm in who they are and know that they come from a secure and strong foundation.”
Growing up, Chandler has watched his brother and sister dress in the clothes that they liked and the freedom they had provided a safe space for him to express himself.
Christina and Josh have a daughter named Ashley (19), who grew up as a girly girl, but when she was older, she began to dress more like a boy in society’s terms. Her brother Jacob (14), went through a phase of growing his hair long and had pierced ears at the age of 12.
Due to his choices, Chandler has received some negative responses for his style.
“When taking Chan to a birthday party, he was called a girl, and he was told that he was gay (He is only five). I don’t understand how people associate sexual orientation with a five-year-old, but that’s the way of the world,” Christina said.
“There have been times at the park, he’s been called mean names. Really most of the comments and looks come from adults.
“We live in a little town in Indiana that is very conservative. There have been a few people that support what we are doing and embrace it and we do love those people for it.
“Our middle son loves that Chandler expresses himself; he encourages him to get things that he likes and make him feel good.
“The benefit of gender-neutral parenting is that our children will be able to feel good in their skin from an early age and be able to just grow in that.
“I know that it took me until my early thirties to really feel good in my own skin and I don’t want that for my children.
“We are home-schooling Chandler this year, but he has a group of pretty awesome friends that have never even questioned his choices.
“Often times he will have the same outfits as his ‘little girlfriends’ as he calls them. He doesn’t hangout with little boys very often.
“We believe that ‘what works in our house doesn’t have to work in your house, and what works in your house doesn’t have to work in our house’.
“We do not think that people have to agree with us, but we just hope people learn to respect others and their choices.
“I see it now that our children are more open to people that are different and often do not even notice the differences.
“We believe that being exposed to everything and being allowed to try different things, allows our children to be open to new ideas and interests. It levels the playing field with less stereotypes.
“We hope that by putting our story out there that people will be more open and allow children to be children and that this will hopefully trickle to people being just people.
“By getting our story out there maybe other families that are going through the struggles and victories that we go through will know they aren’t alone.”