Kori Doty was born in the 1980s, when parenting was pursued differently. Kori was assigned female at birth.
“When I was born, a guess was made [about my gender] because nobody knew better than to do that. And that guess was incorrect,” Kori told The Guardian.
Today, Kori identifies as a nonbinary trans person. While they are neither a man nor a woman, their identity is not reflected by their birth sex.
“It caused some amount of complication, upset and harm in my life.”
When becoming a parent in November 2016, Kori didn’t want to handle parenting the old-school way. Kori wanted to raise their child outside the gender binary.
“I’m not prescribing what’s right. I’m not saying they are a girl, or they are a boy, or they are non-binary and therefore it has to be like this,” Kori explained of their child.
“My approach has been: ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t know who they’re going to be or what’s going to be important to them. What’s important to me is that I hold all of the space so that they can figure out who they are with the full menu.”
This method raises a lot of questions for some parents. It’s easy to see why. Gender is ingrained in every area of parenting from conception forward. Kori isn’t trying to reinvent the rules with this parenting style, although they are not the only one subscribed to it. Kori is simply trying to do the best for their child.
“You parent based on who you are and what you believe in the world,” Kori said. “What I believe in the world has led me to a place where of course my kid would have full autonomy of gender.”
Kori’s child, Searyl, enjoys life on their terms. Sea has a pink bike and an aquatic-themed room that includes mermaids and seahorses. Sea enjoy books by LGBTQ+ positive children’s publisher Flamingo Rampant.
“They really love to dance, and they have this idea that dancing well requires a skirt that swishes around,” Kori said.
The idea of gender-autonomous parenting is big thinking. Many who choose the method believe it frees their children from complicated gender biases that plague people of all identities. For example, a 2017 BBC experiment demonstrated parents unconsciously projecting gender stereotypes onto babies and the toys they offered them. The unconscious choice leads to a substantial impact on the babies’ development.
Kori works with the LGBTQ community. Kori says this shift has been many years in the working, though many are just opening their eyes to it now.
“The old way is really cracking. And even people who have had enough privilege to be able to not pay attention to the fact that it needed to crack – even they’re paying attention now,” Kori said.
Kori knows several other parents who are raising kids outside the gender binary.
“In Sea’s peer group of kids in the two-to-four category in our Unitarian church’s family program, maybe half of them have been given full gender autonomy, and another quarter of them, their parents have decided, ‘Yeah, we’re going to use binary pronouns, but also you can be whoever and whatever,'” Kori noted. “So it’s very normalized in our world.”
Kori explained that their conservative Christian parents have embraced them and their child with open arms. Kori believes more people are becoming educated about the way individuals can vary from one another.
“I’ve definitely had people say, ‘Oh, I’ve never come across [a non-binary child] before,’ or, ‘You can’t expect me to get [their pronouns] right all the time,'” Kori said.
“And they get it right more than they think they will. It’s not as complicated as people like to think it is.”
Of course, some parents who are open to the parenting style worry if it will single their children out for bullying. Kori hasn’t experienced that with Sea yet. Kori’s not concerned either, as they’ve found kids are usually more adaptable when taught about pronouns and other gender-related subjects than adults can be.
That’s not to say that their unique setup hasn’t drawn attention. In 2017, Sea received a health card with a U marker for Unspecified or Unknown, as opposed to an F for Female or M for Male. It’s believed to be the world’s first, if not one of the earliest, nonbinary IDs.
“The most heartwarming responses were from people who hadn’t put any thought into [gender-autonomous parenting] and who were expecting or had just had kids, and who were taking it into consideration, and trying to implement ways of making sure that their kids felt like they had support and freedom to be their whole selves,” Kori said of the response to the story.
However, Kori also received a lot of hate. “There are people who have felt that [our family] wasn’t just problematic, but was like, the antichrist, or a sign of the end times. I found out that there was a campaign letter written about me by [a fundamentalist Christian activist group] and it was like, you know, ‘We’ll pray for these people because they’re so disillusioned.'”
“I worry for people who have to grow up with that kind of rigidity and control and expectation,” Kori continued.
“I mean, I know that it’s harmful; I grew up that way. Having found my way out, I feel like if anything I will be praying for their children.”
Kori’s hope is that growing up this way will be an empowering experience for Sea. “To be able to [say], ‘Yeah, I like dressing this way,’ or ‘I like playing these games or using these words for myself because it’s what feels good to me and it’s not about anyone else,'” they described.
“That’s how they are about it now – I want that to continue.”