WINTER PARK, Fla. — Sparrow, the little "theybe" from Florida instantly became famous in 2019 after 10 Tampa Bay introduced the world to the gender-neutral parenting phenomenon.
"Theybies" are babies being raised without known genders. The word is a play on the word "they" derived from the idea that the child would use they/them pronouns, a gender-neutral alternative to she/her or he/him.
Sparrow's family intended to shield their biological sex from the outside world even going so far as to only allow trusted caregivers to change diapers.
So...why do this?
Arlo Dennis, who recently changed their own name after our 2019 interview, wanted Sparrow to explore gender without stereotypes. Four years later, the parenting approach is still going strong.
Dennis said the family lets Sparrow lead the way. Like many 4-year-olds, the child is busy exploring and discovering new things about the world around them.
The topic of gender comes up on Sparrow's terms, and Dennis says the adults are there to offer age-appropriate answers.
"In our home, they're really just allowed to do whatever feels good to them so they're still using they/them but sometimes they'll be like, uh, maybe, I want to be a girl and I'm like what does a girl mean to you? And their answers are always different," said Dennis, who admits they don't have all the answers and instead has embraced learning as they go.
"We use they/them because we don’t want to make an assumption, but at the same time we are comfortable with other people guessing and doing whatever they want pronoun-wise when interacting with our child because it actually gives them the opportunities to know what it feels like to be interacted with in different ways," said Dennis.
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Although it works for now, kindergarten is in the not too distant future; and the gender divide in schools might be inevitable.
"I'm really hoping Sparrow will be empowered enough to be like, I feel like a girl so I'm going to do the girl line or I feel like a boy and I'm going to do the boy line, or I feel like I'm Sparrow so I'm going to pick the line that works for me," said Dennis.
Dennis decided to take this parenting approach after their own journey with gender. Arlo Dennis is non-binary and uses they, them pronouns.
Pronouns have become a bit more front and center in recent years. Maybe you've seen them listed in someone's e-mail signature or on their name badge. Some states allow people to pick a gender-neutral option on their driver's license.
Dennis says using someone's preferred pronouns can be euphoric after years of experiencing gender dysphoria.
"It's about how they want to navigate the world and how they want to be perceived by other people," said Dennis, who wants Sparrow to make that discovery on their own terms.
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