Excessive Heat Warning Issued for West Michigan

‘Let Rian be Rian’: Raising a ‘theyby’ in West Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's the big question after a family learns they're pregnant: is it a boy or a girl?

However, instead of biology dictating the expectations that come with being either, some parents are choosing not to assign their child a gender right away. It’s a small but growing group raising “theybies.”

It’s a choice that’s undoubtedly raising eyebrows, and certainly won’t fit into every family’s lifestyle, but it is working for Jazz and Drea McKinney in Grand Rapids.

By using "they or them" more often "him or her” exclusively, the McKinneys are hoping to free their 4-year-old, Rian, from social expectations based on their sex.

Rian, dressed in spaceship socks, colorful leggings, and a Valentine’s Day sweatshirt during FOX 17’s interview, loves to sing, dance and play games with their friends and family.

The McKinneys describe Rian as kind, loving, smart, and very blunt — basically an average 4-year-old.

Jazz and Drea aren’t new to the parenting scene. They’ve already raised two of their family members, but knew when it was time to have a child of their own, they wanted to do things differently.

“The biggest craze right now is gender reveal parties, you know ‘is it blue or is it pink?’ and that just never felt right to us,” Jazz McKinney said.

The couple found out Rian’s sex while dealing with medical appointments during a high-risk pregnancy. They only told a few close friends and family.

When it came time for their baby shower, they had one rule: no pink or blue gifts. Period.

“Don’t assume anything about our kid, if you want to buy us clothes, buy us all the clothes,” Jazz McKinney said. “There’s nothing wrong with green or tan or yellow.”

Licensed Professional Counselor and Therapist with GR Therapy Group, Kerry Prior, said oftentimes gender and sex get confused for being the same thing, when in fact, they are not.

“Gender tends to be what society says, based on the parts that they’re born with, how we should act,” she said. “Gender is very different than sex, is different than sexuality.”

The goal for theyby parents is to create an early childhood free of gendered ideas of how a child should dress, play, act and be.

Parents taking this approach can be on a spectrum, ranging from not telling anyone,the sex of their child, to still using “he/she” pronouns, but not limiting what toys kids play with or what they wear based on their anatomy.

“Toys are just toys right? They’re not gender-specific necessarily, we impose that on our toys,” Prior said.

The McKinneys say they want just want Rian to be Rian.

“We gave that space to be able to play with trucks, but wear skirts, play in the mud and never really made a big deal out of it,” Drea McKinney said.

It’s all part of self-expression and self-awareness.

“Since they could talk, they said ‘I feel like I’m both a boy and a girl, I feel like I like a lot of boys things, and a lot of girl things,’” Jazz McKinney said of Rian.

Theyby parents will make it clear, they aren’t saying their kids will never establish their gender, but are simply letting the child explore what gender means to them until they decide what they identify with best.

“Science, research, everything has proven that kids know who they are and it’s just getting them to have the language,” Jazz McKinney said.

One big question a lot of people have is if the concept could be confusing to a young child, and if letting them “choose” their gender is too big of a burden to bear?

In short, Prior said kids usually settle into one gender or another before elementary school.

“We will see kids between the ages of 3 and 5, they’re really going to start expressing what preferences they like,” she said.

As far as what long-term effects this could have on a child, Prior said there’s little, to no research about that. However, she said research shows strict gender constructs can have long-term effects on children, both good and not-so-good.

“We can see men who have a more difficult time expressing themselves, to women who are less assertive,” she said.

That may be especially true for people who don’t feel their sex and gender assigned at birth matches up. That's something Ellie Webster, the President of the GR Pride Center, knows too well.

“I knew when I was 5 years old that I was not male. It was always very fake, very much this persona, this mask that I wore all the time,” she said.

Webster, who fully transitioned to becoming a woman about four years ago, said perhaps if she had been raised in a more gender-open environment, she may have avoided decades of depression and suicidal thoughts.

“My relationships with friends suffered, my relationships personally suffered, my job suffered, even just taking care of myself, that suffered,” Webster said.

Webster says accepting her authentic self was the best thing she’s ever done.

“People started treating me as me, and that was a big deal and incredibly freeing.”

The McKinney’s said while they give Rian the freedom to express themselves, Rian doesn’t run the show.

“Our child gets disciplined, very well,” Jazz McKinney said. “They know right from wrong, they know what to do, what not to do.”

Prior cautions parents about some of the challenges they may face.

“If my child is going to go to a traditional preschool, then they’re going to have to make their kids aware, they’re going to have to contact the teachers, and make sure they have a support system,” Prior said.

Prior also said parents may also have to consider other social aspects.

“Teasing, the bullying, things like that is something we’d be concerned about, but at the same time, do we really want to cater to that kind of poor behavior?”

The McKinneys talk to Rian openly about gender pronouns and Rian is very aware of their anatomy. While Jazz and Drea are determined to raise Rian as gender-neutral as possible, that’s not what is most important to them.

“At the end of the day, Rian’s gender is not our focus. At the end of the day we still need to feed Rian, we still need to bathe Rian, we still need to make sure Rian is happy, that’s our focus,” Jazz McKinney said.

Prior isn’t suggesting that every family should give this parenting style a try, acknowledging that it simply isn’t for everyone.

However, she also said there’s no harm in exposing your kids to all different toys, colors and experiences.

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  • Bud

    If parents choose to screw up their children, that’s their prerogative – but don’t sue me if I choose to call your child a ‘he’ or ‘she’ based on whether they have a penis or vagina between their legs because I passed Biology in high school.

  • Slapp

    This is ridiculous not telling a boy he’s a boy or a girl she’s a girl and not to mention expecting schools to make confessions to a whole bunch of delusional people

  • Fed up

    Thanks Fox News for yet another useless story. Articles like this only seek to legitimize trends in bad parenting. So few things are gray in this world, it’s pretty black & white. Gray is made up to cater to delusion and rationalize irrational thinking.

  • Germaine

    NEWS FLASH; Parents do not assign genders to their children. The gender has already been assigned, by GOD. Always has. Always will. No amount of indoctrination can change it. No amount of CRISPER Caste 9 manipulation can change it. Don’t believe in GOD? Alright, the gender of a person is decided by either XX chromosome pairing for a female or XY for a male. There are rare exceptions of a third, additional X or Y but not common. To argue anything else is foolish.

  • J.B.

    Rocky and Bullwinkle raise a baby….
    They really shouldn’t treat the kid like a human being either..
    You know, keep it “Species fluid”.
    The kid might want to be a goose or a platypus.

  • Undecided ;)

    “As far as what long-term effects this could have on a child, Prior said there’s little, to no research about that. However, she said research shows strict gender constructs can have long-term effects on children, both good and not-so-good.”
    There is little to no research?! LOOK AROUND! 7.5 Billion people in this world. The vast majority of them are functioning members of society and functioning members of a sex(male or female). This whole conversation is delusional.

  • Mike

    There are not enough days in the week for the therapy this poor confused kid is gonna need. Negligent parenting like this ought to be against the law. Forcing your own radical extremist agenda on poor innocent children is just shameful. And from the other 12 comments on this news story (as of 2/17/19) it looks like the clear majority of folks are siding with common sense, and rightly condemning these crazy chicks as unfit parents. Then again, anyone whose first name is Jazz or Rian is pretty much doomed to begin with, from having any kind of normal life.

  • Beatrix Vollin

    Their desire to be new age or progressive, or just plain attention whores, could have a devastating and lasting consequences on their little social experiment. Don’t vaccinate it either. This nonsense should be considered child abuse. And it remains to be seen that in the future, it will be. Let the casualties, suicides, pissed off “theybies” with a gun pile up. But their hip, pro free range parents, will be too stupid to see This is all their fault.

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