Family where mum is daddy, dad is mummy and son, 4, is being raised as gender neutral
Star Cloud’s mum is Louise, who was born a man but is transitioning to become a woman, while dad is pansexual Nikki, born a woman but who dresses some days as male
Parents Louise and Nikki Draven are raising Britain’s first gender-fluid family, bringing up their four-year-old son Star Cloud to “not get hung up” on being a boy.
Star’s mum is Louise, who was born a man but having hormone treatment ready to fully transition to a woman.
Nikki, 30, says: “Neither of us gets hung up on the gender we were born as.
Star is being brought up as gender neutral – told by his parents he is “a person” rather than “a boy”. He is free to wear make-up, paint his nails, pick out boys’ or girls’ clothes and play with dolls.
He will go to school for the first time in September wearing a boy’s uniform – but with pink vest and socks that he has chosen for the occasion.
And the youngster himself says he might grow up to be a man or a woman.
But Nikki and Louise’s approach is likely to spark a national debate – on whether the urge not to force his birth gender on Star is projecting their own issues, denying him his true identity.
Former pub bouncer Nikki says: “We want to give him the confidence to be who he wants – growing up, we didn’t have that.
“We never tell Star he’s a boy, we tell him he can be whatever he wants. We don’t buy gender specific toys or clothes and we let him choose what he wears. Pink is one of his favourite colours.
“He loves wearing leggings and, because of his name, he loves clothes with star patterns on.
“He loves Barbie dolls, dressing up and fairies – but he also likes toys considered as boys’, such as cars.
“We use the words ‘he’ and ‘him’ but don’t make any kind of big deal out of him being one sex or the other.”
Mum Louise is Star’s biological father, while Nikki – who Star calls Daddy – is actually his birth mother.
Nikki says Star “chose” which of his parents would be which by saying his first word, “Da-da”, and allowing her to lift him out of his cot rather than Louise.
As Star plays on the floor at home in Middlesborough, he is surrounded by cars, pink teddy bears and dolls.
His long-dark hair falls down his back and he wears pink dotty socks, unisex jeans and braces.
Asked by our reporter if he is a boy or a girl, he says he is a boy. But he changes his answer when Nikki interjects with: “Or are you just a person?”
Louise, 31, has lived as female since a year before Star was born, having felt she was a girl from the age of eight.
She adds: “We don’t tell him who to be. We let him lead us.”
Nikki says: “When we took Star shopping for his school uniform we knew he’d need male underwear because it’s more appropriate for his shape. But he chose pink socks and vests and we’re more than happy for him to go like that.”
As they get ready for a visit to the park, Louise is dressed in flared 1950s-style polka-dot skirt with platform shoes and Nikki wears a tie-dye dress complementing Star’s multi-coloured T-shirt.
The couple admit they draw stares. A fortnight ago a driver shouted abuse at Louise, telling her: “I’d cut my throat if I looked like you.”
Nikki says: “It was worse when Star was small and Louise was first transitioning because people would point, stare and laugh.
“Sometimes they’d even follow us shouting insults. I’m not easily intimated because I was a bouncer in a gay bar, but Lou found it really upsetting.”
Yet they do not let fear of bullying stop them encouraging their son to step outside the boundaries. Nikki admits: “Star is only in nursery but has already been put under pressure by other children. He came home the other day saying, ‘I can’t play with dolls – they’re for girls’.
“We sat him down and explained that anyone can play with dolls and that it’s good practice for when he grows up and is a daddy. He said, ‘I might not be a daddy – I might be a mammy!
“When we decided to raise Star as gender fluid we talked about things like other children’s attitudes.
“Of course we had doubts – what would other people say, what trouble could it cause, would our son be bullied?
“But then we realised children always find a reason to bully other kids.
“When one boy told him he looks like a girl, Star told them he looked like the comic book hero Aquaman.”
Their child-rearing techniques are in line with advice from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in London, a centre for psychological well-being, with a dedicated Gender Identity Development Service.
It recommends parents support younger children “to safely explore their interests, allegiances and preferred activities, whilst keeping a range of options open to them.”
It adds they should keep “an open mind about how a child’s interests and identity might develop over time.”
Nikki says staff at Star’s new school have been supportive in talks about his gender-neutrality. “They’ve said they want to do whatever they can to help. They seem quite pleased to have an inclusive family.”
Star himself seems a happy, chatty, rounded child who jumps from chair to chair as his parents talk – before beating up an oversized Paddington Bear and using a walking stick as a “Nerf gun” to beat up Nikki.
He says his favourite toys at nursery are Lego, cars and planes, and he provokes laughter by pointing at Nikki’s breasts, shouting: “Daddy’s boobies”.
Nikki identified as lesbian when she first met Louise, who was then male, at an LGBT meeting in 2011. They wed in a Pagan ceremony in January 2012.
Nikki says: “I don’t fall in love with someone because they’re male or female. It doesn’t matter to me what they’ve got between their legs.
“It’s the mind, personality and soul I fall in love with, not the body.” She identifies as pansexual and dresses masculine some days, while on others she will wear “high heels, a padded bra and lipstick.”
Louise is not close to her parents, but Nikki’s parents, Liz and Bob, at first found their decision to raise Star as gender neutral “difficult”. They urged them to bring him up “more traditionally”. Nikki recalls: “They’d ask why we didn’t dress him in blue and buy him boys’ toys.
“But they see now he’s such a happy, free child. Mum said Santa’s bringing him a pink bike for Christmas.”
The couple say they like to take Star shopping to choose his own toys “whether it be a train set or a doll.”
A year after Star’s birth they lost a second son, who died of a kidney problem at 21 weeks. They have since had a doll created from a picture of him, which Star often plays with.
Louise watches him play and says: “He’s happy, he’s healthy, we love him – and that’s the most important thing.
“Some people don’t care for their children at all. I’d rather Star was wearing a pink coat that he’s chosen himself than no coat at all.”
Study shows fluidity can boost child’s self asteem, says psychologist Dr Glen Mason
There’s a lot of debate around whether bringing up your child to be gender neutral is the right thing to do.
A lot of research in this area has come back saying it’s good that we’re not boxing children off into stereotypical male/female roles.
Some research even says that bringing a child up in this way can improve their self-esteem and their ability to express themselves.
Gender fluidity is all about trying to create an environment of acceptability, one where you can be who you want to be.
As a young boy you might have remembered playing with dolls and being told: “Girls play with dolls”.
Is there anything wrong with boys playing with dolls? Absolutely not.
It’s letting that child be creative and connect to whatever type of play they wish to connect with.
Just because someone is raised in a gender neutral environment it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to lead to issues around their gender identity.
It is much more complex than that – there are many environmental and genetic factors.
As for the possible downsides, any type of difference could allow bullying to creep in.
But it’s lovely when a school is involved because it can open up communication around acceptance.
That too can open up wider conversations around the likes of sexuality and of same-sex parenting.
Above all, the most important thing is to make sure a child knows they’re loved, and that they’re brought up in a compassionate and loving environment.
There are so many more issues than gender neutrality in a family home which make sure a child has a good upbringing.
It’s wonderful but not for all, says Sunday Mirror agony aunt Anne Diamond
I am shocking myself here but I actually think this is wonderful, even if not for everyone. What most impresses me is what great parents this couple are.
Having had complex back-stories themselves, they have really thought about how to raise Star responsibly, without often sinister gender stereotyping.
The pink and blue thing has always offended me. One of my sons once asked for a play ironing board for Christmas because he really liked the one at his nursery. I went ahead and got him one.
I applaud letting your kids do their own thing. Just one worry: Could raising a kid as “gender fluid” actually be gender denial? As a girl and then a woman, I have always embraced my femininity.
One’s gender can be something worth celebrating but only if you feel happy with it. Plus kids need to fit in with their peers. Will Star ever?
It amounts to abuse, says Ria Cooper, Britain’s youngest transgender patient at 15
Some people assume I would agree with gender fluidity but I think what the parents are doing amounts to abuse. It is very confusing for a child to be told they are neither a boy nor a girl.
If your baby is born a boy but you’re telling him he’s gender fluid you risk making him think there is something wrong with being a boy or with being a girl.
You know if you are born female or male. Every child should know that. I certainly knew.
If you come to the realisation on your own that you’re transgender and you want to transition then parents should be supportive.
But to bring a child up as gender fluid just because of your own gender issues is selfish.
It’s one thing to be liberal and to let your child be themselves if they say they feel in the wrong body, but you’re confusing your child by suggesting that it’s normal for gender to be a choice.