An LGBTQ+ Therapist Weighs In on Jesse Sullivan's Approach to Parenting and Pronouns

When Jesse Sullivan and Francesca Farago shared their pregnancy news on March 31, it was no coincidence the announcement also fell on Trans Day of Visibility. Sullivan, who came out as transgender when he was 19, has been documenting his and Farago's journey with IVF treatments on social media for months.

"We're pregnant! It's been such a struggle to get here, but we felt like TDOV was the perfect day to let you all in on our celebration," Sullivan wrote in the caption of the TikTok announcement. "Thank you for following our journey, and here's to more trans joy!"

Even though Sullivan already parents his 15-year-old child Arlo, there has since been an onslaught of questions about how Sullivan and Farago will raise their child, including what gender pronouns they will use for the baby.

"When they are babies, will you say he/him or she/her or what?" one TikTok commenter asked. In response, Sullivan shared his thoughts in a viral video that has already been viewed more than 1.7 million times.

"Let's say we have a child who is male; his chromosomes are XY and he's assigned male at birth. I will go ahead and use he/him, but this is where my parenting differs. I'm not going to put these expectations on him or her based on those pronouns or however they're assigned at birth," Sullivan says in the video. "I don't think there's anything wrong with having a daughter and calling her she/her until she decides otherwise. I think what is wrong is that when you make them boxed in based on those pronouns."

For Sullivan, this means he won't make his daughter do the dishes or his son take out the trash; he won't tell his son it's not OK to cry or tell his daughter what a great mother she'll be one day. "Essentially, I'm going to raise my kids to be great people no matter what," Sullivan added.

Many people in the comment section showed support for Sullivan's take on parenting, and LGBTQ+ therapist Natasha Camille, LCSW, also agreed with the approach. "Jesse's video provided an important perspective on how people can parent in a way that fosters their children's ability to feel safe and encouraged to explore all aspects of themselves, including gender," Camille says.

Below, Camille shares more about Sullivan's take and what parents can do as they navigate these same decisions with their own children.

How to Navigate Gender Pronouns For Your Children

Sullivan's parenting style is also known as blank-slate parenting, a term Camille says is popular in the LGBTQ+ community. As Sullivan describes in the TikTok, blank-slate parenting is what happens when you give your child a blank slate to discover who they are without forcing gender stereotypes or norms on them.

"It calls for parents to relinquish any assumptions and expectations that they may be holding onto as they enter into parenthood, because these assumptions and expectations could later be harmful to their child," Camille adds.

But this isn't the only "right" way to handle gender pronouns while parenting. In fact, Camille says it doesn't matter what pronouns you decide to use "as long as the parents are open to the fact that one day this child may discover that whatever pronouns you've been using for them doesn't feel affirming of their gender."

They also add it's important parents remain "dedicated" to not boxing their children into particular gender norms. For parents, the process starts by assessing your own relationship with gender growing up. As Camille puts it: "Parents would benefit from reflecting on how they learned about gender roles and norms during their own upbringings. We need to be questioning why it was so important for us to play with certain toys or wear certain colors."

Camille suggests doing this through therapy or by writing down your thoughts and experiences in a journal. Once you have a general understanding of how arbitrary gender is, you can use this experience to ensure you're not projecting gender expectations onto your child, Camille adds.

Additionally, as Sullivan mentions in the TikTok, a good way of trying to help your child not get boxed into gender stereotypes involves exposing them to many different activities, toys, and entertainment, regardless of their gender. This includes having them try out various household chores, sports, colors, clothes, and more.

Whether you decide to practice Sullivan's blank-slate approach or not, know that there's no right or wrong way to navigate these conversations. According to Camille, what's most important is allowing your child to express their interests and desires to you. "Foster a relationship in which your child can feel safe to share anything with you," they say.

Taylor Andrews is a Balance editor at POPSUGAR who specializes in topics relating to sex, relationships, dating, sexual health, mental health, and more. In her six years working in editorial, she's written about how semen is digested, why sex aftercare is the move, and how the overturn of Roe killed situationships.