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"I Want Her to Feel the Freedom to Just Be"—a Mom on Raising a Gender-Free Child

by Sacha Strebe

It's impossible to describe the boundless, wild, and untamed love you feel for your child. The moment this tiny human enters the world, your heart practically bursts inside your chest. As it pounds up against your rib cage, it almost feels like it's doubled in size, and that's almost true. Because now it doesn't just beat for you; it beats for two. Los Angeles–based actor, model, designer, and devoted mom to 9-year-old Arlo, Jesse Sullivan knows that feeling intimately.

"I define love as the ultimate release of ego," she tells me. "I think love is seen in the moments when we'd normally put ourselves first, yet it fills us up and makes us act selflessly. When you're a parent, this is intensified because you feel a love for your child that doesn't compare to anything else. All of a sudden, you realize you'd give your last dollar, the last sip of water, or last breath to that child." While most parents can identify with this sentiment, there is a deeper bond and spiritual connection between Jesse and Arlo that inspired us to share and celebrate their modern love story.

While they still use female pronouns for "convenience purposes" both Jesse and Arlo identify as gender fluid. "I sort of leave Arlo to be whoever she wants to be and guide her with a gentle hand along the way," she says. "If Arlo woke up tomorrow and said, Mom, I want to become a Buddhist, I would reply with, Okay, let's do some research. So I try not to set standards that are absolute in our house because I believe it creates too much room for the feeling of inadequacy. I try to leave the world as an open book, and if she makes a decision about something, I want her to be informed."

While raising Arlo as nonbinary in a world that asks us to check a single box hasn't been without its challenges, it's also been incredibly rewarding. Over 170,000 people are in awe of their indelible bond on Instagram and applaud her for starting a conversation about parenting and gender fluidity that's still widely misunderstood.

So for our inaugural Love Issue, we share this special story and how their genderless approach to family life will change the world. Because, as Brené Brown wrote in her wholehearted parenting manifesto, "who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting." Everyone, meet Jesse and Arlo, and learn about their incredible story, as told to Sacha Strebe.

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