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Literature / X: A Fabulous Child’s Story

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"Other children have to obey the silly boy/girl rules because their parents taught them to. Lucky X, you don't have to stick to the rules at all. All you have to do is be yourself. P.S. We're not saying it will be easy."

X: A Fabulous Child’s Story is a 1972 Short Story written by feminist author Lois Gould for Ms Magazine, later published under Children's Literature in 1978. The story would later be adapted into an 11-minute animated short in 2016 under the title Baby X, directed by Brendan Bradley and featuring vocal talent such as Yuri Lowenthal and Matthew Mercer.

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The story is about a child named "X" who, as part of a scientific xperiment titled "Project Baby X", is born without a strict gender identity — whether or not X is "he" or "she" is kept top-secret by the team of scientists and xperts behind the project and X's adoptive parents, the Joneses. For the first few years of X's life, the Joneses raise their little X free of gender-specific xpectations and limitations, as per their Official Instruction Manual, but it's unfortunately very clear to them that society has no tolerance for a child who cannot conform to their norms, especially when X starts school.


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This story provides xamples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Thanks to X's upbringing, X manages to xcel at a multitude of activities; the Spelling Bee, the boy's relay race, the girl's baking contest... well, X messed the last one up by forgetting to light the oven, but doesn't let that bother X'self. More importantly, the fact that X unabashedly enjoys X'self, win or lose, boy or girl, is what inspires the other kids to follow X's example.
  • Adult Fear: The Joneses are understandably worried for X when everyone around them refuses to give X the time of day for not being defined as "boy" or "girl", especially so when the Parent's Association demands an examination to have X conform or be expelled.
  • An Aesop:
    • Gender roles are ultimately pointless restrictions in the grade scheme of things.
    • Being happy with who you are is far more important having a neat label for what you are.
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    • When faced with something that doesn't make sense to you, it's better for everyone to put forth the effort to understand it rather than railing against it.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Played With; the other kids at school shun X at first, but quickly get swayed by X's Blithe Spirit the next day. Their parents, on the other hand...
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: X does have a gender, but it'll remain a secret until the time is right, the point being that it shouldn't be made into such a big deal.
  • Big Bad: The Parent's Association are dead-set on stopping X's Blithe Spirit.
  • Blithe Spirit: X's complete and total security with X'self is what convinces the other kids to stop following gender roles. After all, if X can enjoy both boy and girl things, that means X can have twice as much fun, right?
  • Children Are Innocent: Double Subverted; the other kids mock X at first, being seeing X indulge in boy and girl activities with X's head held high convinces them to do the same, since it allows for twice as many fun activities available to them.
  • Exact Words: The Parent's Association agreed to accept the results of X's examination without fuss, so when the experts ruled that X doesn't to need to follow boy/girl rules to be well-adjusted, they just have to suck it up despite their displeasure.
  • First Day of School Episode: The moment when X is personally confronted with society's gender norms.
  • Good Parents: The Joneses love their little X dearly and do their best to raise X without gender-specific expectations, which clearly pays off in the end.
  • I Am What I Am: This is what proves that X doesn't have an identity problem and can live happily without the labels of "boy" or "girl".
  • Iconic Outfit: X's red-and-white checkered overalls. The other kids start wearing the same when they start rejecting gender norms.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Subverted; the story defaults to "it" pronouns to refer to X in lieu of "he" or "she", but as the rest of the story should tell you, it's not at all meant to be dehumanizing.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: X's influence encourages the other kids to to start enjoying things meant for the other gender. Susie starts playing on the monkey bars, Jim starts playing with his sister's dolls, the twins Joe and Peggy begin trading their usual toys, interests, and chores, proving to better at their new non-traditional activities.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Whenever asked whether their child is a boy or girl, the Joneses smile and reply "it's an X!" Alas, this is seldom a satisfactory answer. When all of X's friends ask the same question about X's new baby sibling, X replies "Don't you know? it's a Y!"
  • Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty: Defied, as per the experiment. The Joneses must never tell X that she shouldn't climb rocks and get dirty, or that he shouldn't cry from injury.
  • Moral Guardians: The Parent's Association proves to be very strict about having boys and girls adhere to normative gender traditions, talent and personal happiness be damned.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • The teacher at X's school agrees to make small adjustments for X, such as having his students line up alphabetically instead of by boy/girl, and allows X to use the principal's bathroom in avoidance of a potential "Which Restroom" Dilemma.
    • The experts at X's examination decree that X, and by proxy X's friends, shouldn't be forced to follow boy/girl rules when they're well-adjusted and fine without them.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: A child is born and raised without adherence to the gender binary as part of a top-secret scientific experiment, complete with a several-thousand page Official Instruction Manual.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • The Joneses' first major hurdle when providing for their gender-neutral child: what do they give X when all of the children's clothes and toys are gender-specific? The Official Instruction Manual firmly recommends that they "buy plenty of everything".
    • When the Parent's Association demands that X go through a rigorous xamination, their xpected outcomes for X are either to be determined as a boy or girl and expected to conform as such, or be labeled as a "mixed-up misfit" and xpelled. X ultimately affirms to be neither boy or girl, and is simply too secure and well-adjusted to be considered a "mixed-up misfit" either.
  • Tears of Joy: The experts at X's examination shed these when marveled by X's self-security in spite of being neither boy or girl.
  • Wham Line:
    In our opinion, young X here... is just about the least mixed-up child we've ever examined!
  • "X" Makes Anything Cool: Although we probably wouldn't recommend using it to name your own non-binary child.

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