Way back in 1978, when sexual politics were even more regressive and repressive than they are now, feminist author Lois Gould (1931-2002) published her one and only book for children: X: A Fabulous Child’s Story. The title came from a short story Gould had originally published in Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine in 1972 about a young child, X, being raised without gender as part of an expensive and secretive scientific experiment. Far ahead of its time, Gould’s story is exactly the kind of unusual children’s literature that might stick in the minds of readers for decades. Now, 44 years after its initial publication, Gould’s tale has been adapted as an animated short called Baby X, directed by Brendan Bradley, a multi-hyphenate from North Carolina whose resumé includes appearances on NCIS, The Wizards Of Waverly Place, and Elementary.
Replicating the look of a nicely aged ’70s kids book with its eye-pleasing line drawings and limited color scheme, the 11-minute Baby X relates the adventures of a spirited and enthusiastic child named X who identifies neither as male nor female. When necessary, the narrator eschews gender-specific pronouns like “he” and “she” and refers instead to the child as “it.” Most of the plot centers around X’s schooling. At first, as viewers can well imagine, a highly unusual child like X is a cause of much consternation among students and faculty members, all of whom are accustomed to using traditional gender labels to identify and classify one another. But X is such a force of nature, exceeding in a variety of tasks, that the school begins to conform to the child rather than the other way around. X’s journey is not without hardship, but this is ultimately about an individual’s triumph over an institution. Although originally conceived when Richard Nixon was still in the White House, this story remains incredibly topical today, as evidenced by headlines emerging from the director’s own home state.