The minute you announce your child’s sex you’re bombarded with an endless parade of gender-specific clothing and toys. This blue and pink extravaganza is something I’ve always struggled with. I don’t want my daughter conditioned to be a girly-girl just as I don’t want my son to think that he has to be an athlete. That’s why I find one Canadian couple’s decision to raise their child genderless fascinating.
Storm is 4-months-old. The beautiful baby has adorable chubby cheeks, bright blue eyes and blond hair that could belong to either a boy or a girl. But as the Toronto Star reports, there is nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia. It’s just that Storm’s parents – David Stocker and Kathy Witterick – have chosen not to reveal their child’s gender.
It began as a offhand remark. “Hey, what if we just didn’t tell?” And then Stocker found a book in his school library called X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould. The book, published in 1978, is about raising not a boy or a girl, but X. There’s a happy ending here. Little X — who loved to play football and weave baskets — faces the taunting head on, proving that X is the most well-adjusted child ever examined by “an impartial team of Xperts.”
“It became so compelling it was almost like, How could we not?” says Witterick.
The only people who know are Storm’s two brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, and a couple of family friends including the midwives who delivered Storm. The couple tells Toronto Star reporter Jaymie Poisson, they plan to keep Storm’s sex a secret as long as Storm, Kio and Jazz are comfortable with it.
“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” Witterick says. That’s why she sent the following email to friends and family after Storm was born:
“We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”
Family and friends support the the decision but struggle with how to explain the gender-free baby to others. They also worry the children will be taunted because of their parents’ decision.
So what prompted the Stocker’s unusual decision? The couple says they want to free their children from social norms and the rules of society. Being genderless, they believe, is giving their children the ultimate choice to be who they want to be. Some say the parents decision will backfire and ultimately alienate their children from their peers.
A valid point. The couple has been experimenting with gender identity for years and their 4-year-old, Jazz, is already well-acquainted with the ridicule of those who don’t understand why he has long hair and likes the color pink. Jazz and Kio pick out their own clothes and decide whether or not to cut their hair. Just this week Jazz picked out a pink dress which he says he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom. It feels so nice.” Jazz also keeps his long hair in three braids, two in the front and one in the back. He loves to paint his fingernails. He also wears a sparkly pink stud in one ear. His choice, his parents don’t even wear jewelry or nail polish. Society has conditioned us to think this is feminine behavior that probably means the little boy is “gay”. But stop and think about it. Why is pink a feminine color? Why is nail polish girly? Because society tells us it is. Yet, when you give a child freedom to choose what they want to be, what really is wrong with a boy liking sparkles? They’re sparkly!
Jazz’ younger brother Kio keeps his curly blond hair long too and loves the color purple. “As a result, Jazz and now Kio are almost exclusively assumed to be girls,” says Stocker, adding he and Witterick don’t out them. It’s up to the boys to correct assumptions about their gender.
That may be why the third time around, the Stocker and Witterick figured they could really give their child a blank slate by not sharing his or her gender. “We thought that if we delayed sharing that information, in this case hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messages by the time that Storm decides Storm would like to share,” says Witterick.
On the one hand I applaud the parents’ bravery in confronting a society riddled with gender identity assumptions that pigeon-hole so many of us but, much like the kids’ grandparents, I also wonder whether the social experiment is causing more harm than good to the children. For example, Jazz is old enough to go to school but wants to stay home because the other kids’ reaction to his choice of pink and his long, braided hair upsets him.
Witterick and Stocker admit that there are days when their decisions are exhausting. “We spend more time than we should providing explanations for why we do things this way…I regret that (Jazz) has to discuss his gender before people ask him meaningful questions about what he does and sees in this world, but I don’t think I am responsible for that — the culture that narrowly defines what he should do, wear and look like is.”
I fully believe in supporting gender-creative children. I also think that society makes this virtually impossible from the moment you announce your child’s gender. However, I don’t know that keeping a child’s sex hidden doesn’t hinder the child more than help. As Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist points out, Storm’s parents are denying the child a way to frame himself or herself in a world where you are either male or female, which could do exactly what they’re trying to avoid. “I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them.”
When asked what psychological harm, if any, could come from keeping the sex of a child secret, Dr. Ken Zucker, considered a world expert on gender identity says: “One will find out.”
While I love the concept, I don’t think the benefit outweighs the negative repercussions, at this point and time in the world. Like Madeline Holler over at Strollerderby says, keeping a baby’s gender a secret sounds like a huge pain. Isn’t one of the benefits of having grandparents around is so you can delegate diaper-changing? Also, how does the 2-year-old not spill the beans? I mean, c’mon! You don’t think Grandma and Grandpa have pumped the toddler for info? Regardless, I will definitely stay tuned to see how this family’s journey turns out.
What do you think? Is this couple really onto something or is it just some ridiculous hippie experiment that will ultimately cause their children more problems than gender-stereotyping ever would? Is it that important to know someone’s gender?
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