Monday, May 23, 2011

Canadian Couple Raising Gender-Free Child

It's funny, I don't think I have ever heard of anyone doing this. A Canadian couple had a baby and decided to keep its sex a secret. When this reporter visits, the baby is dressed in red. Why would it matter if a tiny person is male or female? The situation is unsettling in a way that makes you think.
Each week the woman asks the same question about the baby with the squishy cheeks and feathery blond hair.

Witterick smiles, opens her arms wide, comments on the sunny spring day, and keeps walking.

She’s used to it. The neighbours know Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.

While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl. Parents keep child's gender secret

Our language requires us to refer to persons as "him" or "her," "he" or "she." People seem to take offense when you refer to their baby as it -- "So, how often do you change its diapers?" But this couple is encouraging that.
“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

Let's see you argue with that!

If there is any squeamishness here it has to do with the idea of using your kid as a social experiment. It's the way we feel about Skinner raising his baby in a box, it just isn't the way we do things. We have some idea that it is super-easy to screw up a kid's head, but in reality they're pretty durable little buggers. You know kids with two sets of moms and dads, for instance, after a divorce; you know kids with siblings that have different fathers from them, kids with one parent, they manage to survive and grow up to be happy, healthy adults. What matters is whether the child is loved. I have the feeling this kid is going to turn out fine.
When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “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? ...).”

Their announcement was met with stony silence. Then the deluge of criticisms began. Not just about Storm, but about how they were parenting their other two children.

The grandparents were supportive, but resented explaining the gender-free baby to friends and co-workers. They worried the children would be ridiculed. Friends said they were imposing their political and ideological values on a newborn. Most of all, people said they were setting their kids up for a life of bullying in a world that can be cruel to outsiders.

Witterick and Stocker believe they are giving their children the freedom to choose who they want to be, unconstrained by social norms about males and females. Some say their choice is alienating.

It will definitely be interesting. The other kids on the playground might ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?" and Storm might answer, "I don't know." And then what? And then you fight over who's going down the slide next, or you tag the other kid and run away from them, whatever, it doesn't matter if Storm is a boy or a girl.

I just remembered when my kids were little, there was a girl at school with a gender-neutral name, her parents kept her hair short, she wore jeans and t-shirts, played baseball. She was one of my son's best friends, but he wasn't sure if she was a girl or a boy until about fourth or fifth grade. It just didn't matter.
In an age where helicopter parents hover nervously over their kids micromanaging their lives, and tiger moms ferociously push their progeny to get into Harvard, Stocker, 39, and Witterick, 38, believe kids can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very early age.

“What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” says Stocker.

Man, you don't hear enough of that any more! We used to "go out to play" when I was a kid, your parents kicked you out and you ran around with other kids until they called you in for dinner. Now everything is organized, I don't know if kids would even know how to put together a pickup baseball game without grownups telling them what to do, where to stand, what kind of attitude to have.

Skipping down ...
This past winter, the family took a vacation to Cuba with Witterick’s parents. Since they weren’t fluent in Spanish, they flipped a coin at the airport to decide what to tell people. It landed on heads, so for the next week, everyone who asked was told Storm was a boy. The language changed immediately. “What a big, strong boy,” people said.

This article goes on and on, I suggest you follow the link and see what happens.

Like everybody, I have two minds about this. I think it is all right for people to have a secure social structure with norms, roles, scripts we can follow in uncertain situations. At the same time, the social structure has a tendency to tighten around individuals until they feel forced to behave in ways that are unfulfilling, unrewarding, frustrating, hypocritical, false. The daily routine is simplified through a social framework that makes it unnecessary to profoundly contemplate the implications of every little thing you do. It's all right with me if there is something called "normal," life would be chaotic without it.

On the other hand, it is senseless to force people who do not fit the norm to conform to it anyway. And that would be all of us, at some point in our lives, everybody has some unique characteristics that distinguish them from everybody else -- you don't want to discourage that, it's what makes life fun, it's the source of innovation and creativity, it's cool that people are all different. The norms of a society should act as guidelines, not laws. By definition most people will naturally fall in line with a social norm most of the time, and that's how it ought to be. You don't have to force people to be normal.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh well. Everyone will just call it "it." With parents like that, this is the least of its problems.

May 23, 2011 12:50 PM  
Anonymous excellent news said...

WASHINGTON -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) must decide by June 1 whether to sign legislation prohibiting cities in the state from passing anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.

The bill, HB 600/SB 632, would bar local governments from instituting anti-discrimination policies that are stricter than the ones in force at the state level. Under state law, it is not illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. But in Nashville, it is. The new legislation's immediate effect would be to void Nashville's civil rights ordinance.

One of the groups that lobbied in favor of the bill was the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

"Our position is now, and has historically been, that employment standards from the government should be consistent across the state and not create an additional burden on companies that are endeavoring to be competitive and provide jobs to all Tennesseans based on their individual qualifications and merit," the Chamber explained in a statement.

May 23, 2011 7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim Daly, president of the right-wing group Focus on the Family, seems to be waving the white flag on marriage equality. Here's what he told the evangelical Worldmagazine ( in its June issue:

"We're winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage? We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture."

May 23, 2011 9:25 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

There's another anti-gay bill pending in Tennessee, one that "prohibits the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public school grades K-8." Actor George Takei has developed a hilarious response to this pending legislation in Tennessee, the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Teachers! Need to use a different word? Here's George to the rescue - substitute 'Takei' instead!

VIDEO: George Takei vs. Tennessee's "Don't Say Gay" Bill

Takei says the law is premised on the misguided belief that by not talking about gay people, they'll be forced to 'disappear'.

Quips: You can say you're a supporter of 'Takei Marriage', march in a 'Takei Pride Parade' or, at holiday time, sing '....don we now our Takei apparel'.

The Tennessean reports SB 49 bars the discussion of homosexuality in classrooms until high school. Takei is outspoken on gay and lesbian rights and married his husband, Brad Altman in 2008, during the brief window when California permitted same sex couples to wed.

On It' you can select mugs, shirts, hats, buttons or mousepads to show your support.

UPDATE reports "New Wording in 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Elicits Approval by Senate

...But because some of Campfield’s colleagues were uncomfortable with the language used in the proposed legislation, an amendment was written, limiting any instruction or material made available or provided to a public elementary or middle school exclusively to “age-appropriate natural human reproduction science,” according to The Associated Press.

Explaining that the language was fitting because “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce,” Campfield said that the new wording was necessary because the state’s curriculum was unclear on what could be taught..."

May 24, 2011 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie Stevens said...

"It's funny, I don't think I have ever heard of anyone doing this."

Jim, this story from about two years came to my mind right away (I'm sure there are other cases too)...

May 24, 2011 11:20 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Good one, Stephanie, it appears some Swedish people tried something similar.


May 24, 2011 2:10 PM  
Blogger LindaC said...

I'm not sure what to think about the baby, but I have to thank you for your brilliant essay on gender roles!

May 27, 2011 8:13 AM  
Anonymous susan said...

interesting, though the only thing i disagree with is the statement that "we have this idea that it is easy to screw up a kid's head but they are durable." as a person who is training to be a therapist, i would say an immense amount of people are pretty screwed up from their upbringings, though for reasons less resulting from being raised in a way that's "not normal" to just not getting the love and attention they needed.

May 30, 2011 10:50 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks for the comment susan, you'll notice the next thing I wrote was "What matters is whether the child is loved." Kids have been raised all kinds of crazy ways and turned out fine, it all depends on someone loving them.


May 30, 2011 11:11 PM  

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