Gender neutral

Normally when a baby is born it is cause for celebration. So what to make of the media frenzy that erupted after the birth of one of Toronto’s newest residents, baby Storm? In case you missed it, Storm’s parents, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker decided not to release the gender of their newborn.

As it was reported on The Lookout:

There’s nothing ambiguous about the baby’s genitals. But as Stocker puts it: “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.” So only the parents, their two other children (both boys), a close friend, and the two midwives who helped deliver the now 4-month-old baby know its gender. Even the grandparents have been left in the dark.

The issue surfaced for the parents before Storm was born.

During Witterick’s pregnancy, her son Jazz was having “intense” experiences with his own gender. “I was feeling like I needed some good parenting skills to support him through that,” Witterick said.

Stocker came across a book from 1978, titledย X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould. X is raised as neither a boy or girl, and grows up to be a happy and well-adjusted child.

And just look at the righteous furor this one little decision has already stirred up in progressive and conservative circles!

When I first heard the story last week I immediately thought about a conversation about gender norms and raising babies that I had with the respected trans-activist Jane Heenan while I was pregnant last year. She asked me point-blank, “What would happen if you told them not to put a gender on the baby’s birth certificate?” Furthermore, is a birth certificate even valid if it does not have a check mark by one of the binary genders assigned to match a baby’s anatomy? Why is that? In fact, she quietly urged me to consider not releasing the gender of my baby in our birth announcements to friends and families. “See what happens,” she said.

Well, Jane, I wasn’t brave enough for your dare. But Storm’s parents were.

And the reaction has been intense! I heard one pundit on some TV news station say that this would cause “irreparable harm” to Storm and her/his two brothers! Irreparable harm? How? Why? The two brothers already know the gender, as part of the exclusive group who do know. Some may argue that carrying a secret could be difficult or put pressures on the boys, but so has gender norms. At least for little Jazz, who was really the impetus for this little gender-bending adventure.

What I do think could cause harm is all this attention! (And I admit my own hypocrisy and culpability in this as I am writing about it now, too.) I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that entire family feels now that they are under an international social microscope! Whomever Storm decides s/he is, will be debated and dissected. The toys he/she likes will be analyzed for clues.

Look how angry the Cultural Beast is when any one of us acts out of line!

I think back to how much pressure my husband and I faced when I was pregnant because we decided not to find out the sex. People openly (and sometimes with hostility) complained that they just wanted to know! Why are you being so stubborn? This is no time for a feminist statement! Really? I didn’t know it was so deviant to simply not ask a question. So were all the pregnant women for eons before this modern era some sort of secret sect of radical feminists? The whole things is just so… silly! I mean, come on!

The baby has no concept of gender. The baby could care less what clothes you put on her/him. The baby does not care what his/her stroller looks like or what the toys are (as long as they are safe). So, if it is not for the baby, isn’t it really just for us? Isn’t it so that we can begin the complicated, life-long process of encoding gender norms on the baby? Programming “him” or “her” for the binary?

Maybe Storm’s parents are on to something. Maybe this is the way to go about a true blank slate when it comes to gender identity and expression (sans media frenzy, of course). I have admitted before that even though I am trying to raise my daughter in a way that does not strictly adhere to out-dated gender norms or ideas that I believe will hurt her self-esteem, I fall short. I am after all, encoded, too. So are Storm’s parents, for that matter.

There is no one “right” way. I applaud Storm’s parents for having the courage to stand by their convictions and think outside the gender box in order to create a loving, supportive home for all of their children. And I hope that we can all do the same in our own ways for ourselves and our children.

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