Torontonians Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have been the subject of plenty of debate since they decided to keep the biological sex of their four-month-old child, Storm, a secret. They plan to raise a “genderless” child.
“In not telling the gender of my precious baby,” Stocker wrote, “I am saying to the world, ‘Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be?!”
As was the case in the past with stories of children who didn’t conform to clear gender roles, some people are livid at the parents’ choice, saying that it can only cause confusion for the child.
Some news outlets have deemed the “genderless baby” concept a cruel experiment, one with severe potential to mess up the child. But what are they so afraid of? That Storm won’t know whether to pick up a doll or a ball during playtime, or that, when faced with the “girl” or “boy” toy option for a McDonald’s Happy Meal, the child will get too confused and cry? Instead of imposing societal norms about gender on their baby, Stocker and Witterick are allowing Storm to express natural preferences. Storm can choose the doll or the ball, but won’t be expected to choose either; the child won’t be forced into choosing between following our culture’s strict gender codes or following the child’s own preference.
An article today in The Guardian features a point/counterpoint about raising “genderless” children. Oliver James’ offers a good summary of the more thoughtful counter-response to Storm’s upbringing (as opposed to the dozens of unthoughtful, hateful responses expressed elsewhere):
It is true that the gender can be concealed from visitors and strangers, at least in the early years. But the cost of doing so, and of parents attempting to ignore their own projections, could be massive confusion for the child. Identity has to come from somewhere. Gender is one of the bulwarks of social identity.
It is a fantasy to suppose every individual can find their “true self” independent of their relationship with parents and society. Unless you want the rudderless blank of an institutionalized child, accepting gender as one of the signposts for who your child is seems not only inevitable, but also desirable. Far more important than rejecting gender altogether is that parents understand their own gender-related unconscious projections.
But what James and others get wrong is that Witterick and Stocker are being conscious of their gender-related projections. By concealing Storm’s gender, they’re ensuring that no one else is projecting gender-related biases on the child. People won’t call Storm “Princess” or “Champ” solely because of the baby’s biological sex, and their expectations for how a baby boy and a baby girl should be treated won’t come into play.
I’d love to see my child be able to escape from society’s forced gender roles, freely trying out “boy” and “girl” things for the first few years of life. If it’s a boy who likes playing princess, like Sarah Hoffman’s adorable son, I don’t want him being attacked for being too queer. And if it’s a daughter who likes playing sports, I don’t want her to be pigeon-holed as a tomboy. Storm’s parents are just taking more preemptive steps in not allowing other people to categorize their child.