Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Toronto Parents decide to keep child's gender secret
“So it’s a boy, right?” a neighbour calls out as Kathy Witterick walks by, her four month old baby, Storm, strapped to her chest in a carrier.
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.
The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home on New Year’s Day.
“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.
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.
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.
Jazz and Kio have picked out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores since they were 18 months old. Just this week, Jazz unearthed a pink dress at Value Village, which he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom. It feels so nice.” The boys decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.
Like all mothers and fathers, Witterick and Stocker struggle with parenting decisions. The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.
“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.
They don’t want to isolate their kids from the world, but, when it’s meaningful, talk about gender.
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.
The moment a child’s sex is announced, so begins the parade of pink and barrage of blue. Tutus and toy trucks aren’t far behind. The couple says it only intensifies with age.
“In fact, in not telling the gender of my precious baby, I am saying to the world, ‘Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s (he) wants to be?!.” Witterick writes in an email.