When many couples have a baby, they send out an email to family and friends that fills them in on the key details: name, gender, birth weight, that sort of thing. (You know the drill: "Both Mom and little Ethan are doing great!")
But the email sent recently by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. "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? ...)," it said.
That's right. They're not saying whether Storm is a boy or a girl.
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.
Stocker and Witterick say the decision gives Storm the freedom to choose who he or she wants to be. "What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It's obnoxious," adds Stocker, a teacher at an alternative school.
They say that kids receive messages from society that encourage them to fit into existing boxes, including with regard to 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.
"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?!." she wrote in an email.
How did Stocker and Witterick decide to keep Storm's gender under wraps? 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, titled 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.
"It became so compelling it was almost like, How could we not?" Witterick said.
The couple's other two children, Jazz and Kio, haven't escaped their parents' unconventional approach to parenting. Though they're only 5 and 2, they're allowed to pick out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores and decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.
Both boys are "unschooled," a version of homeschooling, which promotes putting a child's curiosity at the center of his or her education. As Witterick puts it, it's "not something that happens by rote from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays in a building with a group of same-age people, planned, implemented and assessed by someone else."
Because Jazz and Kio wear pink and have long hair, they're frequently assumed to be girls, according to Stocker. He said he and Witterick don't correct people--they leave it to the kids to do it if they want to.
But Stocker and Witterick's choices haven't always made life easy for their kids. Though Jazz likes dressing as a girl, he doesn't seem to want to be mistaken for one. He recently asked his mother to let the leaders of a nature center know that he's a boy. And he chose not to attend a conventional school because of the questions about his gender. Asked whether that upsets him, Jazz nodded.
As for his mother, she's not giving up the crusade against the tyranny of assigned gender roles. "Everyone keeps asking us, 'When will this end?'" she said. "And we always turn the question back. Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?"
(Baby Storm: Steve Russell/The Toronto Star)
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