Meet Storm. With those big blue eyes, fair hair and chubby cheeks, the four-month-old is certainly adorable.
But whether this baby is a bruising boy or a blushing girl is, the parents say, a secret. In fact, they’re leaving the decision up to him – or her.
The bizarre move has led to Kathy Witterick, 38, and husband David Stocker, 39, being labelled the most politically correct family in the world.
There’s nothing ambiguous about the baby’s sex. The parents know – as do brothers Jazz, five, and Kio, two, who somehow are apparently keeping their mouths shut.
One close family friend also knows, as do the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool in the couple’s Toronto home on New Year’s Day.
That, however, is it. When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to the rest of their friends and family that stated: ‘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, they told the Toronto Star, was at first met with silence. Then came the deluge.
Storm’s grandparents were supportive – but resented having to explain a gender-free baby to friends and co-workers.
Friends cleverly accused the couple of taking away the newborn’s right to choice by imposing their own ideology on the tiny baby.
And pretty much everyone they told (or, rather, refused to tell) was united in believing they were setting their children up for a lifetime of bullying.
Children can be especially cruel. Picture how Storm’s first day at school could go.
But Mrs Witterick was defiant. ‘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?’’ she told the Star.
Her husband chimed in: ‘If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.’
The couple believe they are releasing Storm from the constraints society imposes on males and females. They claim children can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very young age.
They called parents who make choices for their children ‘obnoxious’, instead telling their children to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.
Their older children, Jazz and Kio, already decide when to cut their hair and pick out their own clothes – from the boy and girl sections of stores. Five-year-old Jazz, for example, just picked out a pink dress which he loves because it ‘really poofs out at the bottom’ and ‘feels so nice’.
Jazz also wears his hair long, in three braids – two at the front and one at the back – though both his parents have close-cropped hair. Pink is his favourite colour, even though neither of his parents owns a piece of pink clothing.
Kio, the two-year-old, loves purple and keeps his curly blond hair just below his chin.
The result is that most people believe the boy are girls. Their parents don’t correct the assumption – they leave that up to the discretion of the five-year-old and the two-year-old.
The effects are already apparent.
Jazz, fortunately, was out of earshot on a recent trip to a park when a family friend overheard two little girls saying they did not want to play with a ‘girl-boy’.
And once Mrs Witterick was forced to rush him out of a store when a saleswoman refused to sell him a pink leather boa because ‘he’s a boy’.
Jazz was old enough to start school last September but chose to stay home. Both children and adults, his mother explained, would ‘immediately react with Jazz over his gender’ – mainly, the fact he is a little boy who loves the colour pink and wears his hair long.
When asked if that upsets him, the newspaper reported that Jazz nodded, but would say no more.
But, said Mrs Witterick, we are all mocked for our appearance at some point. ‘When faced with inevitable judgment by others, which child stands tall (and sticks up for others) — the one facing teasing despite desperately trying to fit in, or the one with a strong sense of self and at least two ‘go-to’ adults who love them unconditionally?’ she asked.
‘Well, I guess you know which one we choose.’
It was during that ‘intense time’ for Jazz that his parents decided they simply wouldn’t say what gender Storm was.
At first it was just a thought. Then Mr Stocker found an infamous 1978 book in his school library called X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, about a genderless child named X who faces bullying head on, proving that he or she is well-adjusted.
‘It became so compelling it was almost like, How could we not?’ Mrs Witterick said.
Traditional ideas of gender were tested in the media recently when two major U.S. book retailers censored an image of androgynous male model Andrej Pejic ‘in case customers confuse him for a woman’.
The Serbian-born catwalk star, 19, who has appeared in shows for Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier, appears topless on the cover of glossy magazine Dossier.
But both Barnes & Noble and Borders have demanded that issues of the magazine come wrapped in opaque plastic.
In an interview earlier this year, Mr Pejic said: ‘Sometimes I feel like more of a woman, other times I feel male.
‘I’m sure most people think of me as a woman. It doesn’t bother me anymore and I feel fine about it… I don’t consider my looks unusual.’
Dossier creative director Skye Parrott added: ‘The thing about Andrej is, if you see him, he is very, deeply androgynous. But he is also very comfortable with that. It’s a shame that everyone can’t be as relaxed about it as he is.’
Shiloh Pitt-Jolie, daughter of actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, has also received attention from the media over her tomboy style.
Chaz Bono, singer Cher’s transgender son, recently offered to talk to Pitt and Jolie about their daughter’s gender identity.
‘People get too freaked out about kids and what to do with kids,’ he said in a recent Oprah interview. ‘If you just let kids do what they need to do they usually have the right idea.’
But Jolie, in an echo of Mrs Witterick and Mr Stocker, seems comfortable with letting her four-year-old daughter find her own way.
‘She wants to be a boy,’ she told Vanity Fair in August. ‘So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers.’
The actress continued: ‘She dresses like a little dude. It’s how people dress there (in Montenegro). She likes tracksuits, she likes [regular] suits.’
Storm is not androgynous, and obviously is too young yet to be a tomboy. But how his (or her) parents are raising him (or her) leads to similar questions about our perceptions of gender.
Both Mrs Witterick and Mr Stocker grew up in very liberal families. They have visited revolutionaries in Mexico and spent weeks in Cuba learning about the Communist revolution.
Mr Stocker is a teacher at a school where lessons are framed by social justice issues. Mrs Witterick is now a stay-at-home mother who practises ‘unschooling’ – that is, home schooling driven by a child’s curiosity rather than a schedule or tests.
The Toronto Star described the inside of their home as ‘organised clutter’ – much as any house with three children under the age of six might be. Furniture is ‘of a certain vintage’ and the childrens’ artwork adorns the walls.
The family ‘co-sleeps’ on two mattresses pushed together on the floor of the master bedroom.
They admit that it takes more energy to keep this secret of Storm’s gender than not – but say that is society’s fault, not theirs.
California-based psychologist Diane Ehrensaft told the Star she believes parents should support gender-creative children.
She said there is something innate about gender – but said Storm’s case is worrying.
The child will be unable to position his or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between, she said, arguing that they have created another category entirely.
‘I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them,’ she said.
And asking children as young as Jazz and Kio to keep the secret is also alarming, she said. ‘For very young children, just in their brains, they’re not ready to do the kind of sophisticated discernment we do about when a secret is necessary.’
Dr Ken Zucker, the head of the gender identity service for children at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said that even when parents don’t make a choice, that’s still a choice, and one that can have an impact on the children.
What impact this will have on Storm, he said, is one that only time will reveal.
The couple plan to keep Storm’s sex a secret as long as Storm, Kio and Jazz are comfortable with it.
‘Everyone keeps asking us, ‘When will this end?’’ said Mrs Witterick.
‘And we always turn the question back,’ she told the Star. ‘Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?’
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