Over the weekend I came across the fascinating story of a couple living outside Toronto, who has decided to keep the gender of their four-month old child, a secret.
The child’s name is gender neutral and only a handful of people actually know whether Storm is a boy or a girl. Apparently Kathy Whitterick and her husband David Stocker are determined not to allow society to impose gender limitations on their children and have adopted this extreme approach to make sure that doesn’t happen. The couple has two other children, five and two year-old boys whom they also allow quite a bit of freedom, including clothing choices and how they wear their hair. Also with gender-neutral names, Jazz and Kio have a penchant for pink and purple and are often mistaken for girls, a perception their parents do not correct. But is all this a good idea?
You all know we’re pretty liberal around these parts and have addressed issues of gender and children before, like the story of the boy who wore a Daphne costume for Halloween or our debate about parents who allowed their son to wear dresses. But something about this story feels different about this to me, like a big game of GOTCHA to society with Kathy and David’s kids used as game pieces.
Look, I’m really trying to understand these parents; they really want to open up a world of possibilities to their children no matter their sex. And let’s not kid ourselves, gender stereotyping starts very early, from the first pink or blue onsie and continues right on up through dolls, trucks, cooking sets and baseball mitts. Even our language telegraphs expected behavior, “Big boys don’t cry” or “Little girls don’t hit.” A lifetime of expectation is borne of those seemingly innocuous statements.
But HANG ON A DAMN SECOND!
Are you really helping your kids by allowing them to do whatever feels right to them? So they’ve been picking out their own clothes since they were 18-months-old. Good for them, mine have been too. But I made sure there were certain parameters, like making sure they were age and weather appropriate.
Am I to assume Kathy and David would be okay with anything their girl, if they had one, wanted to wear too, like say, leather chaps and a cone bra? And don’t even get me started on the names for these kids. Come on parents! I think we can all agree we don’t want to unwillingly limit our children’s choices. We want them to reach for the stars and dream whatever their minds will allow them to conceive. But there has to be a way to doing that without making them targets for ridicule. Even the gender specialist interviewed for the piece says he’s not sure if the kids will suffer long-term damage as a result. So why would you risk it? So you can put your theory of social mores to the test? Is this really to give your kids a leg up on life or just to make a point about gender to a bunch of strangers who don’t matter in your life?
At some point these boys are going to run headlong into society’s rules, probably when they’re older and have to use a public restroom and rightly or wrongly, they will be expected to act a certain way. I think we can all agree that there are aspects of society that suck; sexism, racism, homophobia, the list goes on and on. But wouldn’t it be better to teach about those things and how to identify and deal with them instead of acting like they don’t exist? I think so.
But what about you? What do you think of this idea of raising a gender-neutral kid? Do you think the parents are on to something and I’m just completely old fashioned and crazy? Or are they setting their children up for some tough stuff down the road? I’d love to hear what you think!