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Raising a ‘Genderless’ Child: Is This Really Such A Good Idea?

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Hmm curious!

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!

21 Comments

  1. Christina Gleason @ Cutest Kid Ever

    May 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I don’t think we need to “protect” kids from gender – making them completely androgynous seems a bit extreme to me. My son loves playing with dolls, and he will happily put my niece’s barettes and jewelry on to play dress-up… But he’ll also tell you that Tinkerbell is a “girls’ movie.”

    I think gender identity is quite healthy for a child. We can be open-minded about things that are normally sterotyped for boys and girls, but I don’t see any reason to toss out the notion of definitive gender.

  2. Ali H.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I have friends who are gender-free and I’ve never really been sure how I feel about it. On one hand I’m cheering for them, on the other, I’m confused. But that’s probably just because I identify so strongly with being a woman, I wouldn’t know how to be unidentified. You know?

    Let me say this since I genuinely can’t answer the above question; I get truly madly deeply aggravated when people say things to my daughter like, “That isn’t how a little lady should act,” or “That’s not ladylike,” or “You’re all filthy! You look like a boy.”

    I get really annoyed with gender bias. My daughter spends plenty of time in carpenter jeans and Chucks and t-shirts that say “park ranger” on them. Probably as much time as she spends in tutus and fairy wings. Never being fond of things like trucks and tools and wrestling, I bet if I had had a boy, I might be in the same “gender neutral” zone.

    I have friends whose little boys have play kitchens, and are ridiculed by family members, because cooking, cleaning and wearing aprons are women’s duties- evidently.

    So honestly, I don’t know. But I think I’m closer to for it thank against it, for certain. (And I’m okay with their weird names. If they want to grow up and become lawyers they can change their names at 18. =D )

  3. Amanda

    May 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I read this story earlier, and I find it incredibly interesting. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. As for being genderless, I think they’re aiming for Storm to decide whether he or she wants to be a boy or a girl once he’s older. Then again, like someone in the article said, in a world where people are either boys, girls, or in between, this family is making Storm be a fourth choice: none. That means, for this child, even in a world where transgendered and intergendered people can identify with others in a similar situation, Storm is all alone.

    Yes these children would probably be bullied in schools, but it appears that they’re homeschooled for now. And again as the mother said in the article, every kid is bound to be bullied, but which one is the one most likely to stick up for themselves and other kids? Probably the one that isn’t trying to fit in with everyone else.

    I really don’t know about this situation. I wish I had a clearer cut opinion on it. I guess it all depends on whether these children, especially Storm, end up as well adjusted adults who are happy to be who they are or ones that seriously regret what their parents did to them.

  4. Cecile

    May 23, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    How are they not manipulating their children any less than society? I would think that you would want to give your children the tools to live with people in the world, not make it more difficult for them. Are they raising mutants? Wow, that’s crazy to me! It’s harmful and dangerous. We’re going to be impacted by millions of influences as we navigate this experience known as life. Teach your kids to grow up to be strong, compassionate men and women, because yeah, there are differences and they need to know them, so they’re not aliens in the world.

    There is some scary stuff happening in the world right now, real scary…

  5. PiecesOfEight

    May 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Lemme ask you this…

    How did the cavepeople (cro magnon) “evolve” to gender specific dress, roles and temperament?

    How did we get HERE?

  6. teawithfrodo

    May 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    A child can know their gender without being restricted to the “restraints” of it.
    My son loves pink, purple and yellow. Even my husband loves to wear purple.
    My little guy plays with kitchens, tea sets, tools, trucks and dolls. We get him the “girl” toys at McDonald’s because he likes them better.
    Sex wise he’s a boy. He has a penis. But we don’t feel the need to restrict him to things that are thought of as boy. To us that makes more sense than not allowing him to identify with his given sex. We just make sure not to impose gender stereotypes.

  7. Jacqui

    May 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I played with dolls and I played ball, I washed dishes and took out the trash, I cooked and mowed the lawn, I not only drove my car and my dad taught me how to do regular car maintenance. I am a better person for it. Parents should not limit their children according to their gender.

  8. Rene Syler

    May 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    @Jacqui: agreed. But what about working to make sure they have no gender?

  9. kim

    May 23, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    i wish my parents had done this for me. but i was born in 1958. i was not truly comfortable until the 7th grade, when i was allowed to wear jeans and sneakers to school. all i wanted to do was play baseball and grow up to be an astronaut. chances are this kid is going to grow up identifying one way or the other anyway, so what’s the big deal? society needs to let go.

  10. m.e. Johnson

    May 23, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I “… to make sure they have no gender.” What does that mean? Of course they have a gender. I feel the parents don’t want them assigned specifics according to gender, neither by the children themselves nor by others. As the children grow, they will sort it out. They have brains.

    As a child I liked to do ‘boy’ things; make model airplanes, hang out with Grampa in the barn and field, climb trees, play touch football, but I also liked to dress pretty for school. I dunno… in college my aptitude test said I was best suited for heavy equipment operator in construction or a sea captain. Go figure.

  11. Vanzell

    May 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    It’s asinine to think that we can tell the Creator of us all what WE will accept or not accept. it is just as asinine to think that a child will not identify the organs that make us male or female. We can be made to be more comfortable, less inhibited, more or less aware but we are made to know the difference. So unless the parents lie to the children about who they are, then the parents are creating more issues than they are trying to avoid or resolve.

  12. BalancingJane

    May 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    My initial response to this turned into a whole blog post, but in short I’ll say that I think the parents are well-intentioned and pushing back against a very rigid gender dichotomy. At the same time, I think that this method denies the child the tools to deal with gender in a way that might actually break down those norms. Instead, this kind of carefully planned rejection of gender norms seems like it would make gender front and center in a whole different way, but one that still has the norms constantly pointed out.

  13. dianthe

    May 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    these people are a perfect example as to why there should be a test in order to procreate *sigh*

    this is more than just “we want our kids to choose who they become” – there are plenty of parents who raise their children outside of the constraints of the every day world – these people are using *and possibly damaging) their children to prove a point – you want to co-sleep? fine. you want to un-school? go for it. you want your entire family to keep the gender of one child a secret? get a grip.

    i have a son. he was born with a penis and that makes him a male. it doesn’t mean he has to play sports. it doesn’t mean he can’t play with dolls or has to play with trucks. it doesn’t mean he can’t wear pink and is stuck with nothing but blue. if he wants to run around the house in a dress i’ll let him and if he wants me to paint his nails, i’ll do that too. but because he’s a boy, there are somethings he can’t do. like give birth.

    i also have a daughter. as far as i’m concerned, she can bust every gender role under the sun. do i tell her she needs to act like a lady? yes. i also tell my son he needs to act like a gentleman. those aren’t gender roles, they’re etiquette roles. and i intend to raise children with manners. did i frill my daughter up with ruffles and bows when she was born? yep. but she’s 3 now and won’t put on a dress to save her life. oh well. it doesn’t make her less of a girl any more than playing with a doll makes my son less of a boy. gender is just that – gender. being born one way or the other doesn’t force you to be who you are.

    “I regret that (Jazz) has to discuss his gender before people ask him meaningful questions about what he does and sees in this world, but I don’t think I am responsible for that — the culture that narrowly defines what he should do, wear and look like is.”
    yeah, don’t kid yourself – you’re ENTIRELY responsible for people asking Jazz if he’s a boy or a girl – and you’re also responsible for Jazz having to explain himself – if you truly want your kids to be “genderless”, teach them that they can achieve anything they want regardless of whether they have a penis or vagina!

  14. Trina

    May 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Why would ANYONE raise a “genderless child”? and how does one do that exactly?? When the baby comes out the womb, the parents are told if it’s a boy or a girl.. not an IT. You raise the child to be gender specific. THEY will decide in time …as they grow what they want to be. Just like that stupid mother somewhere who dressed her son in a pink tuto and let’s him wear lipstick. Let that child decide what they want to be, but don’t decide that for them. Chaz Bono decided when he wanted to change his gender and that was HIS CHOICE… not Cher’s.

  15. Cathi

    May 24, 2011 at 11:58 am

    It actually sounds like an experiment to me. Will doctors and scientists give the the results of the gender neutural child’s upbringing a few years from now?
    I’m confused though. Are all the toys, books and clothes gender neutural? What is considered boy clothes or girl toys? I’d like to say I’m going to study more about this family but sadly I’m not. I’m not a fan of what they’re doing and I don’t see the point.

  16. b.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Wouldn’t be interesting if it turns out the child is intersex anyway? What then?

    Good read: Between XX and XY : intersexuality and the myth of two sexes / Gerald N. Callahan

    BTW, I *LOVE* being a woman. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. Like dianthe mentioned, being “ladylike” and “gentlemanly” are worthwhile when it comes to etiquette and being polite. It’s stupid if those terms are used to limit someone’s abilities/aspirations.

    As for this situation outlined above, I just don’t know.

  17. Auntie Lisa

    May 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    So do the parents avoid using pronouns? Or do they refer to their child as “it”?

  18. Rene Syler

    May 25, 2011 at 4:51 am

    @Auntie Lisa: They call it Z

  19. Cam - Bibs&Baubles

    May 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    great topic. i just don’t know where to go with this. it almost feels as if the child is an experiment. to bad the child wasn’t given the choice as to whether or not they wanted to take part.

  20. E. Keith Owens

    May 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    ………This following post got us featured on a new Discovery Health show titled Radical Parenting. For information about the show …When Hyphenated Husband and I found out our first baby would be a boy we knew exactly what kind of baby gifts we didn t want. We didn t want blue or blue or more blue. We didn t want footballs firetrucks or Hot Wheels. I gave relatives very clear instructions that we wanted nothing but completely gender neutral themes and colors everything in precious greens and yellows and purples. Onesies that said Future Quarterback would be exchanged for simpler items that didn t claim to predict the baby s career goals and interests..Instead of inundating our new baby with traditional boy images patterns and slogans we decorated his room in an adorable jungle theme that didn t imply either gender. We felt that if we started from his life free from stereotypes he would have the liberty to choose his own interests. We weren t planning to go as far as who refused to reveal the sex of their 2 yr old. But it made sense to let this baby s life begin with a clean slate. We never planned to tell him that he should play with one type of toy over another. We didn t care whether he wanted to play with dolls or dump trucks as long as he was happy..So what made him happy? You guessed it. Cars dump trucks fire trucks footballs tools helicopters camouflage and dinosaurs. Both of my sons turned out to gravitate straight toward All Things Boy. When I let them run loose in the toy aisles they don t even notice the dolls or ponies. But if it s got a car on the box they make a beeline for it. They are as Boy as a boy can come..I don t mind that they have such masculine interests. Whatever makes them happy is fine with me. But it does make me wonder why did I even try to keep it neutral? Does it even matter? Are boys born pre-programmed to love construction equipment sports and motor vehicles? What is it about the packaging that draws their little eyes in?.We want more children and we really hope to have at least one girl. I can t wait to find out if our gender neutral parenting works on her or if she ll just run right for the princess pink. She ll probably come out wearing a tiara and ask for a pony for her first birthday..Or maybe she ll love dump trucks too? I have no idea. Whatever it is I m starting to think it has nothing to do with the way I m raising em..UPDATE Just one week after I wrote this my son asked for a dollhouse for Christmas. The story of that incident is .. .Do you practice gender neutral parenting? If so how? Have your children developed gender neutral interests? Or do they head straight for their respective Toolboxes and Tiaras anyway?.To see how else weve incorporated gender nuetral parenting in our lives watch …. You have to wonder though if is is a biological gravitation toward gender bias or if there are subtle social cues that they pick up on so early its programmed despite their clothing and room decor etc..I remember in school learning about how people play differently and have different expectations even using different describing words or having different expectations based on gender..Not trying to get all book-y on you here but I guess its something I feel like I dont have the answer to regardless of my parenting.

  21. bStorm

    May 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I think it is courageous idea but I support their decision 100%. I think there will be a point that Storm’s gender be known and would love to follow their story. I tried to find them on Facebook but had no luck.
    BStorm
    Galt, CA

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