Parents Treat Newborn Child As Massive Social Experiment On Sex And Gender

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, 39 are raising their youngest child, Storm, to be genderless. They won’t tell any family members which sex the baby is.

As Canadian parenting site ParentCentral reports, the only people who know are Storm’s brothers, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home.

They emailed their 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? …).”

The story lists the various complaints they’re getting — family members resentful of how they have to explain to their friends their lack of knowledge about its sex, worries that the children will be ridiculed and concerns about imposing political and ideological values on such a tiny baby. The biggest concern? Setting the kids up for problems with their peers.

But how about just the simple problem of treating one’s genitalia as something to be hidden and not shared? I mean, obviously you can’t keep the baby’s sex a secret without closely guarding the changing of diapers or anything else similarly intimate. It just seems like in addition to asking the kid to have problems with gender, it might also lead to problems with bonding and intimacy among family and friends.

The parents, for their part, are hoping their child will choose its gender, with no mind to genitalia or social norms. They think that if they delay that announcement, the baby might be old enough to decide its gender on its own.

The older brothers get similar treatment when it comes to social norms. They’re encouraged to shop without concern for whether the clothes are in the boys or girls section of the store. It sounds like the parents strongly endorse feminine markings over masculine, for what it’s worth

David is a teacher at an alternative school and we’re told he frames his lessons around social justice issues of class, race and gender. The family takes trips to Cuba and with Zapatistas through the mountains of Mexico. Both spouses come from liberal families. They all co-sleep on two mattresses in the master bedroom and Karen is a full-time homemaker, unschooler (kid-driven learning led by child’s curiosity) and breastfeeding volunteer.

They credit the record “Free to Be … You and Me” for the original idea since it had such a strong message of gender neutrality. So I should probably stop giving that out as a newborn gift. Kidding. I would never give that CD to anyone.

Anyway, older brother Jazz loves pink and Kio loves purple. Most people assume them to be girls and the parents don’t correct anyone who so assumes that. Jazz doesn’t go to school. He doesn’t want to because of all the gender issues, apparently. He’s five but he’s already got a portfolio of poems written under the pseudonym “Gender Explorer.”

At this point, I’m wondering if Canada is celebrating the equivalent of April Fool’s Day today. But I honestly don’t think so.

The parents explain that their decision to raise their children this way is all-consuming and takes most of their time.

The article talks to a California-based psychologist and mother of a “girlyboy” about how parents should support gender-creative children. She’s worried about the way Storm’s parents are raising him, saying that they’re not giving him the tools to position himself so much as just completely marginalizing their child into the category of “other than other.” She also thinks it’s way too much pressure on the older brothers to be forced to keep this family secret.

The article concludes with Dr. Ken Zucker, “world expert on gender identity,” saying that this family is engaged in a social experiment of nurture and he’s unsure how much influence parents can have on their children.

I wonder if the effect won’t be the opposite of what these parents intend. I would not be surprised to see each of these kids develop rather strong gender identity related to their biology. Or require massive amounts of therapy. But, like Dr. Zucker says, “We’ll see.”

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  • B

    Unbelievable. How this child will ever be able to handle the confusing and upside down world that it’s parents have created is beyond me.

  • e

    Wow. I have been kind of on the fence about this blog but I am officially unsubscribing. Gender is a social construction.

    I thought this was a progressive site, but I am mistaken.

    • Koa Beck

      Hi E. As the deputy editor, I agree with you that gender is a social construction. Mommyish however is dedicated to many points of view on parenting — not just one. If you’d be interested in writing a counter argument for this issue as a parent, the Mommyish staff would be interested to read it. Email me at koa(AT)mommyish(dot)com. Thanks for reading.

    • Mollie Hemingway


      This isn’t a site for any one kind of mother. All are welcome, regardless of what label they choose for themselves. But we have enough writers with different takes on things that we also hope people will find things they disagree with and be interested in hashing out.

      For what it’s worth, some of the people quoted in the piece above agree that gender is a social construction and also that the parents’ decision here is deeply disconcerting.

      But again, you’re more than welcome to disagree and, as Koa said, offer a different take.


  • Nikki

    I think these people have gender mixed up with orientation. You are a certain gender based on your anatomy. No matter how much you want to choose your gender, unless you have surgery, you won’t be. Orientation is based on which way you go. Basically, this is all CRAZY!!!!!

    • Kara

      Actually, Nikki, that’s not quite true. Most of what our outward indications of gender identity are social constructions. I think the current break is still between sex and gender (someone correct me if i’m using an outdated way to look at this) – sex is what you are born with, gender is what you identify as. Whether you identify as a male or female has nothing to do with who you are attracted to and does not always match what you were born with – hence transgender folk.

      I don’t agree with the slant of this article. Are these parents doing the “right thing?” I don’t know. But I also don’t think parents should be judged so harshly for simply attempting to raise their child without all of the pressures, fears, and expectations that come from a gender label. I’m sure this has less to do with a “massive social experiment” than it does with wanting a happy, healthy child that isn’t forced to like pink or blue and is free to be whoever they turn out to be.

      Also, they’re not the first parents to attempt this.

    • Kata

      shouldn’t be judged*

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  • debby

    it is not freeing to make a child a giant-assed question mark. It is an onus all its own. You simply change the baggage you pass onto your offspring…instead of “boy” or “girl” you have hoisted “?” as a moniker, with absolutely no input from the child. For all you know, your child feels like a boy or a girl or a dog or a cat or a ferret. How is it any different to insist upon “nothing” than to insist upon “something”. It can be freeing to say, “hey, I’m a girl. Got a vagina. Got breasts. OK….now, shall I write poetry or split atoms? In any event, I’ve gotten the grammar out of the way so my parents can sleep well at night and now I can get on to the business of living rather than being a science experiment to their nonsense. I can be ME rather than their petri dish.”
    The best thing parents can give their kids is 1. food 2. shelter 3. love 4. acceptance 5. basic clothing 6. teach them to read

    anything else is the sins of the father visited on the son.

  • e

    Funny, I had the same thought as e’s but in the opposite direction after reading a bunch of articles with obvious ‘progressive’ slants. Not that I necessarily disagreed, but it’s always better to have many viewpoints.

  • Spritequeen

    This is, quite possibly, the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! Who cares if the kid plays with dolls as a boy or trucks as a girl? By demanding that gender be removed from the child’s life, they are also taking away the child’s individuality, because that kid will ALWAYS question if they made the right “choice”. Putting that kind of decision into a child’s hands when he/she is not FULLY aware of the consequences is TOTALLY irresponsible! Babies are not lab rats to be thrown into parents’ little social experiments. If the baby’s a girl, and one day “decides” to be a boy, do they have a plan in place to explain to her that she can’t be TOTALLY like other boys, because penises don’t grow on trees? Or if their boy “decides” to be girl, what’s the plan to tell this kid that wombs don’t grow on trees, either, and “she” won’t be able to have kids like other little girls? Shakin’ my head…Some people’s children – and I’m NOT talkin’ about the poor kid!