Saturday, May 28, 2011

Maybe they should have called the baby 'Shitstorm'*

..because it seems that's what the parents in Toronto who decided to keep their baby's gender a secret in an attempt to keep zir unfettered by gender policing and expectations, have effectively created.  For the good or the bad, is what I've got to wonder.  In my honest opinion, if anything damages this kid, ambiguously named Storm, it'll be the media hype surrounding zir lack of gender definition, rather than a lack of defined gender*.  I'm unclear as to who actually alerted the media to the couple's plan, although I think it may have been relatives of the child in question.

Myriads of commenters on the Yahoo article I read, as well as at least one columnist for the Toronto Star questioned the ethics behind this couple 'treating their child as an experiment'.

Thing is, parenting IS an experiment.  There's no strict set of rules for this stuff. 

Myself, I can totally see where the parents are coming from, in wanting their children to explore their own personalities and gender identification without having expectations pressed on them based on what is between their legs.  I'm still completely lost as to what connection there is between a Y chromosome, a penis and an aversion to pink.

As far as 'damaging' this child we should probably remember that baby Storm is four months old.  Zir main concerns at this point in time are "I'm Hungry.  I'm Shitty.  I'm Bored."  Somehow I don't think "I'm Having a Crisis of Identification" comes into play at that age.  Besides, I think zie will figure it out.  I think the idea is not to raise an indefinitely ambiguous child, but to allow the baby for it's first few years to be less restricted by those gender expectations that are thrust upon us from the earliest of ages. 

From the very moment we are born and the doctor declares "It's a Girl/Boy!" - at least, in instances where it's clear from the beginning - we treat baby boys and baby girls differently which in turn helps to shape how they see themselves in the context of gendered expectations.  Not having a 'gender'** could result in people responding to baby Storm's individual personality rather than a preconceived notion of babyhood.

Interestingly enough, the number of people who have wagered that Storm is a boy is staggering.  This may have to do with a common societal trope that uses feminine markers to identify as female, so

Baby - feminine identifiers = default = boy.

I'm gonna laugh my ass off if Baby Storm is indeed a girl.  At this point, I'm not wagering any guesses.

Which brings me to where the potential for backfire comes in.  Columnist Caroline Porter of the Toronto Star presented the idea that by refusing to acknowledge their child's gender they may inadvertently make it a bigger issue, by "trapping him in an endless discussion."  I think there is something to be said for this view, as it does seem possible that Baby Storm could end up being defined by the unending "Well, what is he/she?" question.  Because you KNOW, people aren't going to let go of that one easily.

I think, underneath the question of gender anxiety, another issue is at hand that has people wringing their hands, and I think part of it is the refusal of the Wittericks to enforce gender expectations on any of their children.  The older children, both boys, play with nailpolish and the older one frequently wears his hair long and in pigtails.

Somehow people think that by not adhering to strict gender guidelines, they are setting them up for trouble later, from being bullied at school, or that they are going to be gender-confused.  My question is, how many 'gender-confused' people grew up in homes where gender rules were enforced but still re-identified later in life?

As far as kids teasing them, call me crazy, but I think the way to combat bullying is not to try and force potential victims into conforming to expectations (see the case of the teacher who kicked a kid out of class for wearing high-heels "for his protection"), but rather to teach people to just fucking relax already and if a little boy wants to wear nailpolish, or a little girl wants her hair short, it's not the end of the world, just like it's not the end of the world if you don't know what pronoun to use around a four-month old baby.

As for Baby Storm, as the media frenzy dies down, I think he'll figure out who he is.. long before he has to answer the 'which bathroom to use' question.

*For the record, although I've named my own children rather unique names, I would never advocate actually saddling a small child with the name Shitstorm.

**Keeping in mind that sex and gender are often two different things.  Sex is generally (although there are many different schools of though on this) defined by a) genitalia and b) presence or non-presence of a Y chromosome.  Gender's more complicated and has more to do with how one identifies themselves. Someone may identify as female, while presenting as male, and vice versa.  Some gender theorists have eschewed the idea of the binary model and presented ideas that there could be up to as many as nine different genders.


  1. I never understood treating babies different due to sex. I have a daughter and babysat a boy when they were both infants and they acted the same. I saw no difference.
    And I have a niece that wants to be male. She/he is 19 and has always felt she should have been born male. She tried for so long to be what she was physically born as but she just couldn't do it anymore.

  2. Color me pessimistic, but I foresee some serious issues with young Storm. I fully believe (without any research on the matter) that the parents will probably home school Storm - they just seem the type - and that Storm is really going to be bereft of the kind of social interactions that shape most of us.

    I also wonder that, when Storm gets old enough to start asking questions, from exposure to books or whatever, if s/he is a boy or girl (for instance), how the parents will answer. It's not something they'll be able to sweep under the rug, and I hope they won't answer with some confusing-ass answer like, "Well, you were born a whatever, but you don't have be that."

    Eh, the whole thing is... odd. Also, you have "zir" and "zie" appearing throughout your blog - I think something's off.

    *Captcha word: vaggestr

  3. Honestly, I don't think the biological part is going to last long. Based on the article I read (I don't remember whether it was yahoo or somewhere else) they are doing this cohabitation thing- that is, the whole family is sleeping on the same mattress(es) in the same room. You can't have 3 young kids, one whose gender you wish to have the other two keep a secret. This family is attracting so much attention just by doing so, when they say they want less pressure on their kid. There are more effective ways to not *engender* a kid- give them non-gender-specific toys, dress them in green and/or yellow, or black or white, but nothing is going to change the biology of it. People are still going to ask questions, and until the child is able to decide and/or answer themselves, it makes no sense to "keep it a secret" as though it's something to be ashamed of. Why hide it? Why not just say hey, the baby is a boy, but we're going to choose give him his own mind and let him make his own decisions in life? Biologically, a boy is not a girl, under any circumstances. They just want attention.

  4. See, I don't think they're really hiding it from the baby itself so much as from others around them in order to keep other people from trying to enforce gender stereotypes on the kid. From what I understand, the parents, the brothers and grandparents all know, but it's not being publicly announced.

    Chris, zir and zie are something I picked up around the interwebs, a type of non-pronoun that can be used when you're trying to not assume a person's gender but want to be kind of clear that you're talking about an individual as opposed to a group of people (as for this reason using 'they' and 'them' can be confusing as well)

  5. When I was a kid there was a hierarchy. First adults, then kids then pets. People put kids on pedestals and treat them as though the world revolves around them. Mind you, I don't have any.

  6. Hey there, I actually found you through a comment you left on D'Artagnan's blog, and your name intrigued me. Lol.

    I find this issue of gender neutrality very interesting. Do the gender roles we impose upon children shape their gender identity, or is it the other way around?

    Anyway, I'm following you now. :)

  7. Interesting post. Personally, I think the parents took it way too far. They could've easily revealed the baby's biological sex, for instance, but asked friends and family to give non-gender specific gifts, for instance. And clearly they have not had difficulty raising their other children free of gender-normative constraints. It just feels like they set out to create some sort of controversy. Perhaps I'm wrong, but knowing what some people do to get attention these days, I could very well be right.

  8. Miriam, the problem with your idea is that as soon as people know the sex, they automatically treat the baby as the assumed gender that goes with the genitals zie has. I think even the original post as a link to an article about that. People play with boys rougher and use gruffer voices whereas girls are coddled and cooed at. Studies have been done where people were told a baby was a boy or girl and watched how those people reacted. Even though it was the exact same baby dressed in gender neutral clothing, people would use different words to describe that baby.

    And that affects the kid. Our brains are so malleable at that age, and the first few years of growth can have physical effects on the neurons. Granted, this doesn't mean that a child can't change later in life, but I do think the parents understand how important it is to let the kid do what zie wants the first few years of zir life.

  9. It's really infuriating that people assume by default that the kid is male, because that just goes to show you how deeply patriarchy has penetrated into the way we perceive reality, considering that biologically speaking by default we are female.

  10. So...I wonder what the birth certificate says...

  11. I'd assume that the birth certificate has the sex on it.


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