Jake Weinraub

Parents Keep Baby's Sex Assignment Unannounced

Filed By Jake Weinraub | May 27, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: david stocker, gender, kathy witterick, sex, sex assignment, storm, toronto

A Toronto couple has decided not to announce the sex assignment of their baby, Storm, storm_rightsize.jpgin an effort to give their child the freedom to choose what they want to be on their own. As Storm's father David Stocker told Yahoo News, "if you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs":

We thought that if we delayed sharing that information, in this case hopefully, we might knock off a couple million [gender] messages by the time that Storm decides Storm would like to share.

Stocker and Storm's mother, Kathy Witterick, were inspired by the 1978 book, X, A Fabulous Child's Story by Lois Gould, in which X is raised as neither a boy or girl, and remains a happy and well-adjusted child.

Storm's two older siblings, Jazz and Kio, both identify as boys but have a more genderqueer presentation. Stalker and Witterick will not correct passers-by who mistake them for girls, instead giving their sons the decision of whether or not to correct others themselves. According to Yahoo News, Jazz recently asked his mother to let the leaders of a nature center know that he's a boy, and chose not to attend a conventional elementary school because of the questions about his gender.

I appreciate Witterick and Stalker's attention to the ways gender norms can limit children's self-expression, but I wonder what lies ahead for Storm as Storm interacts with the high levels of gender policing that may occur outside of the bubble Storm's parents have created.

Cabell Hankinson Gathman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison teaching assistant wrote on Facebook:

I find myself skeptical that keeping a child's sex assignment under wraps (since that's really what everyone means here, with gender being assumed to map onto sex assignment) is the best way to empower a child and protect them from the world's disapprobation. Personally, I'd just try to allow my children to express themselves however they wanted, provide toys and activities without regard to gender and let them develop their own interests, and give them a strong understanding of how ridiculously arbitrary gender norms are, much as my parents did with me (this is how I got in trouble in pre-school for calling another kid a "sexist"--she reported me for saying a "bad word").

To put it another way, I'm not sure that imposing genderlessness on a child in a strongly gendered culture is any better than imposing a narrowly defined gender... I think the kid will be fine. Just probably not significantly more fine than a child raised with a gender assignment that was recognized from the beginning as mutable.

What do you think, Projectors? How can parents deal with the reality that our society is highly gender-policing, paired with a desire to allow our children to express themselves freely?

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I completely agree with Gatham. This just seems silly. Paige Schilt is raising the most beautiful and smart child and he's been taught respect and how to deal with gender roles appropriately. Sounds like they could use a good dose of Paige!

I think it may be a good thing when they are young but at some point, the kids are going to have to deal with society. Home schooling maybe good for a short time until the kids are older but again, they will have to have some social interaction. I just hope the parents have the tools to teach and cope with the struggle their children will have.
While I was very proud to have a son, I made sure he understood that boys can do and like the same things as girls. He loves to cook and as an adult he can take care of himself and a home without having to depend on a female to take care of him. The last thing I want is a daughter-in-law that bitches that I could have taught him to pick up his socks.

Interesting experiment and I don't necessarily see any harm to Storm in it. Paige's way works too. When I came out as trans to my son age 19, his response was something like, well there is a huge part of me that is female too. I just don't feel the need to live it but if that makes you happier, go for it. Uh, can I still call you Dad? Now 16 yrs later, I meet his many friends, introduced as , My Dad, Joani." Now here I am worrying (just a little) about the appropriate dress for the Father of the Groom.

I find this utterly ridiculous and to be bad parenting! The parents presume a society in which everyone else will simply follow along with their bizarre experiment. Meanwhile, children need nurturing and education, and the parents are doing nothing to teach them what it means to be a "good" male or a "good" female. They could be instilling positive gender values into their child, rather than letting fate decide. Ludicrous.

darksidecat | May 27, 2011 1:41 PM

@Mark, what exactly is a "good" male or female? How is that different from a good person? My mother tried to make me into a "proper" girl with daily beatings, how about that? Will I become a good whatever my sex assigned at birth was if I have it drilled into my skull that I can not be or live any other way from birth?

"The parents presume a society in which everyone else will simply follow along with their bizarre experiment." This could be said about gay parent's, interacial parents, disabled parents (and parents of disabled children), single mothers, and any other family that is not "normal" as per rigid social norms. Any parent has to teach their kids to deal with adversity, and conforming every time someone bullies you is not the correct lesson either.

No, I was actually not suggesting that the parents beat the child. But glad to see you've put your own horrific childhood into perspective, without foisting it on others for dramatic effect.

What's "good" is interpretive, but I would say that, if a boy, then allowing him to be sensitive beyond what society might expect, and if a girl, encouraging her to be independent and strong. And I believe that enlightened parents can accomplish this without hiding the baby's gender altogether, which seems a bit severe.

Why is everyone assuming, including Gatham, that they are imposing genderlessness on Storm? They aren't announcing the child's sex, its not like they are prohibiting Storm from exhibiting gendered behavior. (Storm's a baby at the moment anyway.)

Also, have there been any stories about Pop lately? It's been two years since that child was born in Sweden and their parents decided to keep their sex a secret.

It surprises me that I am not surprised at the reaction to this.

It does, however, point out something that I've talked about in the past, and provides a rather glaring example that, no doubt, will be glossed over in much of the discourse on the topic.

The parents aren't keeping Storm from knowing Storm's sex. Nor are they keeping Strom from knowing Storm's gender.

They are keeping other people from being informed what it is directly. They are most likely being very careful in the selection of toys and clothing and paint colors and bedding and bibs and pacifiers (if they use such) and all the other little bits and pieces since the effective sphere of experience for infants is always heavily gendered by the culture we live in.

Sometime around the time that Storm is between 3 and 6, storm will tend to develop Storm's own sense of who and what Storm is in terms of Storm's gender identity and sex identity, and over the next few years will develop a sense of gender expression that will be heightened about the time Storm begins puberty, which will also be the time Storm finds out what Storm's sexual orientation is.

The comments here reflect the nature of gender -- it is not something that we as a culture tend to view as belonging just to the individual, but as something that belongs to all of us. And there is a strong and constant push towards conformity with social expectations.

Flat out, Storm's parents are raising a child in the best way for a child that is trans. One can say a lot of things about it, but keep in mind that you cannot tell if a child is trans until well after birth -- by which time the social expectations and pressures are already in place, furthering what is, in the end, very much a cycle of abuse that creates long lasting and permanent scars for the individual.

And if that seems like I am suggesting that all children should be raised in such a manner, then that perception is correct -- but with the caveat that I am well aware of the very strong disagreement with such that people will have.

And that very disagreement that people have with that idea lies at the heart of what it is that trans people -- many of whom will also disagree with that idea because they are just as much a part of the culture and the society that does this as anyone else, and have had such ingrained into them from such an early age -- what it is that trans people have to deal with as children, and what it is that makes their lives so difficult.

This is especially true for transsexuals, particularly the more binary ones (such as myself, I'll note), for whom the experience of childhood begins a process of continued abuse by the world around them that continues on.

Just saying, of course.

darksidecat | May 31, 2011 3:01 AM

"Flat out, Storm's parents are raising a child in the best way for a child that is trans. One can say a lot of things about it, but keep in mind that you cannot tell if a child is trans until well after birth -- by which time the social expectations and pressures are already in place, furthering what is, in the end, very much a cycle of abuse that creates long lasting and permanent scars for the individual."

Yes, this is so true. Also, in Storm's mom's correction of some of the rumors around this, it seems as if her oldest child's gender role nonconformity is what inspired her parenting style:

"Jazz is five years old. Since he was a young baby, he’s enjoyed colour, texture and vibrancy. When he was 18 months, he loved to wear layers of wildly striped and mismatched clothing and when his grandparents took him to get his very first pair of shoes, he chose the ones with orange toes and pink flowers on the side. When his brother was born, I joked I’d grow old as woman in a man’s world.

As Jazz grew, his love of bright colours (especially pink) and lots of fabric (especially dresses) continued, and he wanted to grow his hair. The older he became, the more he met with pressure from peers and adults to adjust his image and “act more like a boy.” Jazz remained committed to his own style.

I re-read the research and approaches of Alfie Kohn, Barbara Coloroso, and Adele Faber to find ways to support him. The firm rule around self image became: it has to be clean and healthy, but you can choose the colours and the lengths."


Yeah, I think it's manipulative and probably cruel. It's no better than fundamentalist parents who teach their children all kinds of lies in service to an ideology. I feel sorry for those kids and all the shit they're going to have to sort out later.

How is it manipulative to wait and let your child tell you what and who they are? The greatest coercion is the pervasive gendered messages that society sends and the silly importance a person's sex has on what messages they are fed.

Steven - so what about kids who are Intersexed?

Maybe these two abstracts from medical research papers will help you see where I'm coming from:

A theory of gender development is presented that incorporates early biological factors that organize predispositions in temperament and attitudes. With activation of these factors a person interacts in society and comes to identify as male or female. The predispositions establish preferences and aversions the growing child compares with those of others. All individuals compare themselves with others deciding who they are like (same) and with whom are they different. These experiences and interpretations can then be said to determine how one comes to identify as male or female, man or woman. In retrospect, one can say the person has a gendered brain since it is the brain that structures the individual’s basic personality; first with inherent tendencies then with interactions coming from experience. [1]
It's not about Nurture. It's about emotional response, sense of hearing and smell, thought patterns, instincts, things which are sexually dimorphic because the brain in those areas is sexually dimorphic.

Kids' Gender Identities usually form before age 6. Sometimes at 2. Almost always before 10. A minority of people are bigendered, "brain sex" isn't a binary any more than height is, but the odds are 50/50 that Storm will quite forcefully say what sex they are by age 5, regardless of what anyone else says.

As to why this happens, another quote :

The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation. [2]
Raising this child as a boy, or a girl, or neither-of-the-above has little effect. None unless the child is bigendered - in which case, it would do no harm no matter what you do.

Raising a child cross-sexed from their gender identity, and refusing to accept what the child tells them, that's what causes the harm. That's especially awful when the parents have consented to surgically "normalise" an Intersexed child, and they guess wrong. Which they do 1 time in 3.

[1]Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?” M.Diamond Sex Roles (2006) 55:589–600

[2]Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35

I do hope this works out for Storm. I do wonder if the parents are putting too much of a burden on the poor kid as he or she has to deal with society and I don't know if I can approve.

On the other hand, I am continually annoyed whenever a friend of mine has a baby or is pregnant, and the first question out of people's mouths is "Is it a boy or a girl? Are you going to have a boy or a girl?" (These questions are from lefty queer-friendly folks.) It's about time that someone answered this question with a "Fuck You" and so I take a certain satisfaction that the parents are doing that.

Since most of the people commenting negatively about this appear to be LBG and not so much T, perhaps a little perspective will help.

As we all know society has an expectation that everyone will be straight. How much simpler would it have been has compulsory heterosexuality not been forced? If parents weren't setting kids up on opposite-sex dates with their friend's kids, pulled out that adorable photo of you holding hands with your opposite sex toddler best buddy and calling them your "boyfriend/girlfriend", read stories that sometimes had Princess Charming rescuing Rapunzel? How easy would it have been to say "Mom, I'm gay" if every single adult in your life hadn't been assuming you were destined for a specific type of relationship?

Storm's parents are trying to avoid other people telling their child who and how to be based on anatomy that is irrelevant. Storm's parents are allowing their child the freedom to not only say "Mom, I'm a girl (or boy) and I'm also masculine (or feminine or most likely a bunch from both).

I think this is an interesting experiment. I don't see what the parents are doing as abusive. It's idiosyncratic given how the vast majority of us were raised. I appreciated laughrioTgirl's comments about the assumption of sexuality on children. Why not avoid the same with gender and sex?

I'll be very curious to see how these kids develop and what they decide when older, especially into adulthood. It should be an interesting "case study" regarding the never ending debate re. nature vs. nurture/social construction vs. essentialism. (I'm of a mind that it's a combination of both, and that the combination is different across individuals and even cultures and eras.)

Have to agree with my sisters-in-arms here.

No one is saying that Storm is or is not trans* or queer. Sie (using neutral pronouns for simplicity) is simply not being forced to tell until sie is ready. Hir brothers are for the most part going about the same path as far as gender norms go, except that their birth sex is at this point known.

I know that, speaking for myself as a transgender woman, one of the hardest parts about growing up was the constant confusing of trying to tell people I was a girl when they insisted I was not. It was downright damaging to my development, which is probably why I didn't go back to school for some time until my transition was at a satisfactory point. It was too difficult otherwise.

I think, honestly, that Storm will turn out however sie was already going to, and have a much easier time. Hopefully sie will be one of many that will eventually lead the way to a far less sexist environment. And, from where I'm standing, an end to sexism and patriarchy will be better for everyone - from the transgender and transsexual communities, to the genderqueer and androgynes, to the cis gays, be they male, female, femme, butch, or any of the above, all the way to the cis straights that get harassed today just as much as LGBTQs for not living up to society's gender expectations.

I applaud Storm's parents for making this decision. I have a few reasons why. A lot of things have already been pointed out so, bear with me while I share my two cents. People wonder: isn't it wrong to impose genderlessness on a child? Well, here's the thing, we don't have a gender identity, much less ANY identity when we're born. We can't even recognize ourselves in a mirror. A sense of self is something that grows over time, naturally, with our daily interactions with the world. Numerous studies have been done on the effects of parents, siblings, friends, etc and they're all found to shape who we are as people. Storm's parents are not imposing anything unnatural, but rather embracing what is.

People wonder what Storm will do when Storm gets older? When Storm comes in contact with the heavily gender-policed world? Storm will do what all of us do on a regular basis. Everyone, everywhere, has people telling them what to be and what to do, all the time. Sometimes that has something to do with gender, and sometimes it doesn't. We all, as human beings, must struggle against the tide of culturally prescribed behaviour to find and keep a grip on who we are and to find meaning in our lives. We are not cookie-cutter automatons. Storm, will grow up knowing this. Perhaps it will help Storm hold onto Storm's identity a little bit better than children raised with gender bias. Perhaps it won't. But Storm's parents want to at least give Storm a chance. We cannot fault them for that.

Will Storm eventually choose to identify as a boy or a girl? Who knows? Will Storm face adversity if Storm doesn't choose to identify as a boy or a girl? Millions of trans-people, and gender-variant people in the world today are a testament to that fact. Yes. And it will continue to be so until we finally crush sexism, if we can do such a thing. If Storm is transgendered, gender variant, third gendered (or whatever semantic nuance you want to throw in there), then Storm has a head start on learning how to deal with a discriminating society. If Storm wants to identify as a boy or a girl later, Storm will not have to break down the gender identity that would have otherwise been built up around Storm during childhood. Storm will not have to deal with the uphill struggle of trying to get people to STOP referring to Storm as what they were assigned at birth.

Will Storm be bullied. Yes. All children are bullied. I was bullied and I was perfectly normal. I was bullied for being a devout Christian, having long hair, writing poetry, being a werewolf (I did not propagate this rumor and I have no idea where they got this idea.), talking to trees (Again, I did not propagate this story.), being poor, having matching clothes, sitting up straight, not shaving my legs until I hit puberty, and many other things that would take up too much space to type. My fellow humans, please hear this, even if you read nothing else of my comment: Children will bully other children because they want to bully someone. If there is not something obvious for them to make fun of, they will make something up. I have told parents who agonize over wanting to name their children something special and beautiful that they might as well give them the best name they can think of, "ridiculous" or not and hope that that is all the other kids use to make fun of them.

This extends into adulthood as well. If someone is going to be a jerk to Storm in the future, they're going to do it. We cannot protect our children from the world no matter how much we want to. Even if this "experiment" (read: chosen method of raising a child) does not work the way they hope, we must not attack them for trying to build a good foundation for their children. They want to instill an inner shielding to protect Storm's fundamental identity against the ravages of an unkind world. It is something I wish my parents had had the courage to do for me.

I am very suspicious of ANY parent that would put their child into such a very PUBLIC MEDIA LIGHT. A little Gypsy Rose Lee "backstage mothering".

The parents want to raise their child minus sex stereotypes... then do it! They can commit to doing EXACTLY this minus the media coverage.

Scratch the surface and it sniffs of binary/heterosexual guilt. Binary/heterosexual guilt can be as complicated and damaging as white guilt.
Good intentions and little knowledge.

Which basically breaks down to viewing outside experiences w/pity instead of equality.

Girls CONSTANTLY being raised in the binary/heterosexual conditioning grow up the challenge IT as women... whether they are straight/lesbian/bi because it's part of growing up in becoming a woman.

Little "girrrrrls" don't EVER mature/function to be Princess' as women.