Afternoon InquisitionParenting

AI: A Genderless Storm

Canadian parents, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, have two boys, Jazz (5) and Kio (2). They also have a baby called Storm.

Witterick and Stocker decided not tell anyone beyond the child’s two siblings (and a tiny handful of others) whether Storm is a boy or a girl. Storm’s parents describe what they’re doing as allowing the baby to grow and develop without a fixed gender. They sent an email to friends and family when Storm was born to explain their decision. The email read:

“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? …).”

Also of note: The parents’ other children have been given great freedom of choice in their own development, including the freedom to choose elements of their personal appearance, as well how they want to be educated.

Apparently, this story has caused quite a stir across Canada.

But this is your Inquisition, Skepchick reader. So . . .

Would you do this with a child of yours? Do you see any real benefit? Any possible harm to the child? Is this a cruel experiment being carried out upon a defenceless baby or a reasonable attempt to undermine rigid sex role stereotypes, as the parents insist? And what of the freedom given to the older children? Should children that young be allowed to make decisions about education? Appearance?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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103 Comments

  1. I’m more concerned about the fact they seem to think giving children names more suited for American Gladiators as opposed to future adults.

    It didn’t exactly short circuit the ol’ surprise-o-meter to learn that the kids are ‘unschooled’.

  2. Is Tim Minchin getting any royalty payments?

    Silly, stupid, thoughtless experiment, moron parents are just a few of the things that come to mind. I haven’t decided if it’s abusive but I’m thinking it may end up that way.

    1. I agree that this is foolish and probably bad for the children. Children need parents to help them learn and grow. A child doesn’t have the necessary background to make many of these choices. That is what parents are for. As far as sexuality that isn’t a choice. Allow the child to grow up in a safe and loving environment and they will be able to figure out their sexuality.

        1. you really think gender is something that you’re given?

          Are you saying that gender is a matter of choice? The transgender folk I have talked to claim it was never a matter of choice on their part. According to them they were born with a biological gender and a psychological gender in disagreement–“given”, I suppose you would have to call it. If gender were a simple matter of choice, they could become cis-gendered easy-peasy and save themselves a lot of misery.

          1. So, exactly what I said then. I’m not cis, and I was saying that it’s ridiculous that the person I was responding to seemed to be suggesting that gender is something parents “give” to their kids.

        2. Yes, Becca, gender is inate. My two genders are animate and masculine.
          (Much to my chagrin, gender is often misused as a euphemism for sex. Gender is actually a grammatical term. French has two genders: masculine and feminine. Atapascan also has two genders: animate and inanimate. Whenever I am asked for my gender, I reply “animate”, and enjoy the ensuing befuddlement…)

          1. I love that response. :)

            I realize I may have been misread, I know gender’s innate, I was incredulous that the person I was initially replying to came off seeming like it was something parents instill.

  3. How will baby Storm know whether to like sports or pink?

    I wouldn’t do this, because I don’t have the energy to play games. I don’t think there’s a benefit or detriment involved. I support not trying to enforce gender roles, and even actively fighting them. Playing the “I’m not telling” game seems a little much to me, but in the end who cares?

    Have there been any studies on “unschooling” vs the structured style? It would be interesting to see if kids can teach themselves at more advanced levels.

    I think kids can dress themselves just fine. Parents tend to be far more embarrassed than kids when the kid looks different.

  4. Maybe I am missing the point but the kid is going to realise soon enough whether he/she is a boy/girl. I can’t imagine you could keep them in the dark much past 5 or 6. I could understand more not putting the child in blue or pink, not giving it Barbie/GiJoe but this seems to be going one step further than necessary.

    It also seems to deny some obvious facts. Some people are girls and some are boys.

    As the child gets older you can explain that some people are girls who like girls & Guys who like guys. Not leave out some guys feel like they are girls whole like guys & some girls feel like guys that like girls.

    The point that should be made is that people are different and that’s a great thing. We can be different and equal.

  5. Tim Minchin’s 9 minute beat poem keeps coming to mind.

    I would not do this for my children and see no benefit from it. I believe kids can grow up in a household to think for themselves AND be given a gender. I don’t think it’s cruel as the child is still growing up with parents who

    Children can certainly learn from exploring, but I believe I need to give my kids the opportunities to explore as much as possible. They may want to do crafts all the time, but you may have mathematical talents and we would never know. The part about appearance doesn’t bother me as I let my kids pick whatever is in their closet and it’s appropriate for the weather.

    Wouldn’t the sex of the baby be easier to detect as the child gets older? Are the kids vaccinated or do they get to decide if they don’t want shots?

  6. Yeah, this won’t last long. As soon as that kid goes to school he/she will probably want to fit in, just like most kids. And I don’t think a school will let him/her choose what bathroom he/she goes to.
    The only thing this will achieve making life difficult for friends and family when buying presents for little Storm.

    1. I think that “making it difficult to buy presents for them” is kind of part of the point.

      No matter how egalitarian or liberal parents are, they still have extended families who quite possibly aren’t. And even if they are, it’s still really hard to break out of the pink/dolls/play home-making equipment is for girls and blue/baseballs/trucks are for boys thinking. Presents from family and friends, as well as comments from strangers can do a lot to enforce rigid gender roles.

      I don’t think it’s a big deal. The kid will probably figure it out before school age from seeing their big brothers and parents and will figure out if they have an “innie” or an “outie” and will adjust accordingly.

      So, no. Not abusive. No one needs to know the gender of a child that young, except possibly a doctor in case of a history of sex-linked abnormalities in the family history.

      It really shouldn’t matter.

    2. Why would it be difficult to buy toys for them? Infant and toddler toys are not really sex dependent, and when they start to differentiate you should buy them the toys they like.

      As for this, I can kind of see a situation that it makes sense is for an intersexed child, as I do not see much point to not referring to the child by their sex until they are old enough to express gender preference.

  7. How is this experiment at all useful. How many babies are majorly influenced by anyone other than parents, sibs, and a few others?

    Are they all magically incapable of gender bias?

  8. Unless they’re planning on hiding the child away for next 5-10 years, I doubt that this will make any difference. Even if they manage to keep the kid’s appearance largely androgynous, it won’t shield him or her from the knowledge that most children have a gender, or from exposure to gender stereotypes (and they’ll figure out pretty quick which category they’re supposed to belong to). But in the end … I see no harm in the exercise.

    As for the freedom of choice given to the other children … we’re selfish and manipulative when we’re young for a reason, but part of that reason is that we have parents with limited resources and conflicting interests who will push back. Some view conformity as the great evil that suffocates individuality, but … you can’t have human society without it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    1. As far as I can tell, they aren’t making any effort to “androgynize” the kid; they let Storm choose Storm’s appearance (within weather-based reason, I hope).

      And the idea isn’t to keep the kid from having a gender so much as making the kid’s gender self-designated as much as possible. When you say, “and they’ll figure out pretty quick which category they’re supposed to belong to,” the point is to remove the “supposed to” part, and replace it with a continuum of gender, which is arguably more psychologically healthy.

  9. I love to think that it might be possible to raise a child without the pressure to adhere to gender stereotypes, but I just don’t think it’s possible.

    Anecdote time: I was the first-born of my siblings. My parents had all sorts of lofty liberal goals for my upbringing — I was never going to know what refined sugar tasted like, I was never going to watch television, and I was going to have the freedom to choose the toys and games and clothing I wanted. And then I went to kindergarten, and other kids had refined sugar desserts they let me taste and tv shows they’d talk about and gender-themed toys they’d play with and pink clothing they’d wear, and that all went to hell. (Though I think I may have become interested in Barbies and sparkly shoes of my own accord, anyway.)

    Just because you don’t tell other people what your child’s gender is or put gender stereotypes on your child doesn’t mean the rest of the world won’t. They don’t have to know what the kid’s gender is to foster a context of “This is what boys do and this is what girls do.” It’s idealist and silly, but I have to applaud their efforts nonetheless.

    1. And then I went to kindergarten, and other kids had refined sugar desserts they let me taste and tv shows they’d talk about and gender-themed toys they’d play with and pink clothing they’d wear, and that all went to hell.

      “The first thing kids learn in school is that other kids get allowances.”

      Is blockquote fixed yet? I really miss it.

  10. It doesn’t seem to be about ambiguous genitalia. Even so, the issue seems to be how do we know how to treat this child if we don’t know its sex. There may be no benefit to this child, but the issue is now out in the open and there may in the future be benefits to children who are forced into a sex role so that the public won’t feel uncomfortable around them.

  11. I really have issues with the unschooling (and the names), but allowing the kid to decide their own gender identity (and interests, because those are pretty much presumed by gender) isn’t a bad idea. If the kid is completely cisgender, what’s been lost when they assert it themself? If they’re not cis, then they don’t have to deal with having been assigned to the wrong gender for x years, especially if they’re not even binary-IDed at all.

    dpeabody, you’re coming off as being really binarist and kind of cissexist. The idea I’m seeing in some of the comments is that gender is something that is given by parents. lolwat?

  12. Okay I’ve thought about it some more. Engaging in potentially damaging experiments of this nature on your own child is abuse in that there could be significant emotional of psychological functioning problems for the child as a result. And the issue for social services is not just about making a determination that abuse and/or neglect has happened, it also includes an assessment of potential risk based on circumstances in the home. I think this family should expect a visit from a Provence social worker.

    1. I’m curious what psychological problems you think the child will have. The kid will know what her/his sex is, especially since s/he has older brothers who will tell him or her all about that stuff. If the kid doesn’t learn what gender role s/he is supposed to follow, is that such a bad thing?

      I’ll leave it to the differently gendered to discuss the “psychological problems” that arise from being told one is something one is not.

    1. From what I’ve read this is different than avoiding stereotypes; it’s about intentional misinformation (by absence) and experimentation on a vulnerable child that is serving no other purpose than to meet the parent’s needs. Granted damage to the child is potential and the biggest problem could be epic embarrassment and endless teasing and ridicule as a result of what the parents have already done.

      1. What misinformation? The child will know what they are.

        And teasing? Kids are teased for everything by other kids. I think it’s more important to not coercively assign gender and work to end bullying than to pander to them.

  13. I don’t think this benefits the child, and it puts an strain on the siblings who are asked to keep a secret. But I also have a hard time trusting the judgment of parents who practice unschooling. I’m all for letting curiosity help guide and enhance the education processes, but not at the exclusion on all structure.

  14. @BeccaTheCyborg

    “dpeabody, you’re coming off as being really binarist and kind of cissexist.”

    I have no idea what these words mean…. Please explain. I’m sorry if I caused offense by leaving out that some people are effectively Asexual or bisexual. But it does not really matter. My point was that other than in exceptional cases you are born physiologically either a boy or a girl. There is no point trying to hide that. What should be done is to remove the idea that just because you are born a boy or a girl you have to conform to a stereotype.

    1. Asexual and bisexual are sexual orientations, not genders. There are many more than two genders.

      Intersex people are actually a lot more common than you think. And gender and sex are different things altogether. I know you don’t mean it, but what you’re saying is actually quite hurtful.

      1. I really am trying to be as far from hurtful as possible.

        All I have been referring to is the child’s Sex. As it was stated in the quote.

        “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now”

        I did not know there was a difference between the words gender & sex till I just read RLevine’s post. But to use those terms correctly now. I don’t believe someone’s gender must necessarily be linked in any way to their sex and thus I don’t think hiding the child’s sex is the right way to not enforce gender stereotypes. Unless they only mean to hide the child’s sex from relatives. My main concern comes down to only the lack of education the child may receive in human biology.

  15. I kind of love this and was surprised at all the disapproval.

    Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine being a parent, but my take is: the more that society acknowledges gender as a continuum rather than a dichotomy, the better.

    I imagine the child’s happiness will depend on way more factors than their gender-neutral identity, anyway.

  16. Ok i looked up Cissexist and i think I may have come across like that because I was using simple terms, as if i was speaking to a child… Which may have made it sound like i feel its all a choice, Which i do not. Sorry.

  17. Seems fairly harmless to me. I have a 16 month old boy and couldn´t give a crap what toys he chooses to play with. It seems that the worst thing about these parents is that they might be incredibly tiresome bores if you had to be around them for any length of time. Although you would probably be better off being brought up by a couple of wacky hippies than the alcoholics that I and practically everyone I knew lived with.

  18. I’m pretty surprised at a lot of responders’ views and misconceptions. The point is not to keep the kid’s sex secret for as long as possible, but to let the kid decide for themselves what their gender is. Sex, by the way, is physical sex, and gender is a concept of self. So I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what the kid’s physical sex is (and who cares?).

    To the people asking, “how will people know what gifts to buy the child?” with serious intent: you are demonstrating the socialized gender roles these parents are trying to dodge.

    Also, child abuse? Harmful? I’m sorry, but that’s myopic in the extreme. Rigid gender roles and social binaries are harmful for children. If you think the child is going to be harmed by not having to deal with the same illogical and potentially traumatizing boxes into which people are expected to fit, you may be missing the forest for the trees.

    1. For the record, I was not advocating giving kids gender-specific toys or clothes. My point was that I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up the genderless upbringing for long so it will have almost no effect on the kid.
      Buying gender-neutral toys requires more thought and time than just getting a doll/truck. If this extra effort makes some friends/family think about the issue, then this will probably have a bigger (hopefully positive) effect on their own lives than on Storms.

  19. I don’t think there’s any evidence that refusing to force a gender on a child is harmful. There is some evidence that forcing a child into a gender they don’t identify with can hurt, but as long as they don’t insist on raising him/her genderless against his/her will, I don’t see a problem.

    What bothers me is that this little quirk in parenting is becoming the major story, while the whole “unschooling” thing goes largely ignored. I’ve googled around about it, and honestly can’t tell the difference between this method of education and just hanging out with your kids and doing whatever. I don’t care what happens when Storm picks a gender. I care about what will happen when Storm and siblings run into a problem that requires a large amount of boredom, frustration, or self-regulation to solve.

    1. Unschooling is seriously not a bad thing as long as it’s done with children who have engaged, responsible, and adventurous parents. I know a handful of young adults about my age who were unschooled until they were in their late teens: Two of them are in college and doing well, one works on an organic farm in New Zealand, and one’s a sucessful webcomic artist. Unschooling, in it’s intended form, doesn’t mean “sit around and do whatever”. It means going to libraries and museums, growing home gardens, doing volunteer work and community service, raising pets, learning homemaking skills by doing them, traveling, and a hundred other things. Unschooling is not -inherently- harmful, so the concern here is confusing.

        1. “often deservedly bad reputation”? I’m sorry, but that kind of broad generalization frustrates me to no end!! For every kid that got homeschooled or unschooled by parents that were neglectful or abusive there are so many more that benefited from that style of education. You could just as easily apply that standard to public schools and say they have a bad reputation because of sexual abuse by teachers, because bright kids are bored, slow kids are punished instead of getting the attention they need, behavioral problems, etc etc. Grrrr, I have heard so much crap about homeschooling all my life and I am so sick of it! And especially in forum where people are supposed to be actually using their brains and perpetuating useless stereotypes!

          1. Yea, were else are children going to be able to do biblically correct science fair projects? The thing is that home schooling is pushed by religious extremists, now maybe children do not need a good science education, but I think that they do.

            Rational home schooled science education has a very low Google presence at the least.

      1. But all of those things sound more complementary to a formal education than a substitute for it. Going to museums, etc. are things that any parent should do for their kids if they can.
        Could it go well? Sure, it’s possible. But with no standards of practice, or even well-defined goals, it seems like a crapshoot.

  20. A surprisingly large percentage of the commenters here (and about half the commenters on the CTV site) didn’t read the story. The parents aren’t concealing the baby’s gender from close friends and family. The brothers know, and presumably Storm will as well, soon as he or she is old enough to know there is such a thing.
    .
    I think this is more an experiment on society than on Storm. Nosy busybodies and random strangers on the street won’t be able to put the kid in their convenient pigeon holes. How will they react? Will they break their mental bonds or just dismiss the parents as hippie loons?
    .
    Like @BeccaTheCyborg, I’m more concerned about the unschooling. Some kids might self-motivate to learn, but most would rather play, watch TV or engage in other forms of passive entertainment all day. Even my 9-y-o niece, COTW winner and budding paleontologist, had absolutely no interest in learning to read until she discovered the existence of books about dinosaurs.
    .
    What worries me most is that Storm will grow up to be a credulous Aussie wannabe actress.

    1. (To nitpick on the micron scale, the parents *don’t* know the gender of the child – they know the sex. No-one knows the gender, except Storm emself, and it’s going to be a while before ey can articulate it.)

      1. for the record I don’t think storm knows… I didn’t realize I was a woman till later in life though there were hints.

        But I grew up in a very repressive enviroment.

  21. For the record I couldn’t read the article above (blocked at work), but found an article on yahoo news which had the following quote:
    So only the parents, their two other children (both boys), a close friend, and the two midwives who helped deliver the now 4-month-old baby know its gender. Even the grandparents have been left in the dark.

    I think these parents are very extreme in their approach (both on gender and unschooling), and I don’t see it as being any better than a parent rigidly enforcing gender stereotypes on their kids. It’s just another end of the spectrum. Moderation can be a good thing, honest!
    .
    My first name is Jamie. Without any unconventional upbringing, I had enough incorrect assumptions to be annoyed by it.
    .
    Getting free tampons in the mail and an application for Miss Teen Ohio (I’m male), was pretty amusing.
    .
    For my daughter, I wanted her to have a gender-specific name (Athena), so there’d be less confusion. However, we’ve made no attempts at enforcing stereotypes. She has a large selection of toys – most gender-neutral (legos), but she also likes dolls as well as trucks and nerf swords.
    .
    There’s giving your child freedom from enforced stereotypes, and there’s going through extra effort to make sure they can’t easily assimilate into society. Not sure if these parents go THAT far, but that was the impression I got after reading a couple articles on this.

  22. Wow, all I can say about this and the comments here and at CTV is this seems to be a huge exercise in missing the point.
    .
    These parents are not telling other people what the baby’s sex is, that forces relatives, strangers, and the world at large to rethink just how much a person’s gender plays into what and how we think about them. They will, for example, have to figure out a different way of refering to the baby other than him or her, I’m sure it won’t be it, perhaps they will simply refer to the baby as Storm. This will actually open up gift giving as anyone who knows Storm will be able to buy what they wish, as long as Storm likes it, they would (not that they should) feel far less free to buy a little boy a dress that he liked or a little girl that baseball uniform. It’s sad that something this unusual has to happen to shake people’s thoughts on sexuality and gender. It doesn’t change reality, but it may change some people’s view of reality.
    But it only goes so far I must say. I am all for them doing this until Storm self gender-identifies (am I making up words?), at that point continuing this could become cruel and could lead to psychological issues in and of itself. I see no need to take away the child’s ability to choose their own appearance after this time however, they will be pressured to conform soon enough.
    .
    As for “unschooling”, I see now reason that it couldn’t work depending on how it is implimented, for example allowing the child decide “how” they are going to learn today’s particular lesson, as long as there is some sort of goal. I realise that is not the stated platform of unschooling, but I suspect there is some of that going on in all but the most ardent cases.
    .
    Finally, the most important aspect in all of this, the thing that makes me believe that, despite the “unique” names, these kids are going to be alright, is that these parents “obviously” are very involved with their children. They care what happens to them, they want what is best for them, and they seem to love them very much. As unorthodox as all this is, and baring other more damaging beliefs (like anti-vax or homeopathy only), I believe these kids will be just fine and may even be great.

  23. Like some of you others here, I am more concerned too about the “unschooling” idea than concealing the gender. I don’t think the parents are concealing the gender from the child, but from other people. They seem to be planning to let the child do the revealing when he/she wants to. While there’s plenty of research on gender identity development, there’s not much that can really speak to this situation (mostly because no IRB would ever approve an experimental study like this). So whether it will cause harm is anybody’s guess.

    I don’t think they’ll be able to keep it up for very long anyhow. Children have a pretty strong inclination to figure out how they fit in with the other boys and girls. While I am not an expert on gender identity development, my guess is that it would be delayed a bit for this child, but probably not permanently damaged.

    The “unschooling” is a different matter entirely. We simply can’t learn everything we should know about our world by observation and play and going to school only when you feel like it. We need explicit instruction to learn most of what’s worth learning about. And, importantly, we need to learn the self discipline that is required to keep learning when we get to the hard stuff.

  24. I am deeply confused as to why people think this is a problem. I’m going to assume that Storm’s parents will educate them (yeah, I’m in favor of using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral singular pronoun) about their body as they get older, like any reasonable parent would.

    If that’s the case, then I don’t see why it’s any of anyone else’s business what sex or gender anyone is. Disclosing your gender and/or sex to anyone should be a choice. It isn’t in any way important to anyone’s relationship with you unless they decide that it is. Will someone please lay out for me what, specifically, some anticipated problems will be?

  25. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. If gender traits are really ingrained, then the baby will fall into line regardless of what s/he wears.

    If I have kids, nobody will know the sex before it’s born. Afterward, I intend to expose the kid to everything. Yes, that means a boy would wear pink frilly dresses on some days. It won’t turn him gay, but even if it did, so what? I’ll also give all my children gender-neutral names so that they will encounter less subconscious bias, especially if they go into career fields that aren’t typical for their gender. I would also give them a gendered middle name, probably to honor a family member, and then respect their choice if they prefer to be called by that name instead.

    My niece has short hair. My complains about it constantly because she thinks this girl looks like a boy. She wouldn’t be mistaken for a boy because she always wear pink and purple, but that doesn’t matter. I always challenge my mom and ask “So what?” She never has a good response. If someone mistakes her for a boy, maybe they’ll tell her she’s good at math or that trucks are cool, and then I guess the sky will collapse or something.

    As for the odd names, I simply cannot stand name snobs. How do you think names were invented in the first place? Most name started by being simple traits, objects, or goals that the parents had for the child. Naming a kid after a noun is perfectly legitimate. As for alternate spellings, well that’s traditional too. That’s just part of language evolution in general, and it’s why we have Katherine and Caitlin which both have the same root name. Also, with damn near 7 billion people, we need to add new names to the mix every now and then.

    I am concerned about the unschooling though. I actually saw a show about a different family who did that. Their kid didn’t want to take a daily bath (surprise!), so they kind of tricked him into it. Instead of telling to just take a bath, they would tell him that they don’t like to hug stinky people. To me, it seems a but cruel to imply that you won’t show love or affection unless they do what you want. It seems less traumatic to just tell the kid to take a bath because you said so.

  26. I feel like any rational person who has ever been to a baby shower has to at least understand where the parents are coming from. Or just go to Target and look at how hyper-gendered all baby products are.

    I know anecdotes don’t mean anything, but I’m still going to share mine. My mom makes burp rags and I grab a stack of them whenever a friend has a baby. I took one with trucks and cars on it recently, and my mom was all “I thought she didn’t know the sex of the baby” and I was all “yeah, she doesn’t” and she was all “what if it’s a girl?” as in “you can’t give trucks to a girl.” Why a female infant who doesn’t even know what a truck is shouldn’t be allowed to vomit on an object that has pictures of trucks on it is beyond me.

    Anyway, good for Storm’s parents.

  27. I think it is a fine idea. The secrecy won’t outlast babyhood by much in any case – what toddler isn’t occasionally pantless in the presence of friends? I can’t see Storm taking any harm from this, it will just delay external gender stereotyping by a year or so.

    It will cause linguistic inconvenience to friends and extended family due to English’s shortage of gender neutral pronouns.

    1. Umm, the parents aren’t forcing their child to remain gender-neutral forever. Storm can choose his or hair length, just as the parents can. They won’t force Storm to conform to a specific gender role, and his or her preferences may or may not line up with gender role that matches her or his genitals. You have completely missed the point.

      Also, the parents have faced enormous social pressure to conform, and perhaps that’s precisely why they are trying to reduce the pressure that Storm faces.

      1. I disagree that I missed the point. I understood everything that you mentioned and I believe I understood thier intentions from the artical. However, I will admit my comment was rushed and I did not make myself clear. Let me share my thinking with you now. The two parents of the child Storm are not the first parents to try this method of raising a child. I even studied in school some previous examples. Out of the other examples I remember from school, the internet, and TV, the parents seems to always try to remove some of their own ‘imposed’ gender identities before trying to raise thier children with this philosophy. This case just hit me as diffrent then the other I had seen. Yes, I know that I didn’t say any of those things in my first comment but that is what I was thinking at the time. I just wanted to be clear that I didn’t ‘miss the point’, I was rushed, being silly, and unclear.

        1. Far to often in comments I see claims of ‘missed the point’. Someone has not missed the point when they are being unclear, have gone off on a tangent, are talking about a side issue, are trying to be funny, or are talking about something else entirely. To be clear this time I was just very much unclear in my first post and I’m sorry. (I’m also sorry for my terrible grammer and spelling).

  28. As with many people on the comment board, I don’t see any issues with raising a child in a gender neutral environment. However, it does appear to me that the parents might not be as relaxed with their children as they state – and that the raising of a genderless child is very important to them. In the original Toronto star article, the father pretty much came out and stated that it is ‘obnoxious’ to make choices for their children – but their oldest child seems to be very obsessed with gender, even writing his own book called the ‘Gender Explorer’ (which is a pretty detailed obsession for one who is 5). It appears that someone is making many ‘gender heavy’ choices (or advice) for him.

    It is also strange to me that their eldest son is not influenced at all by his friends. Most children want to fit in as much as possible, and I’m surpised that the appearance and behaviour of any of his male friends has not rubbed off on him at all. Either he is very strong willed, has parents that are heavily influencing him, or perhaps does not have any male friends.

    The behaviour and appearance of their son, their focus on ‘unschooling’ and the unorthodox names that they have chosen for their kids smacks less of raising a genderless child and more of ‘Look how different we are!’.

  29. I’ve been well, not surprised, but maybe baffled by some of the negative responses I’ve been reading about this couple’s decision (there was a big long beanplating session on MetaFilter the other day). I think people are quick to make snarky comments about the hippie parents or the kids names, and maybe missing the point of what they’re actually trying to do.

    They’re not hiding the baby’s gender from the baby. They know perfectly well that the baby is going to grow up and learn what his/her gender is, and when the baby is old enough to share his/her gender (if that’s what he/she wants to do), the parents aren’t going to try too stop that. They just don’t want to have their baby bombarded with gender role expectations straight out of the womb.

    This seems to be an attempt to keep OTHER ADULTS from obsessing over the baby’s gender, as adults are wont to do. People really do treat babies differently when they know (or think they know) the gender of the baby. I remember reading about a study back in college that looked at how adults treated a baby wrapped in a pink blanket v. a baby wrapped in a blue blanket, and there were big differences.

  30. I find it quite selfish to make their kid’s life even more complicated than life already is for the sake of feeling good about their progressive subversiveness.

    Storm has to live in a culture that will see this upbringing as weird and “different”, and will likely be unprepared to deal with a gendered world. The lack of schooling will only delay the unfortunately inevitable not-fitting-in with peers. My gut tells me Storm is going to be socially awkward.

    Considering the experimental genderless upbringing, combined with the hippie name and lack of education, Storm better be a good artist or musician, because Mom and Dad have certainly done their best to make sure the usual paths in life are blocked.

    1. I realize I’m being a little strident on the subject, but have any of you people actually ever dealt with homeschooled or unschooled adults? I will grant, even coming from a homeschooled background, I find unschooling a little hinky, but just because you don’t follow a formal curriculum doesn’t mean a person is uneducated. And quite frankly I call bullshit on the “socialization” argument. I actually was much better and relating to people of a range of ages until I went to high school and college. All conventional school does for a kid for socialization is teach them how to relate to people their exact age. Life outside of school does not allow for that narrow a range of focus.

  31. While I think this is an interesting idea, I wonder why they are letting the media in on this at this stage? It seems like they’re using their kid as a sociological experiment for public attention. I would think that this would overshadow Storm’s individual achievements, because no matter what else in life, Storm will always be known first for being the gender neutral child. Of course it could create opportunities for them too, who knows.

  32. Personally, I don’t see any problem with this at all. It’s not that different from what my parents did with my brothers and I, though my case isn’t as extreme. However, we were never forced to have gender specific clothing or toys, although we certainly received them at times. But, since all of us were within 3 years, we just played with each other’s todays. When I turned tomboy and decided I wanted to spend my life digging up dinosaurs, my parents let me where unisex clothes and sell all my Barbies to buy my first rock hammer. I am curious about how this will play out for baby Storm, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if it turns out just fine.
    As for the “unschooling,” I actually expect it will work very well. The parents are involved, and seem to be encouraging their kids to learn and grow as individuals. I don’t know how the school system works in Canada, but here in the US, it can be dismal, making kids conform and punishing them if they don’t. Taking another anecdote, in preschool I was told I was not allowed to read, even though I had started reading a year before. In elementary school, they refused to grade advance me, even though I was more than ready both intellect and maturity-wise. So, I asked my parents if I could do something else, and they let me withdraw from the school and homeschooled me. I was given the ability to choose what I wanted to learn, and discovered the science museum, which was the best environment I could have found. Museum schooling was the best option for me; online schooling was ideal for two of my brothers; a small private school was the best fit for the third. This won’t work for everyone, of course, but it seems like this family isn’t isolating their kids. In their encounters with other kids, they will hear about school, and will probably ask their parents “Can I go to school too?” They may like it; they may not. If done right, this “unschooling” will likely make the kids love learning on their own, and decide who they are without the pressure of peers and authority.

    1. YEA!!!! Exactly! And I think many people suffer from the impression that because people are leaving the conventional rules for education behind that somehow it means that there are no rules at all for anything regardless of education. How you raise and discipline a child is an entirely separate subject from education.

  33. Of all the crazy things parents do to and with their children, this is probably the least harmful. It may even be a good thing. Do we really need to force gender stereotypes on our children starting from the day that they’re born? Let’s take the focus off structuring a two year old’s life around sex, and instead focus on enabling the child to learn and grow in a safe and educational environment. Our society’s gender stereotypes will be imposed soon enough — when the child starts school and strong socialization outside the family.

    I think that what’s really distorted is how we as adults treat babies substantially differently based on their perceived gender. I think it would be healthy for us to lighten up on imposing our preconceived ideas and limitations about sex on toddlers. Let’s give them a chance to become a more well-rounded individual, for at least the first few years of life, before coming down on them with all the “shoulds” and “oughts” of our heavily biased and discriminatory society.

    Do we think that toddlers should be forced to wear berkas, so that they’ll “fit in” more easily, when grown?

    It might be that sexuality is something best “grown into” as one matures, rather than something imposed relentlessly from the moment of birth.

  34. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense. I understand trying to avoid stereotypes and not limiting ones child to certain choices. I don’t think their choices are based on reason. At this age the baby doesn’t know anything about gender roles and what people perceive of her. If she decides that her gender is different from her sex she will still have to acknowledge that it will be a change.

    Gifts will be more difficult. For the majority of people. I’m not thinking trucks and barbies but clothing. I know putting on a dress doesn’t make a boy gay but in our society it’s part of our gender identity. If it weren’t transgender males would not choose to wear dresses.
    I think that gender identity is important and the reason why transgender individuals go through the process of changing theirs when is different from their sex.

    I’m wandering if Storm has both sexes. If that is the case it changes the reasoning behind what they are doing it.

  35. I still think most of you are missing the point. They are not imposing anything on Storm, they are imposing this sex-neutral rule on the people around them. If the “grown-ups” aren’t able to deal, perhaps they need to rethink their narrow view of sex and gender roles and how they effect society.
    I suspect that some will, and that would be a good thing.

  36. So it occured to me that causing society to react neutrally to a child by withholding its sex and expecting society to react conventionally to a child of known sex is pretty much a push when it comes to exercising a parent’s power over group behavior. Either approach is pretty much the ultimate gambit at a parent’s disposal when it comes to influencing how society reacts to their children.

    This whole thing is more of a statement than practical activism, and that statement has been made loudly, considering the press coverage and the fact that we’re discussing it here.

    What concerns me most — or what would concern me most if I didn’t think parents fuck their kids’ worlds up no matter what they do — is the impact on the child’s well-being. And in that area, I have no answers. I suppose only time will tell.

    I do, however, think it would be prudent to monitor the “unschooling” aspect of this.

    I don’t doubt that human beings can learn and develop intellectually outside of a conventional classroom. Randi is a good example of that. But the parents have to find a way to foster that development, and given the disproportionate ratio of bad parents to good parents, the numbers suggest they’re probably nothing more than a couple of fuckwits who are as clueless about how to do that as I am.

    Just because they have implemented and introduced a progressive idea to North America doesn’t mean we should expect greatness from them. And after all, they are really the ones under the microscope here. Not Storm.

    And by the way, I have no problem with the kids’ names. They remind me of a cool overnight radio show.

    “You’re listen to the Storm (cue distance thunder) on Jazz W-KIO.”

  37. Sam Ogden,

    I don’t really see what good this will do. Isn’t Gender identity biologically determined, and not to mention the fact, that to do this correctly they will basically have to be referring to their child as an “it.”

  38. Wow, this is long thread. But it’s been on my mind as I walked home, so I’d like to leave a few notes.

    First, there is some misunderstanding by some people between sex and gender. Here’s a link to WHO’s page on Gender, women and health, where it very clearly lays down definitions of both:
    http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/
    I find them pretty acceptable and reflective of what many people have been saying.

    As for the other bits – I tried to find examples of children brought up genderless but as far as I can tell it’s only been happening recently (i.e. in Sweden in 2009 a couple made a similar announcement and it caused a similar huppla). I did find an interview with Lise Eliot, the author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain…”: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2009/09/26/gender_difference

    But ultimately, everyone has an opinion on how other people should raise their children. However, there is obviously no right way because we were all raised in different ways and we’re all relatively functional. If you want society to be a certain way, then there will be right and wrong. Only time will tell if there kids grow up okay or “damaged”, but I wouldn’t jump on them yet and say “selfish” or “misinformed.”

    Also, homeschooling depends on the parents and the kid. We don’t know enough about any of them to make a judgement call on that.

    Hmm – not enough info seems to be the biggest problem here. Observation is the first step. Anyone down for a Witterick-Stocker household stakeout?

  39. I echo what several commenters have pointed out: that many people are missing the point.

    This is not an ‘experiment’ on the child, or even on society.

    If we can agree that gender is innate (and remember, gender is different from sex), and I think that most reasonable people these days do understand this, then we see that Storm has, in effect, something that probably none of us had when we were that age:

    A potential for barrier-less avenues to acting on, and expression of, one’s own gender.

    Ask any trans person about how easy it was for them to transition, and you’ll likely hear a barrage of terrible, sad stories. 50% of all transgendered people have tried to commit suicide by their 20th birthday (source). If you identify as transgendered, go out and try to make that transition after people have known you as one gender. Go and see how easy it is to change your name, your drivers license, and get medical supervision. Try and hold on to your job, friends, and family. I bet you didn’t know that in something like 34 states, you could be fired for being transgendered and would have no legal recourse.

    Clearly something has to change.

    Storm has the potential to freely express and explore all gender avenues (there are more than two genders, BTW), free from social stigma that would push into the blue or pink wardrobe. We should all have been so fortunate.

    It seems that right now, the worst that Storm and the parents are having to endure is millions of people screaming angrily at them, basically saying, “PICK A SIDE! ARRRRGGHGHG! I DON’T LIKE AMBIGUITY RAWR!!!”

    So relax. This is not child abuse. This is not a social experiment by the parents. Storm’s parents have (rightly) observed that having societal norms push a child into a myopic, binary-defined gender, serves the good of no one.

  40. It seems that by not identifying the gender of the child the parents are by default saying that gender does matter. They are telling the child from a very young age that if you let people know who you really are, they will judge you for it and treat you differently. They probably will judge you for it, but I think it would be better to teach the child to be proud of all they are, including their gender.

    It is hard to say if this harms or benefits the child. We all get a little screwed up by the way our parents raise us, even in the “best” family. Even though this is not the way I would raise a child, it seems that this family loves and supports their children. I think the love a support will probably in the end prove more important than their decision to reveal the gender.

  41. I feel that their actions may cause unnecessary problems. I think that it will be unlikely that the child will chose to be the opposite gender from what is was born because is is a small proportion of people who actually feel this way. A child of a young age does not have the capacity to make such gender decisions. I would think it would be much healthier to support the child if such issues come up, than to force such a decision on the child without good cause.

    Ultimately, I do not believe that the child will suffer significantly due to this experiment. They should begin some sort of counciling when the child reaches a certain age because this could cause significant psychological strain that could cause long term problems if not checked. In general, I think it will be interesting to follow.

  42. Coming at this from a transgender perspective…

    I believe that it is a fantastic thing to give children the opportunity to explore and define their own genders and personality and forms of expression outside of the confines of social expectation.

    I think that the rigid roles imposed upon the vast majority of children are far more cruel and “satisfying the parents agenda” far more than this does.

    BUT…

    I also think parents have a need to recognize that their children will ultimately be a part of society, and that society may be hostile to them. Children need to be protected from that hostility until they’re old enough to advocate for themselves.

    And I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with assigning a gender as long as parents remain open to the possibility that the child may ultimately find it doesn’t fit, are supportive in that eventuality, and raise them in an environment that encourages personal exploration and self-acceptance.

    …as much as my own gender assignation ultimately proved to be wrong for me, and caused me a ton of pain and misery, I’m very much an exception…the fact is that over 99% of children end up cisgender; that is, totally comfortable with their assigned sex.

    So… in short, I absolutely support what these parents are trying to do and the philosophy behind it. But I think they’re being a tad overzealous and sort of mis-prioritizing.

    Really, as long as you raise your child in a way where exceptional gender expression is accepted and tolerated, and where love is clearly offered on an unconditional basis, you’re doing your job right.

    P.S. My username is sort of a bit off, given that a dandy is a male concept (I’m MTF)… I registered back in the summer, before I made the decision to transition (September). I’m presently four months into HRT and preparing to go “full-time” in August.

  43. P.P.S.

    Thank you, Some Canadian Skeptic (I’m canadian too!) for pointing out the incredibly difficulty of being trans. Certainly, if Storm does end up being transgender (“transgendered” is actually a double-adjective, btw) they’ll have a much easier time of things having been raised in such a way. It’s just that we’re a very, very small group. Only about 1 in 5000. I imagine that over the next few generations, as concepts of gender become broader and trans people more tolerated and accepted, and the standards of stereotypical masculinity/femininity that trans women and men are expected to meet become more relaxed, that number will rise… but nonetheless there’s no reason to expect that a child will be trans or over-prepare for that slim possibility. You just need to cross that bridge if you come to it, and cross it with love, support and understanding.

  44. P.P.S.

    Okay, just one more thing and I’ll stop.

    I’m honestly a bit creeped out by the intensity of some of the negative reactions here. I think it points to just how deeply ingrained the oppositional, binary concept of gender really is that something as relatively harmless as this ends up leading people to make accusations of child abuse, and expressing such deep personal discomfort with the idea. Really, the only harm I could see this causing Storm is in terms of the bullying they may experience at the hands of those who, like some of these commentators, simply can’t accept people who don’t fit into tidy pink and blue boxes. Imposing a gender against one’s wishes is cruel. Negating or refusing to accept one’s identified gender is cruel. Simply allowing someone room to choose for themselves? Not cruel.

  45. Funny how I think of skeptics as mostly open minded until i came across this thread. I am assuming that all the anti-homeschool stuff is coming from americans who see it as religiously based so i’ll let that pass.
    Imagine a parent announcing that they had a lovely little boy and they would like only blue clothes please and only gender specific toys and asked people not to refer to him as ‘cute’ or ‘beautiful’ and hid all the pink bricks in case he showed any early colour preferences and had him signed up for football camp as soon as he could walk and told him as a toddler not to cry because boys didn’t …. etc etc and nobody would batt an eyelid over such behaviour. This would be **just as much and experiment** as what these parents are doing. Every raising of a child is an experiment as you do not know in advance how the individual child is going to react to all the baggage that the individual parent brings to the relationship. And mostly we all turn out able to function as adults.
    I know of lots of boys, including my own sons, who wore their hair long until *they* perceived societal disapproval and wanted to cut it, it was a sad day because they were not doing something they wanted freely but conforming to others expectations.
    Good luck to these parents, and I hope they show the social services the door if they have the nerve to turn up and accuse them of abuse.

  46. http://coe.k-state.edu/about/download/profdev/X%20story.pdf

    is link to abridged version of a fictional story from the ’70’s about a family who did basically the same thing

    every family raises their children without knowing what will happen so it is all an experiment of sorts

    having heard the parents speak, I would form an opinion that they are educated family centric folks with no intention of forwarding an “agenda”

    like some of the other posts, I was surprised by what came across as anger and accusation – I doubt Storm is any the worse for wear and likely just a situation where the family and aquaintances have to pause and think a moment about their own “jump to’s” when introduced to a new baby, or young child for that matter

    there must be a LOT of people like me out there who wished they could have grown up without the bias of gender being pushed in their face all the time …isn’t there?

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