Storm: The genderless baby

by Josephine Tsui // 27 May 2011, 14:51

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A Canadian couple have decided to keep the sex of their baby a secret and thus have unleashed international mayhem.

Their goal is to allow Storm (the name of the baby) to decide for hirself without having the world impose gender stereotypes. While the article was first published on ParentCentral.ca, the article has been quick to circulate with many harsh opinions.

One author's believed that without the institutionalised gendered projections onto a baby, what guidance would the baby have to find hir "true self".

Another article
argued while well intentioned, by not talking about the sex of the baby it would quickly become the elephant in the room. By not talking about it, it's the only topic everyone is dying to know.

While everyone is quick to point out that what the parents are doing is psychologically damaging to the child, they are underestimating the ability for people (and babies) to know themselves. We have seen evidence of people discovering their "true self" despite societal norms. People have been coming out in the gay movement for decades. And despite the lack of support, people from the trans community often realise they are not living in their true form.

Further, it seems the critic's fear is about the bullying from the playground. But is bullying really the worst fear? Or is it that society doesn't know how to handle someone who doesn't sit in a clearly defined gender? If society is as fearful of bullying as these articles imply, than everyone should only give their children simple names with clear spellings, forgo having children bring cultural foods into schools, and everyone should dress in genderless uniforms.

If possible we could just sit with the idea of not imposing a gender on a baby. It is a welcomed breath of fresh air. The message I am hearing is, the baby is loved no matter what gendered stereotypes hir wants to follow. Despite all the critics' arguments, the parents are trying to work in Storm's best interests.

*16:12 27/05/11 updated for phrase errors!*

Comments From You

evie // Posted 27 May 2011 at 16:51

The most sadly-amusing thing about this whole episode is that Bindel has come out in favour of these parents' decision to allow their child to figure out their gender for themself. And yet when adults do that, it's evil. Riiiiiight...

Quinn Capes-Ivy // Posted 27 May 2011 at 22:28

THANK YOU for writing the first reasonable post I've come across about this whole debacle. The news sites managed to stay relatively impartial but the comments there were utter ridiculousness, and all the blog posts I've seen about it so far have been from frothing-at-the-mouth bigots who can't seem to understand that Storm's sex and gender are nobody's business but Storm's!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 27 May 2011 at 23:13

No actually Julie Bindell said this 'Gender is learned behaviour that society considers appropriate – a set of rules laid down to benefit men and keep women in our place. The minute we become aware of a child's sex, we police its behaviour like crazy.'

So Julie Bindell like all radical feminists wants an end to the male supremacist idea that men have supposedly innate 'masculine traits' and women have different 'feminine traits.' That is totally different to what one commentator is claiming.

In other words radical feminists want an end to 'gender' because it is used by male supremacist system to maintain lie that men are the default humans and women are innately faulty because we are not biologicallly male.

Janis // Posted 28 May 2011 at 03:30

Well good for them, however, also, good luck to them. Whatever the biological sex of the child, the 'default gender' in North America is male. I'm sick to death of hearing how male-gendered words are 'gender-neutral', they're not, so through language alone, this kid will be identified as a 'little guy'.

I wish these parents the best of luck. I think they're fantastic parents and human beings for doing this.

sarahfogg // Posted 28 May 2011 at 16:15

When I read the article I was most disappointed by the eldest child talking about 'girl things' and 'boy things'. It seems that even though the parents have tried to raise them without gender-based limitations, they've still managed to instill the idea that activities and fashions and such are inherently gendered. Probably not helped by their parents modelling very traditional gender roles in how they raise the children.

That made me wonder if by being so keen on their older children breaking gender norms and refusing to reveal the sex of the youngest they've given the children the impression that their sex and gender are THE most important thing about them.

It made me sad as well that the oldest child didn't want to go to mainstream school because he didn't want to be mistaken for a girl. I can't help thinking that by encouraging him to break gender norms, but then allowing him to avoid the social response, his parents have implied that the problems it causes are insurmountable and nobody will accept him as he is. Children are incredibly adaptable, and would probably stop finding his style preferences strange at all after a while.

Having said all that, I'm sure the children will all turn out fine in the long run. Their parents are obviously only doing what they think is best and are caring and supportive, so that's probably all that will matter eventually. All the people saying the children will be irreparably psychologically damaged by their parent's choices are wildly overreacting IMO.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 28 May 2011 at 16:46

I don't have any issues with parent's refusing to release the details of the sex of their child, or trying to bring them up with explicitly gendered expectations of behaviour. But, I find the idea that the baby has a 'true self', or that the child will be able to pick a gender, a bit problematic. The self, in its many forms, is a social construction, shaped by culture and environment in interaction with the body. Now, we might be able to create a genderless self, but that self would still be a construction. I think a lot of the difficulty people have with bringing their children up in gender neutral environments is actually because we want to get rid of gender, without acknowledging that we need to have a conversation about what we want to replace it with. Our value systems and behavioural norms that we ingrain in childhood are so closely tied to gender norms that it becomes difficult to unpick them. Moreover, these parents don't seem to be saying they are raising a gender neutral child, but rather they will allow the child to 'pick' a gender (or perhaps this is just the press's take?), which, despite their best efforts, is reinforcing a gender binary- are there only two options? Do we have to pick?

Further, this is not a stance that denies transgendered or gay people, as it perfectly possible to feel a dislocation from the gendered/ sexual norms imposed by society (which probably most people do to greater or lesser extent), or to experience body dismorphia (a sense of dislocation from one's physical appearance), without it meaning that the self is any less constructed.

Blue Collar Todd // Posted 29 May 2011 at 01:35

I have been inspired with all the debate about whether it is right or wrong for parents to raise their children in gender neutral ways. Why not let children decide what their true gender is? Who is to say there is anything wrong with that and why stop there? Since my children are of a mixed racial background, Asian and Caucasian, I have decided to let them choose which ethnicity they would like to identify with. Heck, they need not even have been born the one they may want to choose. They should have the freedom to become African American, Hispanic, or even Native American. Whose to say the should be oppressed by biology? Did not Michael Jackson become the first trans-ethnic person? Why can’t others aspire to achieve such a state of being? Or in feminist speak, why should my children be oppressed by the tyranny of racial assignment?

Sure, you can tell by just looking at them which ethnicity they are, but that does not mean they must be oppressed by some preconceived notion of race and ethnicity. Their brain may be African American, Hispanic, or even Native American even though their body looks to be white. Join me in exploring this final frontier of trans-racial exploration and boldly go where few if any have gone before.

http://www.bluecollarphilosophy.com/2011/05/i-will-let-my-children-choose-to-be-black-hipanic-asian-or-white.html

Troon // Posted 29 May 2011 at 14:23

A few years ago a Swedish couple did a similar thing, in not revealing the gender of their child to the outside world. That too attracted comment, but the differences in rationale strike me as interesting.

The Swedish couple were most concerned with avoiding linking assigned gender and behaviour. Having decided to bring their child up without 'girl' or 'boy' toys, and struggling to keep their language free from such expectations, they felt the only way to keep their child's options open was not to reveal to a world which might not share their concerns what gender the child was, and so to mitigate the effects of interaction with it. It wasn't about choosing gender, but about choosing behaviours and developing personalities independent of it. The same motivation lay behind the actions of the courageous woman who supported her boy in his wish to dress as Daphne for Halloween. Ultimately it is about allowing little people as much chance as possible to choose what to do, and then supporting them in their choices against a potentially hostile world.

This is very different to Storm's parents. Storm's parents don't place the emphasis on allowing gender to coexist with behaviours not traditionally gendered that way, but choosing a gender to go with the behaviours (girl and boy toys). And, when the world challenges their children, their response is to withdraw the children from that conflict, which itself is so vital to shaping how we each see gender within our broader identities. There is no sense here of them wishing to allow their boy to dress as Daphne, rather that they would wish that boy to be allowed to choose to be a girl. Which may indeed be how the boy feels, but need not be-it is possible to be a cisman who wants to wear skirts.

Obviously the two approcahes cut analogously to the heart of much transphobia within feminism, and discomfort with Storm's parents' methods might be seen as a touchstone for latent transphobia. Yet, when I think of the Swedish couple I see two people taking my own beliefs to their logical extent in ways I wouldn't dare, and helping their children to form identities based on a series of norms ultimately negotiated with society. Storm's parents methods don't speak to me in the same way: the idea of a self found entirely from a mythical 'within' by picking from options presented, and of sheltering them from opposition, doesn't offer me a way of helping the little people in my life attain personhood within human society. I'm not condemning them for that, any more than I would the millions of parents who do this without censure simply because they accept that girls like dolls, but it does leave me uncomfortable of seeing Storm as a 'poster child' for negotiating the perils of gendering in parenting.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 30 May 2011 at 12:34

@Blue Collar Todd
Thank you for your comment. I am glad you have been inspired with the debate.

There are a few distinctions I think you need to be aware of before you embark on your "exploration in the final frontier of trans-racial exploration". Along your journey, I'm sure you'll find many people who have been through a trans-racial exploration as it's not something as new as you would think.

Using a racial example to make a satirical note about the non-disclosed sex of Storm does not add to your argument. To say that someone is "oppressed by their biology" does not adequately represent the situation. The main issue under debate is what happens when what you society stereotypes your behaviour based on your sex. This is different than racial stereotyping as race is not genetically programmes. You cannot identify someone's race based on their genetic material. People from all races can have any range of expressions they choose, but culture (a representation of society) can often influence what is acceptable. Hence while there is racial and gender oppression, you can not use one argument for the other.

However, I congratulate you in pursuing your "trans-ethnic" journey. I think your children will benefit greatly to exposure to various cultures. Just don't forget the transgendered journey as well.

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