Keeping Gender a Secret Based on a Book? How Long Will It Last?
Inspired by a picture book, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, a couple in Toronto, are keeping secret the gender of their third child, four-month-old Storm. They have two older children, Jazz and Kio, both boys, who've felt pressured to look masculine and behave that way:
“When I was pregnant, it was really this intense time around Jazz having experiences with gender and I was feeling like I needed some good parenting skills to support him through that,” says Witterick.
It began as a offhand remark. “Hey, what if we just didn’t tell?” And then Stocker found a book in his school library called X, A Fabulous Child's Story by Lois Gould. The book, published in 1978, is about raising not a boy or a girl, but X. There’s a happy ending here. Little X -- who loved to play football and weave baskets -- faces the taunting head on, proving that X is the most well-adjusted child ever examined by “an impartial team of Xperts.”
“It became so compelling it was almost like, How could we not?” says Witterick.
There are days when their decisions are tiring, shackling even. “We spend more time than we should providing explanations for why we do things this way,” says Witterick. “I regret that (Jazz) has to discuss his gender before people ask him meaningful questions about what he does and sees in this world, but I don't think I am responsible for that — the culture that narrowly defines what he should do, wear and look like is.”
I can imagine that'd be exhausting to try to hide the gender of your baby, yes, because it is almost the first question anyone asks. I sympathize with the couple to some extent -- it's true, as a culture we do expect very different things from boys and girls, some of us more than others. And even when you're aware of this and try not to impose silly and arbitrary expectations on your kids, you're still a product of your own social conditioning. You're also, however, a product of your biology. In the 70s, some sociologists believed that gender is completely elastic, totally a result of social conditioning, which led to the tragedy of David Reimer, whose penis was accidentally cut off during his circumcision as an infant. The doctors recommended he be raised as a girl. He was never told he wasn't a girl, he never felt like one, and he committed suicide as an adult. His story is told in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. Of course, there are many equally tragic stories of transgendered people who feel as if they're born in the wrong bodies -- and happily, more and more ones of transition.
I've been thinking a lot about gender lately as it's so interesting to see how it unfolds in the kids. I like to think that the Gender Fairy Godmother has bestowed the supposedly feminine gift of sensitivity on Luke and the supposedly masculine gift of an iron will on Sylvie. On a more superficial level, I'm amazed by Sylvie's preoccupation with her brother's dinky cars. He has oodles that he almost never plays with. She has never been given one and she plays with them almost every day. (As I'm typing this she's asking, "Play cars, Mama? Play cars?") In many other ways, they both remain true to stereotype. Luke loves play-fighting and has a bit of a preoccupation with conflict and death and Sylvie tends to be more nurturing. She'll leap up in horror crying, "You okay?" when a toy falls off a table, and she loves to wander around holding her dolls, rocking, and feeding them in a way Luke only rarely does.
I found the story of baby Storm via Rona Maynard, on facebook, who remarked the story reads "like the outline of a darkly satirical novel." Yes! Wouldn't it make a great one? And, although there's something that makes me feel deeply uneasy about using one's child to make a political statement, I'm betting little Storm's gender will remain a secret only until (s)he's able to announce it to the world him or herself, which means only another year or two.
What are your thoughts on this, as CNN calls it, International Controversy?
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