Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Wednesday
Nov272013

Genderless Baby Storm Is Still Genderless

Remember Baby Storm? The child who was being raised without a gender by his well-meaning, if not a little-out-there, parents? 

A few months after his birth, only seven people knew what the baby's sex was. And two years later,only a small circle know if Storm is a boy or a girl.The family is a genderless home -- or at least the genders are fluid. The family isn't keeping a secret they are trying to make gender irrelevant.

“Sometimes Storm says ‘I’m a girl,’ and sometimes Storm says ‘I’m a boy,’” says Witterick in the Toronto Star. Jazz, the eldest was born a boy, but has always preferred dresses and stereotypical "girls" items. Jazz now prefers to go by the pronoun "she", which the family "honours".

Storm_and_brothers
Jazz, Storm and Kio (from Toronto Star)

 

It was Jazz who inspired the family to seek an alternative way of bringing up their third child. They declared that that Storm would be able to assert his or her own gender when the time was right -- a totally personal choice.

Their story brought about an international firestorm of protest -- people accused them of conducting a social experiment on their children. The comments here in Chaos were almost all negative. But through all the media, they also met a people with similar parenting ideas and gained a community.

At the time of Storm's birth, Kathy said she listened to her heart and her parenting is still one based on listening. She wrote a chapter in the upcoming book: Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender Fluid Parenting Practices. She writes:


 Here’s my “radical parenting strategy” — I’m trying to listen. Sounds boring, so David and I made up a fancy name. We call it gender engaged parenting.

 

Two years later, the family is still living an alternative lifestyle. In fact, they are completely off-grid and living in a forest where their kids are unschooled, and engaged. Kathy Witterick says that discussions of gender do not come up to often in their home -- instead the kids are loud, rambunctious and creative.


“The rest of the world is still talking about it but actually we’re doing something else. We’re in the forest looking at bugs and finding salamanders and seeing turtles hatch out of eggs,” she says.


Kathy is right, while she is leading a life that feels normal to her, we are reading the stories and thinking: "Huh??" Their life is truly alternative in all ways, and while I would definitely NOT do what they are doing. I sort of respect them for making such outrageous choices.

The world is too gender-stratified, and it often takes people way out there on the fringes to make a difference. Baby Storm (I should stop calling him that, he is now a toddler) has us all talking about what it means to be a boy or a girl. The conversations about this topic have been illuminating, and sometimes frustrating. But we are all talking. 

So, good luck to the Witterick-Stocker family, I sort of applaud your craziness. And I hope it makes the world a better place. 

What do you think? Are they experimenting on their child? Or is there a bigger issue here?

Did you like my Facebook page yet?

Reader Comments (24)

Personally I think this is ridiculous. You should respect a person's gender no matter what it is. I would feel robbed if I had my gender taken away from me.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAl
What I'm trying to say is you don't need to take away a child's gender in order to teach them to be more open minded. I can see this causing problems in the future. How do you teach your child to show respect for the different genders if you keep them from learning about it and experiencing it? I see this as taking away from the child it's right to it's gender rather than the opposite.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAl
This is how a family is coping with their transgendered first born. I think they have so much trouble coping with this that they had to reshape their whole family gender dynamics and move off grid. What if the parents had really been open and just accepted and nurtured their son as transgender without imposing the gender identity issue on their other two kids. They are talking about openness, but I wonder if they are really closed to the notion of transgender.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Aptezma
When the hormones kick in at puberty, let's see how well the gender experiment works. When the kids start to feel like they are betraying their parents for perhaps not adhering to their imposed gender neutral agenda,...I wonder how they will sort through that quagmire.It seems that the parents are open to all sorts of educational opportunities for their children except the ones that require them to function in an "on the grid" society. And that's fine if they want to remain off the grid forever.Men and women/ girls and boys are NOT the same and the differences should be celebrated in an environment of equal respect.I also think that the parents are creating an ass-backwards paradigm while they are "listening" to the children instead of having the children benefit from the wisdom and guidance of adults. What looks like "freedom" at this stage in life may back to haunt them when they grow up and are harnessed by the constraints of a childhood didn't prepare them to function in the real world. Lots of parents are tuned into "hearing" the wonders and innocence of children and into exploring the tadpoles and nature around us, while also exploring the real world and learning how to cope with it without having our gender loom as an oppressive issue.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWanda
The thing is, Storm really is either male or female, or a blend of the two. Choosing to raise him or her (personally I think he looks like a little boy) "genderless" is a bit silly, because whether his/her parents want to face it or not, their child is a gendered being just like every other human. I think it's great that they want to raise him without stereotypes and gender-based expectations - but I think that hiding something as fundamental from a child as his/her physical gender is a big mistake. I think they are potentially setting this kid up for some major confusion and self-identity issues later in life. And it will eventually all be for nothing because one day Storm's peers will fill in the details and the secret will be out.

I do think they are experimenting on this little one, too, and I'm not wild about the implications of that.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVal
I see your point about respect and it is a good one.I think they are just trying to shield Storm from the expectations of gender. But I don't know how the future will play out for them..
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Waverman
I have to admit, I wonder if one of those kids is going to turn into a banker just to rebel because I agree some kids need real structure.
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Waverman
I think they started this as a simple exercise of defying expectations and I'm not sure they are hiding Storm's gender from him or her. I think they are just saying that there are no limits that come with that gender. It's true the implications are unknown at this point and I wonder about the role of peers in the future.Thanks for reading!
November 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Waverman
I chuckled at that! That's sort of like the series finale to Malcolm in the Middle. The oldest works in an office and has a 'boring' life with his wife at home. He acts like he doesn't have a job and is always fighting with his mom because he doesn't want her to think he's happy in a regular life-he wants to be seen as a rebel :)
November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNicole T

Wow, there are some crazy people out there. Words almost fail me. I feel sorry for those kids not having a gender and its no use sheilding them from the horrors and evils of the real world, they have to face it sooner or later, like it or not. Starting them off in life with a built-in identity crisis is perhaps not the best of ideas. And really, who has conversations about gender anyway? How often does that come up in a normal conversation?

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersunny

These comments are ridiculous! Having a gender neutral childhood is the best way to learn about gender rather than forcing "masculine" and "feminine" role on you as a child. What is the big problem in this? The child generally both. As it says Storm is sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl. Gosh! Trans people commit suicide because they are pressured to conform to gender norms!

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAn

I don't understand at all why people get so bent out of shape on this topic. Perhaps it has something to do with being raised one way as a child themselves, why would anyone venture down a new path with their own kids? However, alternative families have been paving the way for better childhoods for quite some time. Some families use material diapers, better for the child and environment, which people still don't understand. Co-sleeping is also met with huge hostility, but little people know the stress placed on an infant's heart when it wakes to find it's nurturer gone. Breast feeding passed a year or even up to a year, when it is in fact the most beneficial thing to do for one's child is ridiculed, which is ludicrous.

How can raising a child to believe all the colours are acceptable for them to wear be a bad thing when all toys have them? I feel sorry for little boys who are put in brown, white, black, and blue. It's not fun, and hardly stimulating. By removing the notion that one has to be a "Strong little man" and replacing it with "You are a wonderful person!" "Or "what a talented artist you are" you give way to foster much more in a child than their "assigned gender roles". Same thing with a girl. When you teach a girl that pink and purple are for her, and that she is "SO pretty", and have her watch day time programs, she will be bombarded by images and messages that say she is nothing if not pretty and desirable. Girls as young as three have adopted this message. Boys learn that girls are objects. How are we going to raise children with a clear sense of equality among the sexes this way?

Gender neutral childhoods. Let boys dress up! Feel pretty. Girls loves sparkles not because they are girly, but because sparkles are awesome! It is socially acceptable most places for girls to be "Tom Boys", but this doesn't extend to boys. It really shouldn't phase you if your son likes nail polish and "girl colours" whatever "girl colours" may be.

Some people kind of understand it on here, but have it jumbled. Raising a child in the stereotypical "Boy's" or "Girl's" way won't damage them of course. Most people in the world find no qualms fitting into the gender expression associated with their sex, it's the children who will grow up never talking about their desires to be something or someone different who will benefit from this childhood. There are countless families who have encouraged gender neutral childhoods whose children are now adults and are secure in their gender expressions that coincide with what people expect.

What it boils down to is this: You are taking chances with your child. You can have a child that feels comfortable as a boy, who may miss out on learning things from a girl's perspective, but ultimately grows up healthy, happy, and self sufficient.

Or you can raise your child gender neutral, and have them experiment and enjoy everything, that is appropriate to children mind you. Individuals raised in this environment grow up happy, healthy and evolved, Men can bake, have a fashion sense, take more pride in their appearance with out feeling weird or gay, because why would they? It's never been ingrained in them to think so. They can be masculine and tough, but because they find it right in themselves, not by anyone else. Women can be strong, opinionated, and work in any area they see fit, equally they can be feminine and enjoy the typical associations with being female, but all of these experiences can be done and discovered on their own, not by being pushed into them by society.

Think back to the earliest in your life. Were you praised as "What a tough little guy!", or "My little man"? How about, "Awwe what a good little girl" just for being cute? Were you scolded for doing feminine things as a boy and told that's not how guys do things? If things were reversed, and you were praised for being feminine as a young boy, perhaps from infancy, I imagine your whole sense of gender identity would be different. That,is an experiment on a child. Allowing your child a chance to determine their own sense of themselves, isn't.

What we need to do as parents is, take a step back from ourselves. Really think hard about what makes you uncomfortable about your son wearing a dress, or your daughter with a Mohawk who hates pink. Perhaps you always wanted her to love ballet? Or he had all the talent to be an excellent soccer player? Those were YOUR hopes and dreams for your child. Let them chase theirs. Anyone who would judge you for trying to provide your child with broader experiences isn't someone you want around, they are trying to mold YOUR child. You are letting them mold themselves. Your job is to love them, care for them, feed them delicious nutritious food, prepare for life, and send them off into the splendor of adulthood.

Some parents who I talk to on this topic after a while. change their previous perspectives on this a little, but start agonizing about what the world would do to their children if say they got older and still enjoyed being gender fluid, what would society think? Of them, of me? Society is ignorant to a lot of things and unfortunately deviation from these neat little boxes we are given from birth is met with a lot of distaste, but talk with your child, reassure them that you will always love them. Don't pressure them. Explain that some people believe that when you are born female, you are expected to do certain things, and when born male, you have different expectations. Assure them that you don't believe this of them yourself, and that as long as they are a happy, and healthy individual that is the best version of themselves they can be, then there is nothing to worry about. Lastly, encourage their pride and self esteem, build up their ability to stand up and defend themselves, and they will be able to take on the world.

February 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Hi, interesting story, thanks for sharing. I noticed you refer to Storm as He, him, etc. I thought it was curious, maybe this gender nondisclosure allows the rest of the people fill the blanks like an interpretation of a piece of art, according to the eye of the beholder.

March 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa

I don't think that Storm's parent's are taking away his/her gender but giving the child the opportunity to develop their own sense of gender identity without any outside influences (gender roles/rules). I think it is remarkable and brave what they are doing.

September 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaity

Once puberty kicks in this will hopefully sort itself out. I think there are better ways to do what they are doing then to shelter these kids from the big bad world of boys and girls. Being afraid of gender identity is the opposite of what this world needs. Most kids, most people, actually like the gender they are born into and raised as. It's about respecting the strengths and traits and patterns of each. Not everyone will fall into the 'manly man' and 'womanly woman' stereotypes, but the cold hard truth is that most will, and that's really not a problem. Actually it's a wonderful thing in my opinion.

Anyway, as I said, puberty and sex drives will kick in. And you would think at some point they will want to chat with 'others of their own kind' to figure out how to function in the world. Or maybe they'll stay reclusive and off the grid like mom and dad. Doesn't change the fact that the complex modern world and it's billions of people can't afford to make the same choice to stay 'off the grid', so we interact, and when we interact gender identity is kind of a big deal.

What the Wittericks are doing may be sustainable for the Wittericks, but it's not really practical for civilization as a whole.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMik

The negative comments really show a lack of understanding of (among other things) the difference between 'sex' and 'gender.' Which is to be expected; our culture has long failed to recognize and acknowledge that those are not the same thing. They also demonstrate a real lack of critical thinking on, and thus a very superficial treatment of, the topic. Some social constructs, such as gender, can and do create very tight boxes that constrain our minds, our thoughts, and our freedom. Open the box a little, people, and let some light in-- you might see something beautiful.

February 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKS

This blows my mind in so many ways. I feel sorry for the children for having parents who subject their family to this kind of gimmick. Who cares if he/she is a boy or girl? The most important encouragement a child can have is the encouragement from their parents. This teaches them that you need to hide their true gender to be what they want. Being genderless won't make children able to do more. The child and family is under even more ridicule because of this first class clown act. So, you decide you want to be a boy today? Does that mean you use the boys washroom today and the girls washroom tomorrow? There are limits even the parents cannot help. Society has rules and also, 2 main genders: male and female. Deal with it.

June 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRL

I think this is wonderful. Giving a child as much as freedom as they can to become whoever is true to them, hike they are developing. Sure they will have difficulties in life. Doesn't every single person?! I see this as no different to people who complain that same sex parenting is depriving kids of one gender as a role model, or single parenting, or anything other than this nuclear homogenous family model. Blagh! Gender is not binary. It's a human invention. Just wait til this kid grows up and tells us what it was like for them. Go Canada :) just came to this article linked from offbeathome

June 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaney

I'm glad you wrote on this topic. It's important to discuss. I do wish you wouldn't use ableist words like "crazy" or "insane". This an be a trigger for people with mental health issues and it contributes to our cultural intolerance and judgment of them.

July 19, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterlovenati

While I certainly wouldn't go to such lengths to promote gender neutrality in my own family, I don't see anythimg wrong with this. Only in America and a select few other countries would people imagine this would mess a child up. Many cultures promote much more gender neutrality that we do and celebrate androgyny. I certainly don't get the impression that they will ever be disappointed or judgemental of their children's choices of gender expression at any point in their lives.
Like I said...we wouldn't go that far. My boys know that they are boys. But we don't attach any outside meaning to that...boy and girl just describe bodily differences.

July 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMickeyBiz

The intentions are good here... however I don't think it's fair to Storm that the oldest two siblings were not brought up in the same way.

October 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersnoopythefrickndog

We are not born with a gender but a sex. Gender identity is performed, as we are taught how to act out the role of "female" or "male". And in this day and age after experiments with unisex and other androgynous ways of performing our roles as male or female or transgender, crossdresser and so on, we have arrived at the fluid gender identification these parents and their children perform daily. This is an advancement in thinking and being and makes for a more equitable society without all the isms associated with the stale, old society

January 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIsak

Many people have either forgotten to, or are possibly afraid to, bring up the fact that God wants us to conform to the gender that goes with the biological sex. As a society we are growing further away from any traditional values. Maybe they believe society is less like a 'prison' with 'outdated' multiple notions about gender, sexuality and conformity. But society is more unstable than ever. All sorts of identity, sex, and eating disorders are on the rise. Nearly half the married population gets divorced. Children are used for all sorts of parental agendas (including extremely legalistic factions of Christianity!). There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing the colors you like, or exploring hobbies that are typical of the other gender. What is wrong is to let your child grow up clueless about what gender they are. Like it or not, a human at birth is either XX or XY (and please don't start with the stuff about chromosomal aberrations; you all get what I'm trying to say!) I know this is a lost cause, though; the worldview is now "If it feels good, do it, and you're absolutely right if it works for you!". Never mind that all this liberalism isn't helping society's plummet into the cesspool. Instead of dissolving into a single neutral sex, we should be celebrating the wonderful differences between male and female and encouraging this in our children.

April 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPenny

"All sorts of identity, sex, and eating disorders are on the rise."

Did you actually just equate mental health conditions with sex identifications? Once is a condition of unwellness that can lead to distress and harm but can be treated prevented and managed. The other is a state that a person identifies with. One you can find in the DSM, and one you can't. You are not a psychological professional, and I am very glad of this.

"Like it or not, a human at birth is either XX or X"

Totally disproven by science. Chromosomal variety is normal. Go type intersex into google scholar. Educate yourself.

" "If it feels good, do it, and you're absolutely right if it works for you!" "

That is absolutely the best world view ever, and I don't know if you realise how happy it makes me that you wrote it. I just want to add a caveat - so long as it doesn't harm others. And this does not include when homophobic people think that a non-heterosexual couples' desire for marriage is harming them. Because that is an impossibility.

"Never mind that all this liberalism isn't helping society's plummet into the cesspool."

Excuse me? How is an individual's self identity related to some concept of societal collapse which exists solely inside your head? Plummet? Nothing new is happening in society. We're all struggling to live together without hurting each other and our world. It's always been a thing. It's life. Nobody bears responsibility for the rest of the world's state. It would be lovely and convenient if we could blame the ills of the world on one group of people, but it just isn't so.

"Instead of dissolving into a single neutral sex, we should be celebrating the wonderful differences between male and female and encouraging this in our children."

I won't be celebrating the commercial constraints of binary gender roles any time soon. Binary gender is a CONSTRUCT. It is not based in science. Neither is heterosexuality.

Go read some Judith Butler.

(sorry to everyone for feeding the troll)

April 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaney

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