The secret gender that wasn’t

There’s been way too much media coverage and plenty of faux controversy this week about the story of parents in Canada who didn’t include “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” with the announcement of the birth of their child, Storm.

A story in the Toronto Star claims Kathy Witterick and David Stocker “are raising a genderless baby.” Here’s what they actually said:

“‘When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?'” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “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? …).”

Witterick and Stocker aren’t raising a genderless child. They’re just not imposing a gender on Storm without the child’s consent. They’re not actually keeping their child’s gender a secret, because they don’t know Storm’s gender. They know what’s between Storm’s legs, but it’s up to Storm, just like it should be up to all of us, to say what their gender is.

No matter how much trans or gender theory we get, even the most well meaning feminists so easily come back to the notion that someone’s real gender lives in their crotch. Trans folks are the exception – the notion is that our brains hold a different gender than our crotches. But the fact is, everyone’s understanding of gender comes from so many places. A relatively small group of people ever see what’s between your legs. Yet we let a medical professional take one glance at a baby and put them in one gender box – male or female – that they’re supposed to remain in for the rest of their lives, with very few exceptions.

Storm’s parents have simply decided their child should get to figure out their gender themselves. Which, really, is how gender should work. It shouldn’t be that big a deal–kids usually come to an understanding of their gender identity at a fairly young age. Usually, it’s relatively aligned with what’s assigned. But this is something for everyone to figure out on their own. This is why I often feel lucky as a trans woman, because I got to find my own gender, even though an incorrect one was assigned to me and then forced on me despite not fitting. We should all be so lucky, all be able to define ourselves on our own terms, instead of having a gender imposed on us.

That’s all Witterick and Stocker are doing, based on their statements. Quite frankly, I don’t see it as that big a deal, except that we live in a culture that considers fitting into your assigned gender box to be so fucking important. In that context, it is a big deal to break out of the tyranny of assigned gender. But really, kids figure this stuff out anyway, unless there’s way too much pressure on them to conform to what’s assigned. These parents are just trying to keep some of the pressure off.

It’s not actually the end of the world, but as Vanessa pointed out recently, gender is soooo scary!

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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