Note: I intended to post this some time ago, but completely forgot about it – TS
The novelty of media attention. It is certainly a draw for some people. Some people will find any reason to make their personal decisions known, and when it draws media attention they are all for it… until it also draws a public reaction.
Take the case of Kathy Witterick and her husband David Stocker. The pair decided to keep their newborn baby Storm’s sex a secret. According to them:
‘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? …).’
According to the article:
The couple believe they are releasing Storm from the constraints society imposes on males and females. They claim children can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very young age.
They called parents who make choices for their children ‘obnoxious’, instead telling their children to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.
That logic could easily apply to Witterick and Stocker. For instance, their choice to teach their older sons to choose whatever clothes they want from both boys and girls sections created a situation where their oldest son Jazz did not want to attend school. Why? Primarily because people make judgments about his sex based on how he dresses and the length of his hair. If you look at the picture included with the article, it is easy to mistake the boy for a girl.
As anyone with children will know, there is a fine line between what a child consciously chooses to do and what a child does to conform to their parents’ wishes. As much as these parents think they are not imposing constraints on their children, their desire to create an air of androgyny does just that. By not correcting people when those people incorrectly call their sons girls, these parents impose a very specific constraint on their children: one’s sex ought to be kept secret. Witterick and Stocker seem to think they send the message that a person’s sex does not matter, but their oldest son Jazz is learning that it clearly does. And it bothers him enough that he opted not to start school in September.
Witterick tried to explain away this conflict:
But, said Mrs Witterick, we are all mocked for our appearance at some point. ‘When faced with inevitable judgment by others, which child stands tall (and sticks up for others) — the one facing teasing despite desperately trying to fit in, or the one with a strong sense of self and at least two ‘go-to’ adults who love them unconditionally?’ she asked.
‘Well, I guess you know which one we choose.’
Yes we do, but unfortunately, by Witterick’s own words, that does not describe her oldest son. Strong-willed people do not avoid new situations. My godson gets picked on because of his height. He is very strong-willed, and if he does not snap back with a better quip, he is not afraid to pound the other kid into the ground. And God forbid anyone picks on his friends. Yet, as much as he has been bullied, he has never skipped school because of it. It is his indifference to fitting in that helps more than anything. The person who cares about fitting in or fitting in will face far more problems than those who could not care less.
The key factor in this is that a strong sense of self can easily get torn down if it has no defenses. It appears Witterick and Stocker did not prepare their sons for the backlash they had to know their sons would face, hence their present decision:
It was during that ‘intense time’ for Jazz that his parents decided they simply wouldn’t say what gender Storm was.
So they did not make this choice because they wanted to prove how progressive they were, but in a half-assed attempt address the problems their son Jazz faced due to the constraints they placed on him.
I try not to be too critical of parents because children do not come with instructions. Everyone makes mistakes with their children. There is no way to anticipate what will happen or how a child will deal with a situation. However, when people try these thought experiments out on their children, it usually has disastrous results. The moment the child gets outside of the family safe-zone, they have no way of navigating through it.
As was noted in the article:
California-based psychologist Diane Ehrensaft told the Star she believes parents should support gender-creative children.
She said there is something innate about gender – but said Storm’s case is worrying.
The child will be unable to position his or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between, she said, arguing that they have created another category entirely.
‘I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them,’ she said.
And asking children as young as Jazz and Kio to keep the secret is also alarming, she said. ‘For very young children, just in their brains, they’re not ready to do the kind of sophisticated discernment we do about when a secret is necessary.’
Dr Ken Zucker, the head of the gender identity service for children at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said that even when parents don’t make a choice, that’s still a choice, and one that can have an impact on the children.
Having spent many years facilitating on the topic of abuse and violence prevention, particularly as it pertains to children, I would never tell my children (or anyone) to keep a secret.
Secrets are not safe and healthy. I, like many parents, have taught my children that some things are private matters, and when you want to share them, you need to do so honestly with sensitivity and consideration.
If I had to convince my children not to share Storm’s sex (which I don’t because my children simply are not interested at this point) -I would teach them that someone else’s genitals and sense of how they relate to their gender is their private business, to be shared by them or in a context where safety, acceptance and sensitivity are paramount. Storm will certainly need to understand his/her own sex and gender to navigate this world (the outcry has confirmed this clearly!), but there has never been any question that within our family, the issues of sex and gender and the decisions relating to it are open for age-appropriate discussion and action.
Teaching a child that someone else’s genitals and sense of how they relate to their gender is their private business to be shared by them or in a context where safety, acceptance, and sensitivity are paramount is just a verbose, progressive liberal way of saying “keep it secret”. Yes, there are certain things that do not need to be discussed, but a person’s sex is not one of them. It is a stupid thing to keep secret, like keeping a child’s surname secret.
More so, a child’s sex informs their identity, and there is plenty of literature to support that. One of the first distinctions children learn is the difference between males and females. This has nothing to do with bias. It is simply a child learning that all people do not look the same. To put a child in a situation where they are not allowed to make such distinctions is harmful because it denies them the chance to see how they fit in the world.
Witterick’s contradictory response also shows that is not a well-considered experiment. She stated in another interview that she requested that the grandparents not disclose the child’s sex, i.e. she asked them to keep it secret. Presumably she has informed her oldest son to do the same thing, otherwise he might just say it as six-year-olds tend to do.
She went on to state:
In my heart of hearts, I squirm when my son picks a dress from the rack (won’t people tease him?), even though I know from experience and research that the argument that children need a binary gender orthodoxy taught to them in order to feel safe is simply incorrect. My children know who they are, through supported and facilitated experience with their world, and I avoid hypocrisy, inaccuracy and exhaustion by saving my energy for non-negotiable limit-setting related to safety, kindness, self respect, health, fulfilment and fairness.
No research states that children do not need a binary gender orthodoxy, whatever that means, to feel safe. That is not something people would research. They would research whether our cultural recognition of male and female impacts a child’s understanding of their world and themselves. The research demonstrates that it very much does.
Likewise, the issue is not whether the boys like themselves or view themselves as boys. The issue is how well they will mesh with the rest of society. No matter how strong a sense of self a person has, ostracization hurts. It always has some negative impact. This notion that these children will be fine just because Mom and Dad love them has been proven wrong numerous time.
It is unlikely that two out of three children from a family would randomly gender-bend. That is something that they were taught to do. If Witterick and Stocker want to raise their children in an androgynous fashion, they should at least prepare their children for the potential backlash instead of just waiting for it to happen. Of course, since these are real children, there is no telling what will happen.