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“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.
May 22, 2011 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker welcomed their third baby into the world this year, but they won't tell anyone whether Storm is a boy or a girl. “We thought that if we delayed sharing that information, in this case hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messages by the time that Storm decides Storm would like to share,” says Witterick Storm's brothers, Jazz and Kio are also encouraged to wear their hair however they wish, and pick out clothing they like.

But it's not just about gender, it seems. The parents also let their children navigate their own homeschooling. From the article:The kids have a lot of say in how their day unfolds. They decide if they want to squish through the mud, chase garter snakes in the park or bake cupcakes....Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. “When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender,” says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (334 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Already happened in Sweden :) http://www.thelocal.se/20232/20090623/
posted by melissam at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2011


They might want to check for strange weather patterns.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Part of me kinda hopes it's a boy, who likes trucks, guns and football. Because that would be hilarious.
posted by Diablevert at 3:05 PM on May 22, 2011 [32 favorites]


I love the whole my-kid's-gender-is-none-of-your-business-now-excuse-me-while-I-return-this-reporter's-call-and-write-this-book-and-go-on-the-Today-Show-to-make-it-everyone's-business movement of late.
posted by phunniemee at 3:06 PM on May 22, 2011 [103 favorites]


this is awesome. I would love to meet these kids and their parents, preferably in large numbers.

I teach middle school, where gender roles are brutally enforced, so much so that (this being a southern state, boys and girls are addressed as Sir or Ma'am when you are correcting them or responding to a not-quite-heard question, as well as their addressing adults as Sir or Ma'am) when I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he is fatally offended.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:06 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.

Can't wait for the fifteen year update. It should be something.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:07 PM on May 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


Stories like these are basically just meant for trolling square minivan moms so they get all indignant at those BAD PARENTS.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:07 PM on May 22, 2011 [29 favorites]


Why'd they name all the kids after cars?
posted by klangklangston at 3:11 PM on May 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


Is it the minivans that are square, or the moms? (or both)..

I'm trying to get that image right.
posted by tomswift at 3:12 PM on May 22, 2011


“When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender,” says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.

Yes, it's true, your special special experiment has to interact with 99.9999% of the rest of the world who do no have his frame of reference.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


I love the whole my-kid's-gender-is-none-of-your-business-now-excuse-me-while-I-return-this-reporter's-call-and-write-this-book-and-go-on-the-Today-Show-to-make-it-everyone's-business movement of late.

I don't find it particularly weird or hypercritical that they would want to share their ideas about parenting with the world. Pretty much all other parents do...

I just love that as soon as some parents start questioning gender stereotypes other parents start losing it. And the kids seem happy so I'm not sure what to rage is about.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2011 [32 favorites]


I'd personally like to thank my own parents for not making a big deal about me dressing as a boy when I was a kid, though they did sometimes make me wear dresses for church. People would ask me if I was a boy or a girl all the time. I did have some dolls I liked, but I was more into "boy toys." I was also homeschooled and I think this allowed me to live this way without much persecution. The other homeschoolers we consorted with were pretty accepting.

My prediction? The child will grow up normal, but be just a little less squared into gender-specific roles and trends. I definitely credit my upbringing with my interest in and ability to thrive in a male-dominated profession and academic field. Don't get me wrong, I love dresses and all kinds of "girly" stuff, but I like what I like and it doesn't have as much to do with my gender as it does with my actual interests. Some of what children do might be biological (it is interesting that girls in nearly all cultures play with dolls and boys with weapons, even isolated cultures), some isn't. How are we to know if we enforce it?
posted by melissam at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2011 [34 favorites]


Ignoring something doesn't make it go away. I hope these parents, like so many before them, realize that you can raise your kid however you want and still not have total control over how they turn out or what kind of world they live in. Also, those names are terrible.
posted by MadamM at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


Little kids like to rip off their diapers and run around naked, from what I've seen. Would that send these two into emergency mode?
posted by jonmc at 3:15 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Through there is definitely a difference between being accepting and enforcing something silly, though by the time he/she talks I doubt it will be an issue since she/he will probably just tell everyone.
posted by melissam at 3:16 PM on May 22, 2011


You aren't raising a genderless child you self-indulgent dipsticks. Your child has a gender, and the only people I see making a big deal about it are you.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:16 PM on May 22, 2011 [45 favorites]


tomswift: "Is it the minivans that are square, or the moms? (or both)..

I'm trying to get that image right
"

Actually, the moms are only figuratively square. In real life, they're shaped exactly like a Chrysler Town & Country.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:16 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good luck to them I suppose. But my lad wouldn't shut up about his willy pretty much as soon as he could talk. Told everyone about it, which was kind of embarrassing at times.
posted by ComfySofa at 3:18 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: "You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion."

The context is that the child is an infant. I don't know these people but since they seem to be all about self-determination, I'm fully confident that they will be 100% cool with their child announcing his or her gender as soon as he or she is interested in doing that. The problem the rest of society may or may not have with these parents' choices will therefore be fully resolved by the time Storm is, say, 3 years old.

I can totally understand the decision to spare your child the unending gender horseshit we pile on kids from birth, telling them who they are through stereotyped gender language and attitudes. Who cares if your 1 year old is a boy or a girl? What possible difference could it make?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:18 PM on May 22, 2011 [80 favorites]


You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.

How can it be "child abuse" not to tell casual busybodies something about an infant? It'd be one thing if this kid were old enough to have a problem with it and the parents were still persisting... but this is a baby. It's not old enough to understand what boys and girls are, much less need to pick one in order to fulfill its function in society (which, at this point, is basically lying there kicking its feet -- oh no, if only it were wearing a pink onesie with DADDY'S LIL' PRINCESS on the front the ~abuse~ would stop!)

As the article makes clear, these parents do not force their kids to do these things. If they decide that the downsides of wearing pink as a boy or not-having-gender overwhelm the positives, they are welcome to change that for themselves, or not. Big deal.
posted by vorfeed at 3:19 PM on May 22, 2011 [42 favorites]


Back in the good old hippie days, my (male) cousin and I (female) would wear the same clothes and have the same long, braided hair. It seemed normal at the time.
posted by mumimor at 3:20 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Little kids like to rip off their diapers and run around naked, from what I've seen. Would that send these two into emergency mode?
They say it's up to the kid when, and what, to let people know. Presumably ripping off his or her diapers and running around naked would be the kid letting people know at least something. But in any case, here's something at least partially related which may be indicative of their attitude towards your scenario:
Out with the kids all day, Witterick doesn’t have the time or the will to hide in a closet every time she changes Storm’s diaper. “If (people) want to peek, that’s their journey,” she says.
posted by Flunkie at 3:23 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Back in the good old hippie days, my (male) cousin and I (female) would wear the same clothes and have the same long, braided hair. It seemed normal at the time."

Just curious, were the same clothes gender specific, or were the two of you as likely to wear dresses as pants?
posted by tomswift at 3:23 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The parents may have a point about gender roles. If they're comfortable using their kids as social guinea pigs, well, that's not an approach I would take.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


When Storm decides that Storm is ready to talk I'm guessing he'll avoid oppressive, socially restrictive gendered names such as 'mum' and 'dad' and call both his parents 'dipstick'. After they've wrung every bit of publicity they can from this stunt, I wonder what they'll do with their next child, Ford Prefect.
posted by joannemullen at 3:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


“If (people) want to peek, that’s their journey,”

Journey?

I don't have any real problem with this but...'journey?'
posted by jonmc at 3:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


I didn't RTFA, but do they do the ze and zir thing?
posted by desjardins at 3:28 PM on May 22, 2011


“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.


What else is there to know about a baby? It's not like it has any other distinguishing personality traits at this point.

Also, I note they refer to Jazz as a "he." Will they refer to Storm as "it?" Personally, I would get kind of tired of saying "his or her."
posted by Existential Dread at 3:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I teach middle school, where gender roles are brutally enforced, so much so that (this being a southern state, boys and girls are addressed as Sir or Ma'am when you are correcting them or responding to a not-quite-heard question, as well as their addressing adults as Sir or Ma'am) when I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he is fatally offended.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see a problem here. I actually find the idea of kids saying "Sir" and "Ma'am" kind of charming, albeit old-fashioned. Which probably means that I should get the hell out of this thread before I get myself into real trouble.
posted by spoobnooble at 3:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2

Good. Small children are great at keeping secrets.
posted by desjardins at 3:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


Maybe it is just the area I live in, but the number of people who acted offended with us because they got Toddler theBRKP's gender wrong during his first year was, frankly, astonishing.

So, my first instinct was to be a tad irritated about this and view the parents as attention grabbing (insert favorite noun adjective combination here). Then, after a few moments of contemplation, I realized that any plan that would teach irritable old men to stop snapping about getting my child's hair cut so he looked less like a girl is OK by me.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: "this child has to grow up in a society"

Yeah, because when a unique child gets bullied at school, it's not the fault of the bullies -- whose (usually) conservative parents have indoctrinated them into believing that anything outside of the norm should be destroyed -- it's the fault of the parents who believe in freedom, tolerance and the right to self-expression.

Got it.
posted by klanawa at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [55 favorites]


I find it absolutely bizarre how much this freaks people out. There are all kinds of things which we gently deplore - raising kids to be homophobes, raising them to be against evolution, raising them in houses with unsecured guns, feeding them horrible food, refusing to vaccinate - but no, it's the "let them sort out their gender more slowly and based on fewer social cues" thing that get cries of "this is child abuse".

I do find the "the kids direct their days themselves" thing a little weird, but based on knowing a lot of hippie parents I suspect that it's exaggerated for effect and would seem a lot more parent-led if you were actually seeing it.

I know a lot of kids who are growing up with relatively few gender cues and relatively little parental direction--if your kids don't watch TV at all ever, go to hippie school and spend a lot of time around queer, trans and unconventionally gendered people they receive surprisingly fewer messages about that stuff. My observation so far is that in general they're a little more self-willed than would have been okay in my generation, but they seem as a group to be doing about as well as any other kids I've seen, and are in general a bit brighter and more verbal.

As far as this gender-panic business goes: what about the children of queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people? Or if a kid asks me about my gender expression, should I lie to them so that the "there are two genders and you have always been one" narrative is undisturbed?

People should chill out about this gender business, really. We perform gender right now today nothing like it was performed in, say, 15th century France. Our genders today would not be recognizable then. And yet humans go on having babies, holding jobs, etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [65 favorites]


this is the sort of experiment that would have seemed really great to me... before I actually had kids.
posted by reverend cuttle at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


If I were going to criticize these people, I'd probably say that raising a child in an environment wherein one of the most important social categories is treated as though it doesn't exist is not actually in the child's interest in any coherent way. I don't think that the gender roles we're used to are necessarily good or valuable, personally, so it's not that the kid needs those in his or her life. It's just that preventing the child from being socialized in gender, that approach, seems to mistake gender itself with specific, historical gender roles, and that's a very fundamental and problematic confusion.
posted by clockzero at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Just curious, were the same clothes gender specific, or were the two of you as likely to wear dresses as pants?
We didn't wear dresses, always and only overalls, but we often wore pink and/or ruffly stuff with the overalls. Even when my cousin grew up to be an otherwise prototypical frat-boy, he'd still stand out by wearing girly sweaters and scarfs.

These parents seem irritating to me, they are overdoing it. But I can't see any real harm being done.
posted by mumimor at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2011


A person's gender, like their name, is none of your business and absolutely should not be asked of random strangers on the street. It's intrusive, annoying, and offensive. Ask after the child's health if you want to be socially pleasant; it actually shows a thoughtful concern rather than a busybody-like delving into private information. Or just talk about the weather.

That this seems to be turning into a global news phenomenon makes me want to cry and move to another planet.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's like telling Gene Krupa not to go boom-boom!
posted by Brocktoon at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of what children do might be biological (it is interesting that girls in nearly all cultures play with dolls and boys with weapons, even isolated cultures),

Because something happens in all (current/known) cultures doesn't make it biological; I'm not even sure that doll play/weapon play is common to all cultures, though. And are the boys who do like dolls/girls who don't not biological somehow?

I predict that Storm, hir family/friends will all do fine, but that random people will still feel justified in calling them freaks and perverts.

Hey let's have some anecdata. My husband stayed home with my son his first two years. At my son's preschool "graduation" they asked all the kids what they wanted to be. Son said "A daddy like my daddy." He also talks a lot about having his own kids, what they will and won't do together. Parenting a kid, in his experience, is something men do, maybe even the primary thing. (he thinks his dad's job is "boring" though he does talk about being a cop sometimes, or maybe Megatron, when he grows up).

This is pretty revolutionary and not something we anticipated. If he were a girl wanting to be a "mommy" we might even feel some angst over gender roles. But clearly, what we modeled for him, intentionally or not, mattered.
posted by emjaybee at 3:35 PM on May 22, 2011 [30 favorites]


Well, to answer my own stupid question (read tfa to the end):

There are questions about which bathroom Storm will use, but that is a couple of years off. Then there is the “tyranny of pronouns,” as they call it. They considered referring to Storm as “Z”. Witterick now calls the baby she, imagining the “s” in brackets.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:35 PM on May 22, 2011


I didn't RTFA, but do they do the ze and zir thing?
No:
Then there is the “tyranny of pronouns,” as they call it. They considered referring to Storm as “Z”. Witterick now calls the baby she, imagining the “s” in brackets.
posted by Flunkie at 3:37 PM on May 22, 2011


A person's gender, like their name, is none of your business and absolutely should not be asked of random strangers on the street. It's intrusive, annoying, and offensive.

Well, I don't know about offensive, per se. I think it's interesting that in our culture we have such predetermined ways in which we regard gender that people get offended when a male child's hair isn't cut or when a female child is wearing blue and playing with blocks instead of dolls... because adults want to make sure they interact with the child in the way which society says is appropriate for that gender.

That we even have such specific things in mind about how adults should interact with people who are under 4 years old based on their plumbing is kind of bizarre to me... But it all has to do with teaching and enforcing rigid gender roles and passing them along down the generational ladder. Very interesting who gets offended in these situations.
posted by hippybear at 3:37 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know that oh boy, here we go feeling that you get when your car loses traction on a wet road? That's the feeling I got reading this FPP.
posted by Splunge at 3:38 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A person's gender, like their name, is none of your business and absolutely should not be asked of random strangers on the street.

You realize that, being a normative statement, this is entirely subjective, right? Anyone can decide that their gender is none of anyone's business, of course, but it seems strange to aver this universal social rule, especially when every culture that one can easily think of contradicts it.
posted by clockzero at 3:40 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


When my daughter was born I was adamant about 'no pink!'. Not that i have anything against pink per se, but when I was at Target I would see the boys section...the clothes would be all, I dunno, action oriented. Bulldozers, rocket ships, sports, monsters. Then I would look at the girls section...it was all...passive? Shopping, cakes (well, I am all for cake), being someone's princess. I hated it. I told everyone that would listen...NO PINK! By banning pink I was effectively banning most of the super passive annoying girl stuff that endorsed...barbie-dollism? I wasn't entirely certain what my goal was, just that I didn't want other people jamming their ideas down our throats with their well meaning gifts.

Relatives generally just rolled their eyes at me, as though I was some high-fallutin liberal wannabe who didn't realize that ALL GIRLS WANT TO BE A PRINCESS DAMMIT. But, to some extent, out of social nicety, they complied, to some extent. Sometimes they would get some god-awful pink nightmare because they 'just couldn't resist, it was so kewt!'. That was incredibly awkward to have my wishes as a parent so willfully dismissed. But, whatever, life is short, it wasn't the hill I wanted to die on.

Nowadays, my daughter does indeed love pink, just like a lot of her classmates. But you know what? She loves dumptrucks, dinosaurs, bugs, science and building things.

I accept that I cannot raise my daughter in a vacuum, but I am glad that I spoke up when I did. The forces that be are the force that be, but we don't have to bend over backwards to accomodate them and their well-meaning acolytes.

At the same time....not telling people what their infants gender is? It is really hard for me not to have a massive eye-roll over that one. It seems like such a ploy for attention, but I honestly hope that I am wrong and they have their child's best interests at heart.
posted by ian1977 at 3:40 PM on May 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


Because something happens in all (current/known) cultures doesn't make it biological; I'm not even sure that doll play/weapon play is common to all cultures, though. And are the boys who do like dolls/girls who don't not biological somehow?

I said MIGHT. Anthropologists are still studying it. And it would mean that such an activity would be more likely for one gender, not absent in the other gender. I certainly was a girl who played with both weapons and dolls and I don't understand why people freak the hell out when studies imply that one gender might be more likely to do something.
posted by melissam at 3:41 PM on May 22, 2011


You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.

This is the same thing that some people said to my mixed-race couple parents when they brought me into this world. It's a shitty cop-out, and from what you've said on this site about your family, St. Alia, you should know better.
posted by rtha at 3:41 PM on May 22, 2011 [34 favorites]


Some time in the past I became convinced that 90% of the world's problems would go away if everyone just stopped getting worked up about things they disagreed with but didn't involve them. You're gay? Fine. Straight? Fine. Polly? Fine. Muslim? Fine. Atheist? Fine. Think the world is going to end in 2012? Fine. Who cares? Show up to work on time, don't steal, don't physically harm other people, pay your taxes (yes, that's important). Almost everything else simply does not matter in the slightest. Or rather, it matters to them, but it shouldn't matter to you. If it does, your philosophy or religion or world view or whatever kind of sucks, and I hope it sheds followers as time goes on.

Child abuse is raising your kid in a cult and letting your charismatic leader rape them; child abuse is neglecting your kid, not feeding them, hitting them. Telling the world to go buzz the fuck off when they try to force your little princess into a pink dress, or shove your little man into a business suit or football helmet, isn't anything. Or shouldn't be anything. I'd really like to live in a world where a post like this got way fewer comments.
posted by jsturgill at 3:42 PM on May 22, 2011 [67 favorites]


No trigger alert?
posted by stargell at 3:43 PM on May 22, 2011


These folks are over-the-top, to be sure, but it's interesting: I'm pregnant right now, and while getting my registry together, I'm pretty appalled by how gendered every baby thing is. Pink or blue washcloths, pink or blue sheets, pink or blue baby wipes (ok, haven't seen that yet, but wouldn't be surprised). Stuff for baby boys with trucks and spaceships, stuff for baby girls with flowers and bunnies. And yet people go around saying "oh, he just loves trucks, he just naturally does, that's boys for you!" While they've been bombarded with this imagery since birth.
posted by statolith at 3:43 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.

Ignoring something doesn't make it go away. I hope these parents, like so many before them, realize that you can raise your kid however you want and still not have total control over how they turn out or what kind of world they live in.


Thank god for people who are brave enough to opt out of the socially accepted normalities of their day. This is how civilization moves forward.

Note: I'm referring to behavior that doesn't harm others or that doesn't celebrate the harming of others. Raising your child to be a white supremacist or naming your child after Adolf Hitler doesn't qualify.
posted by marsha56 at 3:45 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


pink or blue baby wipes (ok, haven't seen that yet, but wouldn't be surprised)

They're out there!
posted by ian1977 at 3:45 PM on May 22, 2011


If this isn't the most annoying couple ever they'll do 'til that couple gets here.

They live a few blocks from me and I hope to never meet them. Not because I give a shit what gender their kid is, but because they sound like every first year university student who just enrolled in a cultural studies or gender studies class. The very definition of "A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing."

It's bloody hilarious that one is a teacher and the other criticizes school as "something that happens by rote from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays in a building with a group of same-age people, planned, implemented and assessed by someone else.” I guess unschooling is good enough for little Storm but not so bad that one can say no to the food it puts on the table.
posted by dobbs at 3:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


CHILDREN SHOULDNT BE THEIR PARENTS' FUNKY SOCIAL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS.
posted by liza at 3:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


There's huge difference between people "freaking out" and really, really hoping not to get sat next to these parents at a dinner party.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:49 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


But that's our journey, robo
posted by jonmc at 3:52 PM on May 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Why would you not want to sit next to the parents at a dinner party? They seem like open-minded, totally chill people who don't want to impose what the rest of the world imposes on their youngsters to predefine them. They sound like incredibly interesting people to talk to -- and that's not even regarding how they choose to raise their children.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


I mean, when I think people I don't want to sit next to anywhere, it's people that I don't feel like I can be myself around. Which are exactly the sort of people critiquing this method of upbringing.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:55 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The "tyranny of pronouns" thing sounds weird to me. In my circles, when someone's gender is unknown or they're genderqueer or whatever, we just say "they", as in "I saw Lee on the bus, and they said they'd be at the show tonight". IIRC, "they" was initially an acceptable gender-neutral singular anyway.

And you'd be surprised how often - if you move in queer/hippie/trans circles - you're not sure of someone's gender. Sometimes they perform gender in ways that are not obvious - someone with a long beard and long hair who likes to wear ruffly skirts, for example. Or else a lot of the unspoken stuff that serves as gender cues (women are deferential and take care of people's feelings! Men lead and get to make jokes!) just aren't there.

I find that the more I hang out with genderqueer, queer and trans folks, the less able I am to "see" gender in the conventional way. If I see someone who is - for example - short-haired and very thin with a flat chest, I truly do not have an immediate opinion on whether they're a cis or trans guy, a woman, someone who binds their chest, etc etc.

There are a couple of people I know where I still, after multiple interactions, have no real idea whether they were assigned male or female at birth or how they identify gender-wise. This has not proved to be a problem in our interactions. If it's important for some reason, they'll tell me.

Really, truly - knowing people's gender is not that important.
posted by Frowner at 3:57 PM on May 22, 2011 [52 favorites]


I wish these had been my parents. They're doing a really huge brave thing. And their kids will be fine.

Granted, I'm biased. I want to smash the gender dichotomy wide open. And I wish I could wear whatever I wanted from either side of the gender isle without being a target for violence or (at best) ridicule.

It's OK for the gender binary to exist. That's not going to go away any time soon. People will be voluntarily choosing to put on their chosen or accepted role for the foreseeable future. And that's fine. Our differences are what makes things exciting.

But it's not OK to force people to choose one or the other for your own social comfort. Life is ambiguous, and if you can't deal with that, you can't deal with the true nature and reality of life.

You're born naked. The rest is drag.
posted by loquacious at 3:57 PM on May 22, 2011 [60 favorites]


This honestly doesn't seem like a huge deal to me. They're not saying the kid is going to be 5 years old and hiding his or her gender, they're just saying that when the kid is a baby they're not going to tell people. It's not that different from keeping the gender secret before the baby is born (which we did, and which I don't even think is considered weird.)

I wouldn't say these parents were "my kind of people," but I see where they're coming from. Why? Because I have a baby girl, and I constantly hold her in my arms and tell her how beautiful she is. And I didn't say that to my son when he was a baby. And I find that really frustrating.

As for my son, he likes construction sites, cooking, science, and dinosaurs, and he loves pink things and flowers, just like I did when I was a boy. I bought him a pink bike with flowers on it and I will not apologize.
posted by escabeche at 4:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


This is similar to a previous FPP of mine.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 4:07 PM on May 22, 2011


I bought him a pink bike with flowers on it and I will not apologize.

When I was a kid, I had blue Ross 3-speed bike with handbrakes. My younger sister had a pink Huffy 'Sweet Thunder' bike with coaster brakes. One day they were doing construction work at a local park and there were big mounds of packed dirt and whatnot around that we could use for racing around and jumping. My bike's brakes were broken so I reluctantly took my sisters. While jumping it off one those mounds, I wiped out and the bike landed on top of me, giving me a bloody nose and a badly scraped upper lip that looked like it had half a moustache for a week.

Make of this what you will.
posted by jonmc at 4:13 PM on May 22, 2011


I think it's a really great think to try to reduce gendered stereotypes when it comes to your kid, but I think literally not sharing the gender is pretty weak as far as that goal goes. Our unconscious behaviors, especially when it comes to language, are so deeply ingrained that leaving out just the words "he" or "she" are the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg.

For instance, when their child gets a scrape, will the parents say "Storm, come here let me kiss your boo boo" or will they say, "Storm, be a big kid, don't cry!" Were you able to tell which one of those statements girls are more likely to hear? Would you realize how gendered your language was in the heat of the moment when your precious baby has just been hurt?

I bet a child development professional could, after watching the parents interact with their child for a week or so, confidently guess the gender of their child. And I bet their close friends and family will pick up on how they treat the kid and act as if the kid is a "boy" or a "girl".

Even if parents make a conscious effort to modify their behavior and language -- beyond simply omitting words that explicitly indicate gender -- we all have a similar, highly overlapping set of gender expectations. Parents, and society in general, must be committed to consciously explaining that they never want to hold their kids back or box them into a certain set of behaviors or expectations; it takes more than leaving out a word or two.
posted by lesli212 at 4:15 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Out of all the many hypocrisies outlined in this article, the hugest one is this: these parents claim that gender shouldn't matter, but THEY ARE THE ONES MAKING A HUGE FUCKING DEAL ABOUT IT! Swearing your small children to secrecy about the gender of their sibling conveys the message to them that gender is in fact a huge deal. Talking incessantly about how gender shouldn't matter underscores that it does. They could easily let people know the gender of their children if asked AND also assert that boys can wear pink and girls can play with trucks or whatever. Instead they choose to make gender THE central issue in their children's lives.

As for "Thank god for people who are brave enough to opt out of the socially accepted normalities of their day." These folks aren't opting out for themselves, they are making the choice for their children. And then claiming that it's all about their children's choice in how to live. Bullshit. How they are expected to act and what their values are expected to be has all been outlined for them, just as surely as it has for children in other families who are taught rigid gender roles. Only it's even worse because the parents are self-righteous and smug about how terribly, terribly enlightened they are.
posted by parrot_person at 4:23 PM on May 22, 2011 [25 favorites]


I just find it very sad that even the grandparents don't know. What, the people who gave birth to you and managed to let you successfully reach adulthood aren't allowed to know if your offspring has girl bits or boy bits?!?
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:24 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


CHILDREN SHOULDNT BE THEIR PARENTS' FUNKY SOCIAL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS.

What child isn't?
posted by hermitosis at 4:24 PM on May 22, 2011 [29 favorites]


See also the Story of X, by Lois Gould. (I ran across this first in the Tales for Little Rebels anthology, which is similarly fascinating
posted by heyforfour at 4:24 PM on May 22, 2011


> we all have a similar, highly overlapping set of gender expectations.

You may have these expectations, but not all people do. I don't. I don't expect women to be feminine or men to be manly at all. I have seen too much to expect anything based on gender.
posted by loquacious at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Out of all the many hypocrisies outlined in this article, the hugest one is this: these parents claim that gender shouldn't matter, but THEY ARE THE ONES MAKING A HUGE FUCKING DEAL ABOUT IT!

Funny, when I usually hear something this, it goes:

"...these parents homosexuals claim that gender sexual preference shouldn't matter, but THEY ARE THE ONES MAKING A HUGE FUCKING DEAL ABOUT IT!"
posted by hermitosis at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


And this is as good a place as any to post this again:
FOR EVERY GIRL WHO IS TIRED OF ACTING WEAK WHEN SHE IS STRONG, THERE IS A BOY TIRED OF APPEARING STRONG WHEN HE FEELS VULNERABLE. FOR EVERY BOY WHO IS BURDENED WITH THE CONSTANT EXPECTATION OF KNOWING EVERYTHING, THERE IS A GIRL TIRED OF PEOPLE NOT TRUSTING HER INTELLIGENCE. FOR EVERY GIRL WHO IS TIRED OF BEING CALLED OVER-SENSITIVE, THERE IS A BOY WHO FEARS TO BE GENTLE, TO WEEP. FOR EVERY BOY FOR WHOM COMPETITION IS THE ONLY WAY TO PROVE HIS MASCULINITY, THERE IS A GIRL WHO IS CALLED UNFEMININE WHEN SHE COMPETES. FOR EVERY GIRL WHO THROWS OUT HER E-Z-BAKE OVEN, THERE IS A BOY WHO WISHES TO FIND ONE. FOR EVERY BOY STRUGGLING NOT TO LET ADVERTISING DICTATE HIS DESIRES, THERE IS A GIRL FACING THE AD INDUSTRY’S ATTACKS ON HER SELF-ESTEEM. FOR EVERY GIRL WHO TAKES A STEP TOWARD HER LIBERATION, THERE IS A BOY WHO FINDS THE WAY TO FREEDOM A LITTLE EASIER.

Crimethinc
posted by loquacious at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


weird discussion. so far the criticisms are 99% ad hominem swipes at the parents or variations on the heckler's veto (people will be mean, so you'd better lay low).

how about the merits? i'm not sure if these particular parents are implementing the concepts they're trying to exemplify perfectly or even well (how would I know?), but I love what they're saying. my read between the lines is that they see no conflict between providing support and direction (including role-modeling) to a child and simultaneously granting the child a ton of autonomy. they're not saying, "we're raising this male-gendered child to be a girl, and she doesn't get to play soldiers," they're saying, "we're giving these kids a shitload of resources and attention, and we're open to whichever direction they choose."
posted by facetious at 4:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


hermitosis: just in case you're not willfully choosing to misrepresent what I said, I'll clarify: my statement is about this particular article. It cannot be generalized to anything else, and most especially as some sort of slam on homosexuals.
posted by parrot_person at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, anyone who thinks these hippy-dippy, home schooling, co-sleeping parents will make any attempt to stop their free-spirited child from stripping off and running naked across a lawn or through a park sprinkler, does not know very many hippy-dippy, home schooling, co-sleeping, cloth-diapering, organic-babyfood-making parents.

I swear to God, this mystery will last about as long as it takes Storm to figure out the snappies on his or her FuzziBunz. And then they'll all move on to the next thing that interests them. (Smart money: Suzuki violin.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


And then they'll all move on to the next thing that interests them. (Smart money: Suzuki violin.)

Please God No.
posted by jonmc at 4:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


No trigger alert?

Yeah, for memories of being a hippy kid in the 1970s. Geez, haven't we done the gender-neutral or gender-ambiguous child thing before? My parents were far from radical on this front, but all the kids had androgynous long shaggy hair, a motley assortment of handed-down clothes in various colors, and they made a big effort to avoid the guns-are-for-boys, sparkles-are-for-girls thing.

We all turned out ok (raising your kids in a slightly counter-cultural way is a long, long way from abuse, seriously) but we all also felt free to take on whatever stereotypical gender signifiers from the broader culture or evolution or wherever they come from. So I'd call it a cute and fun experiment, but not something truly novel, and not something that is going to override the culture/evolution/etc environment that the kids will live in for the rest of their lives.
posted by Forktine at 4:34 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The bit that struck me as parental projection was that the five year old's "pseudonym" for authorship on his booklet of drawings and writings was "Gender Explorer". That... doesn't seem real.
posted by Flunkie at 4:35 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'll clarify: my statement is about this particular article. It cannot be generalized to anything else, and most especially as some sort of slam on homosexuals.

I'll clarify: it's a dumb argument to make about anyone.
posted by hermitosis at 4:35 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


If the parents are good these kids will turn out good, otherwise not so good. None of this seems to have any bearing on that - even given that this sort of gender activism doesn't have a particularly interesting track record.
posted by eeeeeez at 4:38 PM on May 22, 2011


Argument? It's not an argument. It's an observation, after having read the article, that the parents themselves are the ones who are making a huge deal about gender. If you have anything to say about the article, beyond labeling what I've said as simply "dumb", let's hear it.
posted by parrot_person at 4:40 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: “You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.”

I guess I'm just old enough to remember that this is what they said about "miscegenation" back in the 1970s. "I'm as open-minded as anyone, and I believe in equality, but this white man should know better than to marry a black woman and have children! Their poor babies. It's such a cruel world, they surely won't be accepted! It's child abuse to subject kids to that."
posted by koeselitz at 4:42 PM on May 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


A person's gender, like their name, is none of your business and absolutely should not be asked of random strangers on the street.

No, asking what gender your baby is, is like asking how you are, its a polite conversation starter, and similarly I will have forgotten the answer by the time you walk around the next corner.
posted by biffa at 4:43 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


This seems pretty straightforward to me: This kid (probably) has a gender and one day it will announce its gender. Those who read the article will note that Jazz is very clear he's a boy, regardless of how many people think he's a girl or his apparent love of the colour pink.
posted by hoyland at 4:44 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not far enough. My children are all going to have numbers instead of names, wear identical jumpsuits and Motorcycle helmets. Now that I think of it, it is going to be a cross between The Partridge Family and Daft Punk. Now I just need to find a person willing to have children to my specifications, or perhaps several people as the 1 child per year schedule might be quite grueling for the birth mothers.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:46 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, for memories of being a hippy kid in the 1970s. Geez, haven't we done the gender-neutral or gender-ambiguous child thing before? My parents were far from radical on this front, but all the kids had androgynous long shaggy hair, a motley assortment of handed-down clothes in various colors, and they made a big effort to avoid the guns-are-for-boys, sparkles-are-for-girls thing.

I recall being asked if I was a boy or a girl outside my High-school. It was an older man who thought he was being hilarious.

I replied, "Why don't you suck my dick and find out?"

I stole the line from Zap Comix. He shut the fuck up right away.
posted by Splunge at 4:47 PM on May 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


all the kids in my family had androgynous long shaggy hair etc

Key detail. Not all the kids at school had the androgynous hair, which is where the abuse comes in.


I replied, "Why don't you suck my dick and find out?"


This is one of those moments where I wish I could go back in time and clue the middle school me on how to talk like this. I would have had more black eyes, but also more self-respect.
posted by Forktine at 4:52 PM on May 22, 2011


“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? ...).”

Hi, I guess I'm a square minivan Mom. I don't think these parents are brave at all, and I honestly don't know why anyone would think so, since they aren't the ones standing up for anything. If they took a stance themselves, with the father wearing dresses and pink and purple boas, for example, that might be brave. But no, they are putting their kids out there instead.

So this isn't brave, it's just being contrary for the sake of contrariness. It's also not 'open-minded' at all; neither child seems to have any interest in anything that ISN'T in opposition to gender norms, and that seems unlikely if they were both truly 'free to explore all options'. The kids are trying to please their parents, and have picked up on the cues they are given. And as the parents have a problem with people saying things like their son is big and strong--what a surprise that both of the older boys have chosen more traditionally feminine interests!

One of the boys has also admitted to being upset at the way other kids reacted to him at school. So these 'brave' parents, who say they, 'Don't want to isolate their kids from the world, but, when it’s meaningful, talk about gender,' just took him out of school. They didn't choose to talk to the other schoolkids, they just went into hiding. They aren't really about sticking up for their principles, apparently, when it is inconvenient for them to do so.

Why can't they just teach their kids that girls can be strong and boys can be nurturing or whatever, rather than making this big social Statement and not even acknowledging Storm's sex? Kids can choose whoever they want to be, but without gender reassignment surgery they can't change a penis to a vagina or vice versa, so Storm has a sex whether the parwnts want to admit it or not. I will make a prediction right now that if Storm has a penis, he will turn out to love pink and purple, too. I am honestly curious to see what will happen if Storm is a girl, though, because that's going to pose a real problem for them--they won't want Storm to conform to gender stereotypes because that will not get them in the news, but I would bet good money that if Storm wanted to 'explore' paintball guns and Halo 3 they'd be absolutely horrified.

And though the concept of unschooling sounds interesting, with no grades, no tests, and no school records I wonder how the kids will do when it comes time to choose a career? Would they even be accepted in a college if they wanted to attend one?
posted by misha at 4:53 PM on May 22, 2011 [24 favorites]


Not far enough. My children are all going to have numbers instead of names, wear identical jumpsuits and Motorcycle helmets. Now that I think of it, it is going to be a cross between The Partridge Family and Daft Punk.

Yes, but will they fight crime?
posted by jonmc at 4:54 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm with biffa, the "oh what a beautiful baby. Boy or girl? You must be so proud." Carries the same semantic value as "hey how's by you? How's your mom-n-them?" It's just cultural wheel greasing, I don't think people really care one way or other.

That said, I'm all for not enforcing gender roles.
posted by dejah420 at 4:57 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I dunno. I send congratulatory cards that say "It's a Baby!" to new parents of my acquaintance, because I figure they get enough of the boy-or-girl question, and also I really don't think it matters until the kid's old enough to speak for itself. It's not necessary to keep reinforcing the idea that gender is the most important characteristic of a person just to be polite.
posted by asperity at 5:02 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


You're born naked. The rest is drag.

I need this on a shirt STAT.

These aren't the first parents to do this, and they're not even the first ones to do it publicly. But there are way more parents doing it under the radar with no attention than y'all might be aware. It's not uncommon in queer circles or plenty of other alt culture groups. These people might be a bit of asses for being in the media about it, but that's pretty much how subcultures eventually get accepted.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:02 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


The more people freak out about other people's benign choices like this, the more I think those choices are probably good ones.

When my son was little, we didn't have a TV, and the sheer volume and vitriol of others' judgments about it just solidified for me that I'd made a good choice. People were just irrationally attached to the idea of raising children to conform to specific class and gender roles, and some of them would get really hostile when they found out that I was trying to avoid that. I had one guy actually threaten to call CPS who would obviously take my child away from me.

Parents who make conscientious decisions to raise their children in ways that are in line with their personal ethics are not abusive. Abuse is when you actually hurt your child through aggression or neglect.

These parents absolutely have the right attitude. The bully-avoidance school of parenting would teach children to conform at all costs, so they don't stand out, so they don't attract unwanted attention. Not only does that tactic not work, but it plays right into the bully's game. Your kids grow up fearful and desperate for approval from those whose approval they shouldn't be interested in in the first place.

A bully-proof kid is a happy, confident, self-assured kid. And odds are good that, raised that way, they'll end up being the cool kids that other kids emulate, not pick on.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [24 favorites]


Loquacious got that line stolen by RuPaul.
posted by Splunge at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I so have to agree with phunniemee in the first few comments above. And if this doesn't work , I suppose faux Botox treatments might generate the necessary amount of attention.

The real heroes of the world usually, in my experience, do their work in the background and dispense with the silly outfits and spotlights.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:10 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see why people want to compare this to having children in biracial relationships. It's not like I kept the race of my grandbabies secret!

You are what you are. If you don't like gender roles, hand your boy some Barbies (but if he is like our former neighbor's kid don't be surprised if he turns them into imaginary guns. True story.)

I am not saying it is always wrong to buck cultural stereotypes, but this being secret about gender just strikes me as wrong, hurtful and sending unintended messages to their kids.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:11 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is an interesting article, and not as interesting as many really great and smart comments--I've favorited a bunch already, so thank you for this discussion roomthreeseventeen.

I have a four-year-old son, so I've been in the trenches of some of this stuff. My husband and I have shared parenting time equally, both of us pursuing flex time instead of third-party childcare, which is just to say that my kid's primary influences are us and our friends (which do to our academic lives on both sides of the house--him humanities, me science--our friends are all over the spectrums of many different spectrums). Also, we're both REALLY type-B as parents. REALLY. I prefer this label to say, "lazy." Also, I am in pediatrics, so I see a LOT of kids and families. We don't have a TV at all, but kiddo gets some media d/t streaming, a few games, and educational stuff. But we get to pick and choose, as parents.

All of this for the "point" that the gender interaction stuff has come out of nowhere to surprise us because my 4-year-old has made the choice to wear long hair in a particular style--he loves the Winnie-the-Pooh books with the original illustrations that show Christopher Robin in a nursery room bob, a style more closely associated with little girls today. Also, my child is extremely fair and very red-headed. No matter what he wears (and he wears mostly jeans, t-shirts of various 2nd-hand origin, and Keens), everyone's first assumption is that he is a girl.

Right now we live in Columbus, OH. I am surprised, every time, at the almost exquisite discomfort strangers who interact with my kid have trying to decide. Usually, they go with girl, and because we don't want to send the message to our kid that girls are bad by instant overcorrection, we have decided to let the situation correct itself--because it comes up in a context appropriate way, or my kid mentions, or his name clues them in, whatever. But until that happens, I can see that it's troublesome. Sometimes, they'll just ask. Every once in a while, someone will tell me or my son that "he needs a haircut, don't you want to look like a boy?" sort of thing. Kiddo always says "I want to look like Christopher Robin" in response. He knows that sometimes people think he is a girl, but a couple of friends are trans/queer and so he knows that dress/hair is for self-expression, in general. Kiddo also has a peer (another 4-year-old) who identifies, completely out of nowhere for the family, as a "different looking kind of girl" and that kid is a boy. They're kids, so it's absolutely all kinds of loose, and absolutely about other people, and absolutely the other people are mostly grown-ups. (Kids who initially think he's a girl don't care as long as he's fun to play with).

So, that's a long data point on two lazy parents who didn't set out to keep formal social track of what was up with all of this, who have had some interesting discussions and situations, anyway. I don't have answers, and it seems to be all about what a particular family can and wants to handle, more than anything. Our kid is very laid back and extroverted, and so we've been comfortable taking our cues from him--if he was a different kind of kid, maybe he would need our intervention more, or in a different way. I get to see a lot of families and a lot of kids, which diminishes my sense that there is any kind of central authority for these kinds of things.

As a final example of how diffuse issues like this can be (that is, parenting), often families in clinic will bring up some problem to me. My first question is "does that bother you or anyone in the family?" If they say no, then that answers everyone's questions about if the issue was really a thing or just something they thought should be a thing, usually because some other parent told them it was a thing. So, sometimes, my kid will say (like he he did last weekend) "the Striderite shoe-fitting lady thinks I'm a girl." Me: "does that bother you?" Kid: "No. Maybe now she will let me try on those dark purple Keens."

As parents, then, we should check in with ourselves and our children if they are feeling hurt, or have a problem, because we are resources for each other. It's so much harder to figure out when others (immediate others, society others), are a potential resource or the ones hurting.

Again, such a great thread with lots of really wonderful stories and examples. Thanks.
posted by rumposinc at 5:11 PM on May 22, 2011 [46 favorites]


Yes, but will they fight crime?

Fighting crime is for the bousousie. What could be more transgressive than committing crimes.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:11 PM on May 22, 2011


> when I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he is fatally offended.

... or has an epiphany.
posted by de at 5:15 PM on May 22, 2011


Loquacious got that line stolen by RuPaul.

who stole it from someone else who's name escpes me.
posted by jonmc at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2011


I am not saying it is always wrong to buck cultural stereotypes, but this being secret about gender just strikes me as wrong, hurtful and sending unintended messages to their kids.

OK.

By what standard is it wrong?

To whom is it hurtful, and how?

What unintended messages does it send?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"the Striderite shoe-fitting lady thinks I'm a girl." Me: "does that bother you?" Kid: "No. Maybe now she will let me try on those dark purple Keens."

He makes it work. I like it.
posted by oflinkey at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a bad case of ideology trumping common sense . If they really want to keep their kids in a bubble, they should cut off all contact with the outside world, and only let the kids interact with others whom they know will play the game. Perhaps they should keep the whole subject that are two sexes a secret, and refer to everyone as "it". The" unschooling" goes a long way in the direction of keeping their kids in cult-like isolation, and I bet they are forbidden TV, computers, videos. Easy when they are still small, but it will get harder and harder and those children will be less and less able to deal with the real world. That is not fair to the kids.

It is clear they do not really give the kids a choice, but are living in a mirror world where the preferred choice for boys is dolls and pink ribbons, and for girls, trucks and sports. They would be unhappy with a boy who freely chose boy stuff, or with a girl who really wanted dolls and pink. It would not fit their ideology. They are influencing their kids to make the choices they want and live the life they want as much as any religious fundamentalist at the other end of the spectrum.

I think letting kids chose their own toys and activities is a good thing, with less emphasis on gender and more on the child's real interests, and those who prefer things stereotypically associated with the other gender should not be criticized for that, but protected and loved for whom they are. That is not what these people are doing.

Whatever sex Storm is (and those weird names do not help) the most likely thing those kids will get out of this is the idea that being that sex is wrong and shameful. After all, if you can't tell the grandparents, it must be bad! It is really sad to see adults playing out their fantasies on their children in an extreme way, and yes, just as bad when it is a liberal fantasy as a backwards religious conservative one
posted by mermayd at 5:23 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Come on, you really think that being secretive about gender is a good thing? I think that in a kid's head he or she might get the idea that gender is something to be ashamed of. I can't say specifically what the results are gonna be with this particular social experiment, but it IS a social experiment, and I think that it's not wise to make your child the subject of an experiment.


(again, I think it's wrong to compare this to biracial children. They are not an experiment, they are who they are, and that's that.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:27 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The question of what elements of ourselves are other people's business is a tricky one. As an introvert, I find myself inclined to share less of myself than other people would like as an adult, or share those things much more selectively. I'd probably rather you let me go about my day without asking me what I'm listening to or where I'm going or what I'm doing after work. Particularly in the context of leering and street harassment, seemingly innocent questions can be loaded in tricky ways, and that's why I can emphatize with the idea that my baby's name and gender are none of your damn business.

Still, I've spent a ton of time around people (religious lefties) who would argue that behavior is isolating and, toa certain extent, dehumanizing - the more we mediate our relationships through non-social instruments like money, the more we isolate ourselves in a bubble. We're supposed to love everybody, this argument goes, and love means giving without expecting something in return, particularly of ourselves.

This gets trickier because these parents are acting for someone else who doesn't really have free will yet. As the parenting element goes, it makes a lot more sense to teach a child that they are an X, that many Xs behave or feel like Y, but if you don't behave or feel like Y, it doesn't mean you're any better or worse than the other Xs who do. The parents here might well be doing that in private. Still, the question of what's the best way to present ourselves in public - let alone an infant someone else - is incredibly thorny.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:27 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think letting kids chose their own toys and activities is a good thing, with less emphasis on gender and more on the child's real interests, and those who prefer things stereotypically associated with the other gender should not be criticized for that, but protected and loved for whom they are. That is not what these people are doing.

Quoted for truth.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:28 PM on May 22, 2011


loquacious: "> we all have a similar, highly overlapping set of gender expectations.

You may have these expectations, but not all people do. I don't. I don't expect women to be feminine or men to be manly at all. I have seen too much to expect anything based on gender
"

No, you're completely, absolutely, misunderstanding; I'm not even remotely referring to matching gender to sex, first of all. That was nowhere in my comment.

What I am saying is that we all have an idea that, say, ballet dancing is perceived as feminine. Whether or not you agree, you do know that the society that we both currently live in perceives ballet as feminine and furthermore the overwhelming majority of ballet dancers are female, right? That's what I mean by having the same expectations when it comes to gender. It's a cultural thing, not an individual thing.

Ultimately, I really really try not to limit myself, but when I hear "ballet dancer" -- a gender neutral phrase -- the first thing that pops into my head is an outwardly female person in a tutu. That sucks, and it's worth changing for myself and my children, but simply saying "ballet dancer" instead of "ballerina" isn't going to change anything. What I need to do is practice instead of preach: I need to expose my kids to boys who do ballet, not simply say "ballet dancer" instead of "ballerina".

But however much I do, I know it's impossible, in one generation, to eliminate gender stereotypes. (I mean, unless I literally go live in a cave where most things aren't gendered because most things don't exist.) All I can do is be aware and make my kids aware that we're prone to that type of thinking, so my second thought after visualizing a "ballet dancer" is to be aware that, hey, not all ballet dancers are female.
posted by lesli212 at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but I don't see a problem here. I actually find the idea of kids saying "Sir" and "Ma'am" kind of charming, albeit old-fashioned. Which probably means that I should get the hell out of this thread before I get myself into real trouble.
posted by spoobnooble at 6:29 PM on May 22 [+] [!] No other comments.


Sorry I was unclear. When I accidentally call a girl "Sir," she's like, "whatev" and we move on with our lives. When I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he acts as if I've insulted him.

I'm on board with any tiny or big movement that rattles up people's gender cages because I don't think it's ok to have only one sex be normal and the other half the population has to live every day with being something less than normal.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't see why people want to compare this to having children in biracial relationships. It's not like I kept the race of my grandbabies secret!
If there was anyone who compared these people's decision to keep their child's gender secret to mixed race couples' decisions to have children, I didn't see it.

What I did see was two people comparing your reaction to these people's decision to keep their child's gender secret to the reactions of people from decades ago to the decision of mixed race couples to have children. There's a difference.

And they were specific on why they were drawing that comparison: In both cases -- i.e. in the case of your reaction and in the case of anti-biracial people's reactions -- the reaction was couched in terms of being child abuse to the child, because the child would have to grow up in society.
posted by Flunkie at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: “I don't see why people want to compare this to having children in biracial relationships.”

Well, I was just noting that it's the same argument. Generally I don't think the argument about society being cruel, so parents should just capitulate and not make principled stands, doesn't hold very much water.

Parents are funny creatures. It seems from the outside – I have not had the pleasure quite yet – as though parents spend at least twenty years trying to make clear and direct decisions about what is best for a little person. That kind of time put in has a number of impacts on a person's view of her or himself and of the world. One of them seems to be that parents tend to have very strong opinions about how children in general ought to be raised, regardless of the specificity of their own knowledge on the subject.

I think that's only natural, and I don't blame parents for that. In fact, I imagine that I'll probably feel the same way when I have children. However, it seems to me that parents might notice sometimes that children have been raised in all sorts of ways, by all sorts of people, in all sorts of circumstances, and all kinds have turned out just fine.

Would I do this whole keeping-gender-secret thing? Probably not. But I think it's sort of a neat exercise, if only to underline to kids that they're allowed to be whomever they choose, and mommy and daddy will love them regardless. In any case, while I like principled stands in parenting – that seems to be what the whole thing is about, really – I don't think this is central to the question of whether or not these parents are "doing it right." And frankly, if these two treat their kids decently, respecting and loving them and training them to respect and love themselves in a healthy way, that's all that really matters – and they can raise their kids however it seems best to them to raise them.

mermayd: “This is a bad case of ideology trumping common sense... (and those weird names do not help)”

Again, this seems like a pretty unsustainable principle for parenting to me.

If you really took up a "common sense" approach to confronting the cruelties of the world, and applied that approach to your whole parenting model, imagine what that would look like. You wouldn't teach your kids right from wrong, nor that they should do the right thing no matter what; you'd teach them to do whatever they can get away with, since everybody cheats anyway. You wouldn't teach your kids not to bully others or be cruel; you'd teach them that their objective should be to win, and that sometimes you have to hurt other people to get to the top.

What is parenting but the application of "ideology," after all? And a series of sacrifices to make sure that your child never has to compromise him or herself in the name of "common sense?"
posted by koeselitz at 5:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


mishaAnd though the concept of unschooling sounds interesting, with no grades, no tests, and no school records I wonder how the kids will do when it comes time to choose a career? Would they even be accepted in a college if they wanted to attend one?"

No need to hand wave. If you're genuinely interested in this question, 20 minutes reading off Google will give you a good answer base. I was educated without grades and had zero issue getting into college. My biggest hurdle was choosing which, of the 22 colleges that accepted me, to attend.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:37 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


No, asking what gender your baby is, is like asking how you are, its a polite conversation starter, and similarly I will have forgotten the answer by the time you walk around the next corner.

This. It's not like people are walking up to a 25 year old and asking "are you a man or a woman." Asking what gender your baby is isn't a precursor to "Ok, now I know how to interact with your baby." I interact with my (5 and almost-2 year old) nieces the same way that I interact with my (2 year old) son: kisses and cuddles when they're feeling suggly, wrestling and tickle fights when they have more energy. With a stranger's (or acquaintance's) baby, my interaction to the child is going to be limited to a "Well aren't you a cutie pie?" regardless of whether it's a boy or girl. While these parents can feel free to do whatever they want, if I ask somebody an innocuous question (and really, it IS an innocuous question, as with most newborn babies you can't tell if it's a boy or a girl), and they come back at me with some lecture on gender roles in society and blah blah blah, I will also feel free to lump them into the "Ugh, pretentious gasbags, I'm done with you" category too.
posted by antifuse at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


And in a related story, Athabasca is still a special snowflake and little Shumshum is holding her own as a precious flower.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:46 PM on May 22, 2011


Sorry, bad choice of words, that is not what I meant at all by "common sense". I do not think children should be allowed to do anything they wish, not taught any moral values, encouraged to cheat, nor should their only objective be to win. I certainly did not raise my children that way. That is not at all what common sense means to me.

Children should be seen as the unique people that each of them are, and guided to be good, loving, competent and hopefully happy adults, as much as that is within any parent's power.They should not be used as social experiments or publicity stunts. Sorry but I do not see these parents as brave or original. They seem to care more about proving a point than really caring about their children as persons.
posted by mermayd at 5:47 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gender - like air - is only important when it is missing. Perhaps that is what the parents were trying to point out. (Unlikely, but one can still hope that they had deeper thoughts than being on talk shows.)

AND then ... some children ARE born intersex - 'without gender'. The parents of intersex infants do not alsways decide the gender for the child, but allow them time to choose for themselves. That must be difficult. I actually thought that is what this article would be about -- or at least about Storm's parents feeling some kind of 'solidarity' with families with intersex children.

And then I got stuck there.

All of the comments about gender choices, toys, clothes, oppression, politics, etc. seemed like busstop chatter. I could only ponder on the problems of having a genderless child. And would it even be a problem?! It would be insulting to feel sorry for a family with a beautiful, healthy child - just because per was genderless. It would be awkward to talk around gender. I am left feeling embarrassed for my clumsiness on this subject.

But, thankful that this post -- this family, actually -- made me wander into this quandary.
posted by Surfurrus at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Asking what gender your baby is isn't a precursor to "Ok, now I know how to interact with your baby."

Sorry, but I think it is usually exactly that. I would guess that the experiences of these parents were that with their older children, this question was usually followed by "Such a pretty little girl" or "What a strong grip he has".

If people aren't asking this question so that they know how to interact with the baby, they wouldn't be so freaked out by the parents declining to supply the expected answer.
posted by marsha56 at 5:50 PM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


What I am saying is that we all have an idea that, say, ballet dancing is perceived as feminine.

I can't seriously consider or accept "we all" as quantitative argument, because I disagree with you about this, too. I don't perceive ballet as "feminine", and I'm not alone. You're using very broad generalizations that don't actually exist. Those may be your opinions. You may think that they're the opinions of the people you know. But that's not everyone.

Have you actually ever even seen professional ballet or a professional ballet dancer? They have muscles like an angry cat! Behind the scenes there's little that's feminine about it besides the color pink.

Sure, they tend to select petite, graceful ballet dancers out of a traditional aesthetic bias or prejudice but, man, a ballet dancer can kick my ass. It's a lot of hard work.

This is also why some teams in the NFL still put their football players through ballet lessons. It's grueling work that teaches balance and nimbleness. And how to deal with pain, too.
posted by loquacious at 5:52 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there's a huge difference between ignoring gender stereotypes and ignoring gender all together.

I have two sons, both under the age of 4. My oldest often loves to play with my wife's shoes and do other things many would consider "girly." I don't care. If that's what he wants to do, then fine. But that doesn't mean I should not acknowledge that he's a boy in any way shape or form.

When I was in kindergarten I used to play with the Barbie dolls all the time. I grew up not liking sports and beer, other than that, I'm pretty much your average guy.

No, you shouldn't make your son play baseball and dress your daughter in all pink. But that doesn't mean you can't call them your son or daughter.
posted by toekneebullard at 5:52 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Children should be seen as the unique people that each of them are, and guided to be good, loving, competent and hopefully happy adults, as much as that is within any parent's power.They should not be used as social experiments or publicity stunts.

Every child that is raised is a social experiment. You take some ridiculous mish-mash of half-baked science, folk wisdom, and "parental instinct", along with the inborn proclivities of the child and put them all together and see what turns out. No one "knows" what they're doing, there is no great science to raising a kid.
posted by TypographicalError at 5:53 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


My favorite teacher moment this year was when the mom of the moderately autistic boy in my class shared with me that her son chose to attend the Sea World Halloween event dressed as a Disney princess, because his little sister was really into the princesses and caused him to develop an interest, too.

Sadly, she also shared that there were parents there who thought she should have forced him to wear a BOY costume, and thought it was appropriate to tell her this in front of her kids.

Little do these parents know that this child says "patella" when an adult points to his knee and asks what it is, knows all 50 state capitals and a large number of world flags, knows the three-letter codes for most of the airports in the US*, is 7 years old, and will eventually own their children if he wants to.

*Not only that, he seems to know where all the hubs are, and which airline will be least expensive to any given city, and can list the airlines that have formed alliances... if you ask him which airlines are in the Star alliance, he'll list every one and then ask me why the airlines have alliances... to which I answer that I had no idea that they did until I met him.

Also he knows the entire interstate highway system, to the point that he can tell you the most efficient route to anywhere in the country.
posted by Huck500 at 5:55 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Complete derail, feel free to ignore, but brought up in strict Southern family we called *everyone* sir or mame. When I was 18 or so, I hated it with the passion of things that people hate with a passion.

Until about five years later when I discovered that, with a sincere smile, referring to people as Sir or Mame actually made the vast majority of interactions with people I didn't know so much easier, just that little bit of respect regardless of our relative social/economic/power situations.

That said and le sigh, I'm not letting my kids anywhere near it. Maybe I'll teach it to them as a trick when they are ready to go to college.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:01 PM on May 22, 2011


This made me think of the Story of X also. This is like Free to Be You and Me come to life!
posted by chinston at 6:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If people aren't asking this question so that they know how to interact with the baby, they wouldn't be so freaked out by the parents declining to supply the expected answer.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. If I ask somebody if their baby is a boy or girl, and they come back at me with a lecture on gender roles in society, I'm going to be freaked out the same way as if I make some other attempt at small talk with somebody I don't know, and they come back at me with some weird lecture. Example: "Hey, how about this weather huh? Man, it's been pretty miserable for May, what with all this cold and rain" "Oh, well, it's because society refuses to give up on fossil fuels and try to research alternative energy more"

Sometimes small talk is just small talk.
posted by antifuse at 6:03 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Every time I read one of these stories (and I do sort-of agree that the parents are making a bigger deal about gender than society is, or at least my experience of society), I just think, "Man, these people need to move to a place where more people MYOB."

As I mentioned last time we talked about gender and tiny people, people do start in on it early, but I mostly only have to run into those people at mommy & me stuff, and they are a minority. I can't completely avoid it because it's a small town, but I don't have to have then in my life more than necessary. Today my toddler had his 2nd birthday party, to which he wore the butterfly shirt that mefites helped me find, and he got a butterfly plush doll, a pink-and-purple butterfly ball, a book about butterflies .... Several of our friends went out of their way to find him butterfly things since that's his FAVORITE THING (with trucks/trains in a close second), and nobody really cares if it's girly or boy-y.

In fact, the people who make the biggest deal about it are a local "granola" parenting group that we run into a lot because of our various eco-activities and they just cannot get over how my husband is so nurturing and how we let our son do "girl" things. They're on about it so often it makes my husband uncomfortable. The "square" parents we know just consider nurturing dad and butterfly-fascination par for the course ... or not really their business if their family choices differ from ours.

tl;dr: Move to a place where people think getting up in other people's business is rude and you can avoid maybe 85% of parenting annoyances.

That said, the two "gender norms" for little kids I absolutely hate are when bald baby girls have to wear elastic bows ALL THE TIME -- it's cute now and then, but when they're getting a freaking dent from wearing a bow ALL THE TIME, you need to relax about your child's baldness. And the other is death themes on little boy clothes -- I find that disturbing. Machine guns are not appropriate decor for an 18-month-old. Ugh.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Again, I am truly curious. When my wife was pregnant, and people asked me whether the baby was going to be a boy or a girl, I said, "We're not telling people yet." I mean, I wasn't obnoxious about it. I didn't say "How dare you ask that?" or deliver a lecture on gender politics. I recognize that it's a completely normal social question which isn't meant to pry. But I did politely withhold the information.

As far as I can tell, these parents are doing the same thing with their four-month-old. It's different. But is it that different?
posted by escabeche at 6:16 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


"
I teach middle school, where gender roles are brutally enforced, so much so that (this being a southern state, boys and girls are addressed as Sir or Ma'am"


That's probably the most shocking thing I've read in a while. You call female children 'ma'am'? Madam? Really?

I think I need my smelling salts and some time on the divan.

(as for Storm . . . we're all screwed up by our parents in one way or the other. I'd have more respect for Storm's parents if their genderless stand did not include informing major media outlets.)
posted by jaimystery at 6:19 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


This sounds really odd and idiotic to me.

But I have no idea how it'll turn out. I'm betting it will depend on the kid's personality and how good the parents are. If they can help the kid deal with gendered world while not succumbing to the all the binaries things will be generally find, minus a few bumpy points.

I have to go eat a piece of salmon now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:24 PM on May 22, 2011


"In fact, the people who make the biggest deal about it are a local "granola" parenting group that we run into a lot because of our various eco-activities and they just cannot get over how my husband is so nurturing and how we let our son do "girl" things. They're on about it so often it makes my husband uncomfortable. The "square" parents we know just consider nurturing dad and butterfly-fascination par for the course ... or not really their business if their family choices differ from ours."

Yeah, I kinda suspect there are three kinds of parents out there: Parents who strictly force social norms and expectations on their kids because "it's what's right and proper", parents who rail against social norms and expectations on their kids because "we must deconstruct the paradigm of social intercourse etc. etc.", and parents who let their kids enjoy what their kids enjoy, and dress like they want to dress, because "hey, they're kids, so what? We're busy teaching them how to tie their shoes, and clean the room, and not to hit people. Who cares if they like dolls?"

I also suspect that both Group 1 and Group 2 are unaware that Group 3 even exists, though I suspect it's probably the largest group.
posted by Bugbread at 6:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


I do think the parents screwed up in one big way: Storm is a girl's name. They should have gone with Mindmeld.
posted by escabeche at 6:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"CHILDREN SHOULDNT BE THEIR PARENTS' FUNKY SOCIAL SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS."

Have they ever been anything else?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:29 PM on May 22, 2011


St. Alia, please note that I haven't presented any argument against you. This is because I can't really tell what your position is. I can see that you're against the practice of hiding a young child's gender, because you believe it harms the child somehow, or is unreasonably risky, or something to that effect; but until you say what's the harm or the risk, I can't argue against you, because you haven't presented your position. You don't need to be very specific, you just have to be specific enough that I can tell what you think, and not just what you feel.

You also believe that children are not experiments, or perhaps that they should not be experiments. I don't know what you mean by that, either, because doing anything non-conventional at all would count as "experimentation" in the broadest sense. Are you suggesting that we should only ever parent our children in accordance with established principles, and deviation from these principles is not to be tolerated? I hope you don't believe that; maybe you don't, you haven't said.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand the derision I'm seeing here. So these parents aren't telling anyone outside their little family unit what sex their new baby is. So what? The article states that they'll keep Storm's gender private as long as everyone in their family unit is okay with it. The mother even said she doesn't care if people try to peek at her child's private parts when she's changing a diaper in public, that it's essentially their weird little road to hoe if that's what they feel they need to do. Clearly people will find out eventually. Why do they need to know right this second, now now now, what sex that baby is? That's a really weird form of entitlement coming out -- why are you so interested in the genitals of stranger's children?
posted by palomar at 6:32 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


you really think that being secretive about gender is a good thing?

Storm doesn't even know what gender he/she is, given that s/he's still a newborn, so I doubt it matters to the child. In this particular case, it's their other kids who are being taken advantage of by being forced to play this silly game.
posted by deanc at 6:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Sorry I was unclear. When I accidentally call a girl "Sir," she's like, "whatev" and we move on with our lives. When I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he acts as if I've insulted him."

Damn... What must this mean about what they've internalized about girls?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:34 PM on May 22, 2011


"In this particular case, it's their other kids who are being taken advantage of by being forced to play this silly game."

I suppose if we must find SOMETHING to be upset about
posted by Blasdelb at 6:36 PM on May 22, 2011


On a related note, I always find it kind of hilarious when pregnant couples go in for an ultrasound to determine the sex of their unborn child, and the fetus won't roll over and flash them. Even just a couple of decades ago, knowing the sex of your baby before it was born was still pretty rare. Parents had to choose gender neutral nursery decorating schemes, and onesies and little socks in yellow and green and white and any color but blue or pink. They'd pick a name for each gender, just in case, and then they'd wait until the baby arrived to know what it is.

Now, people find at as early as they can so they can pick out a name right away and get that nursery all tricked out in gender-specific decor ASAP. I cannot tell you how many times in the past couple of years that I've logged onto Facebook, seen a friend's blurry ultrasound pic and a ton of comments below oohing and aaahing over how beautiful the fetus is, if it's a girl, or how strong and muscular it looks if it's a boy. I mean, come on. It's a damn fetus, do we need to lock it into a firmly defined traditional gender role before it's even out of the womb?
posted by palomar at 6:40 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I accidentally call a boy "Ma'am," he acts as if I've insulted him."

I am a "boy". I accidentally get called "Ma'am" by panhandlers sometimes; I think they call people "Sir" or "Ma'am" because this translates into more money. (People like politeness.) I'm amused by it. Apparently long hair confuses people. And my hair isn't even that long! I can barely get any of it into my mouth to chew on it when I'm nervous!

Then again, I'm the sort of person who'd put their gender in scare quotes, so you really shouldn't extrapolate from my experience.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:45 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is just special. Really special.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:46 PM on May 22, 2011


I can see that you're against the practice of hiding a young child's gender, because you believe it harms the child somehow, or is unreasonably risky, or something to that effect; but until you say what's the harm or the risk, I can't argue against you, because you haven't presented your position.

Speaking for myself, the situation bothers me because the parents sound like idiots. They're talking as if this is a very important thing and will help make their child healthier in some way. I'm not convinced that it's anything more more than intellectual wanking to make themselves feel better about something.

I say this as a parent of female child who has grown up to be deal and spot the stereotypes and gender biases. She was brought up (with the help of larger family of strong, smart women) with the full knowledge that she's a girl; it's a fine thing; doesn't make her better or worse than a boy; and yes, sometimes people will treat her differently because of that. Learning how to deal with that and recognize that those who do that are wrong is an important lesson in my opinion. You deal with problems by dealing with problems, not by hiding them and pretending they don't exist.

That said, it'll be interesting to read how the kids turn out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now, people find at as early as they can so they can pick out a name right away and get that nursery all tricked out in gender-specific decor ASAP.
This is a pretty silly and fairly insulting generalization. Most people who find out only find out as early as possible without risk to the fetus (i.e. 20-week ultrasound), although sex can be found out much earlier. For example, we found out, didn't name our kid until he was born, and had a themeless nursery, and we were pretty representative of our social group. Just about everyone I know who found out appears to have wanted to know as a way of feeling closer to their kid, even if it's entirely abstract. With our second, we'll also find out, if the kiddo cooperates, as a way of helping our first kid feel more involved and making it slightly less abstract for him.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:53 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty silly and fairly insulting generalization.

Okay, you understand that I know not every single expecting couple on the face of the planet does this, right?
posted by palomar at 6:55 PM on May 22, 2011


"Now, people find at as early as they can so they can pick out a name right away and get that nursery all tricked out in gender-specific decor ASAP."

Naw, I just found out because we had some uncertainty and complications and I felt like here was ONE THING I could know and not have uncertainty about. We still did the nursery in green and yellow and frogs (what if there are LATER KIDS OF A DIFFERENT GENDER? You going to redecorate the WHOLE THING?), although it was probably good for my marriage that we only had to agree on names for ONE gender (which we didn't for-sure settle on until three days after he was born). We also registered for/bought most newborn clothes in gender-neutral colors, for the same reason of "there might be later kids" (plus frogs and ducks are SO CUTE!), and they'll make better hand-me-downs to cousins later anyway. We've only moved towards more "boy" clothing as he's started actually expressing preferences for shirts with trucks or beetles ... though as noted, the preference for butterfly shirts presented a bit of a hassle until mefites pointed me to half a dozen. :)

With #2 (bun currently in oven), it was like, "Well, we found out with #1, so why not?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows: I can't find a source for this, but I'm pretty sure I've read that part of the reason that everything went all blue and pink is precisely because people are affluent enough now that some of them can afford to buy All! New! Things! for babies of a different gender than the first one.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:58 PM on May 22, 2011


Hey you know what? It's OK to give your son a blue blanket, and your daughter a pink one.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:58 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Female mefites: do you feel oppressed by the fact that mefi is blue, and there's no pink subsite?
posted by madcaptenor at 7:00 PM on May 22, 2011


I think the representation of the couple in the article is quite a lot more frustrating than their choice to remove gender from their interactions about their child with the wider world. It's such a badly written article overall, with disparate observations that seem rather over anxious to support a view of this family's 'other-ness.'

People are assuming that this choice is a proselytising exercise, rather than a simple opt out. And yet the article makes it clear they are not proselytising to anyone - they sidestep questions with politeness, they don't hide diaper changing - nor does the article to suggest they've taken their 'ideology' out of the private realm in normal day to day relations. Being interviewed by a relatively low key parenting internet forum relies on their comments and reporting, sure, but even then, I think they are pretty low key.

The reception of this information is what is fascinating. The article's representation of a particular choice being made by these parents not to offer a simple linguistic definition of their child, and others reaction to it, reinforces this species wide fixation with names and definitions. I find it fascinating how much we are demonstrating that the the self is very much formed in language. The family has rightly surmised that much of our world view is formed developmentally, in our pre-verbal years as others immerse us in the language of culture and acculturation. If they can delay that for a bit longer than is usual, great.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think, if that were me, that I would have grown up to really resent my parents. Parents are supposed to guide you through the world and teach you how to live in it because you, as a small child, do not understand it on your own and don't have the capacity to make long term plans or understand their consequences.

I recall one episode when I was a very small child, and I was going to be interviewed to get into a preschool, and I didn't know what I wanted to talk about with the nice lady there that I had met before, so I was discussing this with my mother in the car on the way there. My mother asked, "Well, did you notice anything different about her since you first met her?" And I replied, completely earnest, "Yes! I think she got fatter!" My mother said, "You probably don't want to say that. Find something else to talk about." That's parenting, not, "Hey kid, do whatever, knock yourself out, I don't care."
posted by indubitable at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, I know, lots of parents find out the sex of their baby-to-be and they don't go off the deep end with the gendered stuff.

But lots of parents do. For every parent I know that knew what they were having and deliberately went gender-neutral with clothing and such for whatever reasons, I know a parent who immediately painted their nursery cotton candy pink and ruffled the hell out of it, and bought tons of fluffly dresses. And to be completely honest, the super-gendering parents that I personally know outweigh the other parents. Maybe that's because I work with mostly conservative people, and I socialize with liberal people. Different social groups, different parenting norms. Go figure.
posted by palomar at 7:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I cannot tell you how many times in the past couple of years that I've logged onto Facebook, seen a friend's blurry ultrasound pic and a ton of comments below oohing and aaahing over how beautiful the fetus is, if it's a girl, or how strong and muscular it looks if it's a boy."

Really? That's...bizarre. When I saw my first son's ultrasound, my only thought was "looks like Predator".
posted by Bugbread at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


The family has rightly surmised that much of our world view is formed developmentally, in our pre-verbal years as others immerse us in the language of culture and acculturation. If they can delay that for a bit longer than is usual, great.

That's an intriguing statement to me. Why would you want to delay the kid from being acculturated?

I do understand, if one takes the ideological viewpoint that our culture's view of gender is fucked up, trying to prevent the kid from absorbing it.

But to extend that beyond that point...to suggest it is desirable to prevent the kid from being acculturated...I don't think I understand what would be desirable about that.
posted by Diablevert at 7:10 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


loquacious: "I can't seriously consider or accept "we all" as quantitative argument, because I disagree with you about this, too. I don't perceive ballet as "feminine", and I'm not alone. You're using very broad generalizations that don't actually exist. Those may be your opinions. You may think that they're the opinions of the people you know. But that's not everyone."

ARrrgh, can you read what I have written??? Literally, my next sentence already addressed this. I previously wrote:

"Whether or not you agree, you do know that the society that we both currently live in perceives ballet as feminine..."

I'm not saying YOU think of ballet as a feminine thing, I'm saying that, as a member of this society, you know that SOCIETY IN GENERAL thinks of ballet as a feminine thing. (I also went on to further say that, even though I know better, even I think of ballet as feminism - I added this because I think there are many people like me who are aware of their unconscious biases)
posted by lesli212 at 7:11 PM on May 22, 2011


*"ballet as feminism" should read, "ballet as a female thing"
posted by lesli212 at 7:12 PM on May 22, 2011


I think, if that were me, that I would have grown up to really resent my parents. Parents are supposed to guide you through the world and teach you how to live in it because you, as a small child, do not understand it on your own and don't have the capacity to make long term plans or understand their consequences.

I can't wait to see Storm's "My parents raised me to be gender-neutral and it totally screwed me up" essay in Salon in about 15 years.

You know what, by all means, encourage long-haired kids, all kinds of toys, colors that aren't pink or blue. But frankly, this just strikes me as way too socially awkward, and not going to last very long (especially if it's a boy and discovers a willy, and has brothers). I would really hope this nonsense gets over with long before the kid hits school age, because I shudder to think how this would go then.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:14 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ballet WAS masculine for a few centuries, by the way.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:16 PM on May 22, 2011


Kinda like "ballet as feminism". Wondering what it would be like...
posted by likeso at 7:17 PM on May 22, 2011


Finally some playmates for my little ones: Optimus, Magneto, and uhhhhhh.....okay I'm stumped by the Kio one. Apparently there were some Soviet Magicians that went by that, which as name sources I can actually get behind. Who could have imagined the Soviets having professional magicians, I would have thought them too grim and humorless for such things.

Welcome to the future where all children will be named after Transformers, XMen, and god-forbid, Power Rangers.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:18 PM on May 22, 2011


Good luck to them I suppose. But my lad wouldn't shut up about his willy pretty much as soon as he could talk. Told everyone about it, which was kind of embarrassing at times.

I did too.

But, a monster ate mine, and I wanted it back. So, maybe these helpful strangers could help me find the monster and kill it, so I could have it returned to me?

(Yes, I seriously thought this until I was about 6 or so.)
posted by spinifex23 at 7:19 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


loquacious: "Have you actually ever even seen professional ballet or a professional ballet dancer? They have muscles like an angry cat! Behind the scenes there's little that's feminine about it besides the color pink.

Sure, they tend to select petite, graceful ballet dancers out of a traditional aesthetic bias or prejudice but, man, a ballet dancer can kick my ass. It's a lot of hard work.

This is also why some teams in the NFL still put their football players through ballet lessons. It's grueling work that teaches balance and nimbleness. And how to deal with pain, too
"


OK, I fully admit that now I'm being super pedantic, but here's a quick tally of a few of the most obvious ways in which your reply buys into unconscious societal gender biases:
1. muscles are non-feminine
2. petiteness and grace are feminine
3. pink is feminine
4. ass kicking is non-feminine
5. football is non-feminine

You didn't say any of this outright, and I suspect that on the face of it, you disagree with these 5 statements (I certainly do). However, when you wrote them out, you didn't write, "Ballet dancers have muscles, which are perceived as masculine in our society" because you know that I know that because of our shared cultural assumptions, muscles are often perceived as masculine.

Again, I am not saying "I think muscles are masculine" or "You think muscles are masculine" or even "Everyone thinks muscles are masculine" but rather that there is a pervasive stereotype that we are all aware of, whether or not we individually believe it, that muscles are masculine.
posted by lesli212 at 7:22 PM on May 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


likeso: "Kinda like "ballet as feminism". Wondering what it would be like..."

I've seen it, and it's awesome (ahhh, women's college).
posted by lesli212 at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdotal gender ambiguity story:

When I moved up here to Seattle from LA via train for some reason they put me in the "assisted mobility" car at the very back of the train. I didn't realize that's what it was until several stops later, and by that point it was kind of too late for me to move, and I didn't mind being in that car anyway as it was quiet and more private and the least trafficked since it was at the very end of the train.

So this car was generally for people who couldn't handle the stairs and navigating the train, so older people or the handicapped, but on this ride mostly older people traveling alone or in couples. Ideally they're supposed to get an attendant to run to the cafe for them, but this is Amtrak and everyone was overworked. Since I was going to the cafe and observation car a lot and generally enjoyed roaming the train I met and made friends with a lot of nice older people by bringing things back from the cafe for them.

This is about a 36-40 hour ride from LA to Seattle, and I had the fortunate misfortune of breaking my computer the morning I was boarding the train, so I had a lot of free time on my hands which ended up being actually rather nice, because I actually had to talk to people instead of staring at a glowing screen.

At some point during the night after dark an older fellow and his wife got on. I hadn't been ready to sleep yet so I was staying out of my car/seat and hanging out in either the cafe or the observation deck. But I would quietly pop in occasionally to grab something from my stuff, which also sometimes involved making a run to the cafe for ice or a drink for one of the folks in my car that were still awake. I think I even grabbed something for this older fellow and his wife at some point. There was also the ritual late night shuffling around and waking up as people joined or left the train at stops throughout the night.

Point being that he politely said "thank you ma'am" or "miss" a couple of times in the darkness and I didn't really care.

The next morning as people awoke and began chatting and being social and going about the semblances of their morning routines he was flummoxed and asked the car in a general, conversational way (paraphrasing) "What happen to that polite/nice young lady who was sitting there last night?" indicating where I was sitting.

"Oh, that was me."

"Well, why the hell didn't you correct me?" obviously annoyed and flustered, probably worried I was sorely and gravely offended.

"I don't really care because I think it doesn't matter, and, well, I'm someone who wishes he wasn't really a boy. I'm not really either-or. I'm just me." (I'm paraphrasing again, but that's about right. I was feeling brave, knowing I probably wouldn't see any of these people again anyway.)

And you could actually see the lightbulb go off over his head. His face screwed up for a split second as he thought about it and then he just smiled. "Oh. That actually kind of makes sense. I never thought about it like that before."

For bonus annoying Secular Humanist points near the end of the train ride I was saying goodbye to a very nice older lady and her sister or friend who had been on the train with me most of the way, and she very sincerely and thoughtfully said "Thanks for the help. Your mom must be so proud to have raised such a good Christian young man!" and I thanked her and gently corrected her that my mom was, but that I was actually a rather naughty Godless heathen somewhere between atheist or agnostic. We had a good laugh about it, she said "oh, I should have figured" and she still invited me out to her ranch.
posted by loquacious at 7:25 PM on May 22, 2011 [26 favorites]


OK, I fully admit that now I'm being super pedantic, but here's a quick tally of a few of the most obvious ways in which your reply buys into unconscious societal gender biases:

Sure. I was willingly engaging the framework, and it is indeed difficult to actually be truly genderless. It literally pervades the fabric of our language. Look at the gendered syntax of Romance languages, which we borrow from.

And you're right, I wasn't allowing you the useful generalization of "society" and "we all" and letting it get stuck personally in my craw. I retract the equally pedantic response.
posted by loquacious at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker explained "We don't a gendered baby, we want an agenda."
posted by orthogonality at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


If there was anyone who compared these people's decision to keep their child's gender secret to mixed race couples' decisions to have children, I didn't see it.

What I did see was two people comparing your reaction to these people's decision to keep their child's gender secret to the reactions of people from decades ago to the decision of mixed race couples to have children. There's a difference.


Do you believe it's possible to make the latter comparison without making the former? If you're not saying the action is analogous, it kind of makes no sense at all to claim the reactions are analogous.

And they were specific on why they were drawing that comparison: In both cases -- i.e. in the case of your reaction and in the case of anti-biracial people's reactions -- the reaction was couched in terms of being child abuse to the child, because the child would have to grow up in society.

What about the people who had that reaction towards the parents of Adolf Hitler Campbell?
posted by kafziel at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Instead of not telling the gender, they should have simply given everyone a different answer. That way the babies would get a balanced diet of gender-based treatment. We don't dress our daughter in a lot of pink, and she often gets mistaken for a boy. More often than not, we don't correct people. Seems more effective than drawing a lot of attention to the problem.
posted by muckster at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2011


Do you believe it's possible to make the latter comparison without making the former?
Oh, please.

St. Alia's reply to people telling her that her reaction reminded them of the reactions of people to mixed-race children was to say that she didn't understand why people were making the comparison - after all, she didn't hide the race of her grandkids.

It's like she didn't understand that people were talking about her reaction. She thought they were talking about the situation she was reacting to.

You want to point out that they were talking about the situation she's reacting to? Yeah, fine, sure. But that's surface level, and completely missing the actual point they were trying to make. That's what I was attempting to point out.
posted by Flunkie at 7:59 PM on May 22, 2011


"Well, why the hell didn't you correct me?" obviously annoyed and flustered, probably worried I was sorely and gravely offended.

When my son is mistaken for a girl (usually at least once per outing...probably the long hair), I go out of my way to use his (somewhat ambiguous) name or otherwise avoid pronouns because people seem so worried that you'll be upset. I just can't deal with all the apologizing anymore. All toddlers look the same; who cares?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 8:01 PM on May 22, 2011


I started out when I first read about this a few days back pretty down on the parents but as I thought about it more what I got down to is that these kids seem to have genuinely loving parents who are raising them intentionally and thoughtfully (whether or not I agree with them).

I think these kids will do fine.
posted by nanojath at 8:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


loquacious
Ohh, I get it now - I was misreading your words too, and thought it was one of those, "I don't see X so X doesn't happen things". I see how what I said could be read that way.
posted by lesli212 at 8:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


St. Alia of the Bunnies: Come on, you really think that being secretive about gender is a good thing? I think that in a kid's head he or she might get the idea that gender is something to be ashamed of.

While I conversely think you are sparing the kid, for a tiny but formative one or two year period, the pile of gender bullshit we subject kids to. I am no longer a teacher and I'm sure my teacher training is now totally passe and out of date but this was a HUGE issue in early childhood education pedagogy in the mid 90s when I trained.

Gender defines, hugely, how people relate to you and their expectations of you, and I mean for kids in daycare. We literally start this shit at birth. There is a PDF of a study that I somehow got to from melissam's link that basically showed that in a classroom where they knew this was an issue and, like my classroom, purposefully did not use gendered language, the teachers were shocked to find out that they still exhibited gendered interactions with their kids. They hurried boys more, used coaxing language with girls where they commanded boys, and of their time talking, 80% of it was directed to girls while only 20% was directed to boys.

I think it is also worth noting that this family never said they would not tell the child his or her gender. I'm sure she or he will ask and get an answer - toddlers are very interested in their genitals and everyone else's. They only said they were not telling other people the baby's gender. Nobody so far has been able to tell me why it matters what gender someone else's infant is. You can treat it like a baby, regardless.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:14 PM on May 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


HERE IS MY FAVORITE GENDER ANECDOTE (yay!):

I'm actually stealing this from my boyfriend, who works at a big corporate coffee swillery. One day, there was a long-ish line of people, including a mom and her child. The woman immediately behind her at some point - and I can't remember if there was a more polite conversational opening or if this woman simply decided she had to say this - she says "I can't tell if your child is a boy or a girl."

Without even the slightest hint of pause, the proud mom says "oh, that's because gender is performance."

Then they get their drinks and leave. :D I'm not sure if my bf high-fived the mom or not, but I like to imagine he did.

Other points:

Referring to this as "abuse" strikes me as shameful. Actual child abuse is perhaps one of the most horrifying things that humans do, and this is no way even slightly approaching comparable to it. Child abuse is the rape of a 9-month old infant, the shaking of a child to death, or parents who are so emotionally inaccessible that their children simply wither away.

I think it very unlikely that this child will be "ashamed" of its gender. Indeed, especially if this kid has female genitals, I think it's far less likely to be ashamed of its gender.

nanojath has the right idea here. Whether or not you agree with them or what you think about gender and its role in society, these parents love their kids. Everything else is quaternary.

I'm a little confused about why some people think that they'll be "lecturing" anyone about gender when asked. They're humans, and if they stick with this plan it's going to get very tiresome for them. I would bet you more money than I have that the interactions will go like this:

"What an adjective child! Boy or girl?"
"Oh, we're going to let Storm answer that when the time comes."

Or whatever. Maybe they'll use some new-agey pronouns. I dunno. It's really not going to be a big deal, and they're not the first parents to do this or something like it.

And yes, to the extent that this is "children as social experiment," so are all parenting decisions. Everyone is ideally going to be rearing their children to reflect what they think to be correct moral values. There's going to be difference in what those values are from family to family. We're all just another iteration in an ongoing experiment. There's no board of standards, no precise data collection, no control group, and no universally agreed-upon criteria for success.

Everyone just does the best they can.
posted by kavasa at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Child abuse is the rape of a 9-month old infant, the shaking of a child to death, or parents who are so emotionally inaccessible that their children simply wither away.

Actually it's a whole spectrum of bad things, including far less severe things than that. So you've really over-egged that one.
posted by wilful at 8:27 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm a bit hot about this because when I was a child my mom decided that since she was a working mom she'd rather I have a short pixie cut rather than the long hair all the other little girls had. Let's just say this was not quite the norm in the sixties. I remember one incident quite clearly when I was mistaken for a boy in a store.

I found the experience quite emotionally painful.

I was a bit of a tomboy and wasn't into playing with tea sets and such, but dang if it didn't matter TO ME that people perceive me as my gender.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's "far less severe" than "emotional inaccessibility"? That won't even cause failure to thrive in all children, just some of them. It's one of the most subtle, difficult to detect forms of abusive behavior, and it's only spotted sometimes because, for some children, it causes a physiological reaction.

I've over-egged nothing. Child abuse is harming children and "not answering when people ask your infant's gender" does not harm the infant.

St Alia - but is that the fault of your mom or the society you grew up in? What if you'd grown up in a culture where gender, especially the gender of little children, was a non-issue. Wouldn't you then have never felt the emotional pain you felt?

What I'm saying is that if everyone were more like Storm's parents, the pain you remember that makes you so mad at them wouldn't have occurred.

Not to mention all the shitty, awful, on-going pain that effeminate boys have to live through (or suicide out of) in American high schools. All the endless hassle that the country's natural androgynes have to deal with. Etc. The pain that you experienced is exactly the sort of thing these parents are trying to eradicate.
posted by kavasa at 8:39 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


St. Alia - Well that's your own issue. Wouldn't it be nice if that had happened and you were able to shrug it off because gender perception wasn't such a big fucking deal?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:41 PM on May 22, 2011


I suppose that this is one way to give your child the gift of a thick skin.
posted by knoyers at 8:43 PM on May 22, 2011


St. Alia,

I think there are two very key elements here:
1) Storm is an infant
2) They're saying they'll keep it a secret until Storm wishes it not to be one.

That makes a tremendous difference. I would, honestly, expect this to last until age 3 or 4 or so, at most, at which point Storm will probably be answering its own gender. That's quite a bit different than, say, enforcing genderlessness at an older age.

My personal worry, which was mentioned by someone upthread, has nothing to do with the gender info blackout during infancy, but a feeling I get that Storm will be actively discouraged from acting too much like the typical person of its sex. In other words, if Storm is a boy and really likes football and guns, I doubt Storm's parents would be very cool with it, and would probably put some pressure on Storm to act less stereotypically masculine (and vice versa if Storm is a girl). I can't say that with any authority: I've never met these people, and I've got little to no info about them. It's just my own personal impression.
posted by Bugbread at 8:46 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


what I'm saying is that if everyone were more like Storm's parents, the pain you remember that makes you so mad at them wouldn't have occurred.

But alia's mom was like Storm's mom: she didn't give a fuck about long hair as a gender signified, and expected her kid not too, either. Of course, the world does. One may say, that if one desires the more perfect future where no one cares about these things, one ought to gather their courage to the sticking point and try and live that change in the here and now. Which Storm's parents are doing. But they are doing that through the medium of their child, and the child really doesn't have much choice in the matter. It's the kid that's gonna get made fun of and be ostracized, if anyone is. Maybe the kid won't care, maybe they'll have so much charisma they can wear a pink tutu and still get to be Gerard butler when the kids play 300, but you know, maybe not.
posted by Diablevert at 8:52 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, the fact is none of us really knows how Storm will feel about all this once old enough to comprehend what is going on.

Also, the parents' premise that gender is not important? That may or may not be a correct supposition. Besides that, babies aren't born understanding things like gender; they are learned (which is I suppose their point) but at SOME point this child will at least need to know that gender is important to most people. Life is confusing enough and difficult enough without adding to the confusion, is what I think.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:52 PM on May 22, 2011


Actually, Diablevert got it right up there. My mom was definitely trying to raise me a bit unisex (I suspect I know why but probably should not speculate here) and it was definitely an issue for me as a child.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article notes that Jazz was freaked out teachers asking about his hair. He didn't want to return.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the paragraph:
"Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. “When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender,” says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.

That’s mostly why he doesn’t want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn’t say more.

Instead he grabs a handmade portfolio filled with his drawings and poems. In its pages is a booklet written under his pseudonym, the “Gender Explorer.” In purple and pink lettering, adorned with butterflies, it reads: “Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl things. Let your kid be whoever they are!”"

Not a good sign for dealing with society.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


A Boy Named Sue.
posted by Splunge at 9:05 PM on May 22, 2011


Like a few others here I know something about gender non-conformity. I spent 28 years in a gender I didn't want to be, trying to do my best and then another 10 years, maybe more, trying to get a handle on the gender that I became. Even though I think I'll take a bit of a Mefi beating here I'll say this: when I look at their other little boy, named Jazz with his long braided ponytail what mostly comes to mind to me is thinking of all the laughs, all the hurts, all the rejections nd all the tears that he will have to endure as he begins to socialize with others his age. That poor kid .

My gender difficulties in large part prevented me from raising children, something I so much regret . But I remember the laughs, the rejections, the "hidden" comments and the tears. I remember them from both sides. Can't help winning for losing sometimes .... So I was never a parent but I do know that the job , maybe the biggest job, of a parent is to help protect your kids in what can be a very cruel and unenlightened world. I don't see these parent's doing that. I see them giving their kids silly names that people will make fun of and I see them setting their kids up for heartbreak as soon as they begin to encounter the 99.9% of the less enlightened world out there.

You know , if four year old Jazz decided to braid his hair up into a pretty ponytail and the parents supported I'd say more power to them and I'd support their decision but, though I don't know anything about these people aside from the O.P. I have the strongest of feelings that mom or dad put that idea into the kids head. Most all of us learn gender and gender behaviors from the people around us at an early age so why set these kids up for heartbreak afterwards.

The parents are getting o talk shows I hear. They are being interviewed by blogs and newspapers. The parents get to be gender heroes to other gender warriors out there but what do those kids get? Those kids are going to get slapped down for a good part of their lives. Why do this to them? If they wanted it then fine - wish my parents would have been so accommodating. But those kids are too young to know what they want. This is all coming from the parents. Those kids are going to go through various bits of hell in their lives so their parents can get their 15 minutes of fame and/or experiment regarding gender theories. Well fuck those parents. What kind of self-centered asshole does that to their kids? This makes me so upset.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:08 PM on May 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


Organizing and relaying thoughts in a persuasive manner is difficult.

Ok, having deleted an entire post, allow me to start over again.

Alia, I appreciate that it was an issue for you. I also appreciate your above statements about how mixed-race kids are being what they are.

What I would submit to you is that the current system of relatively strict gender roles cause a lot of heartache, pain, and frustration for pretty much everybody. Including you. Including me. Big burly conventionally masculine straight men that can't cry at their dad's funeral. Conventionally beautiful straight women with great fashion sense that can't get ahead at work and have to put up with catcalls. Effeminate boys trying to make it in the world. I am pretty sure that no one escapes the gender-role machinery in Western society without acquiring at least a few scars.

So what these parents are trying to do is dodge that machinery, and what you're essentially saying is "but no one can dodge the machinery, the best thing to do is try to guide your kid into the right-shaped entry port and hope it's kind to them!"

So the thing to remember is that there's no right-shaped entry port for most of us and that machinery is never going to be kind. Trying to dodge the machinery, even if you're right and it can't be dodged, is at least as likely to result in minimal harm as anything else.

Poet - maybe you're right and maybe the parents are self-aggrandizing assholes. Maybe. Or maybe they're hoping that, if they talk about it enough, they'll actually be able to effect some change in society. I dunno, neither do you.

Generally, try to assume the best of people. I am not very good at doing this either.

Ok, I'm done.
posted by kavasa at 9:15 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Gah! And I still fucked up. Correction of my third pseudo-paragraph:

"Alia, I appreciate that it was an issue for you. I also appreciate your above statements about how mixed-race kids are being what they are. Lots of effeminate boys are just being what they are. Lots of tomboy girls are just being what they are."
posted by kavasa at 9:16 PM on May 22, 2011


they'll actually be able to effect some change in society. I dunno, neither do you.

I know that Dad isn't sporting a pretty braided ponytail and wearing a dress to work. They're going to make that particular stand via their kids. I know enough at this point.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:21 PM on May 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Eh. I got saddled with an unusual name which was regularly mistaken for a traditionally female name. And my parents wanted my hair long, even if I didn't. These parental choices, coupled with a facial structure that still gets me "ma'am'd" quite a bit to this day, did not make for a fun set of gender interactions as a kid. Even with teachers. Nope, boy. Frustrating even in kindergarten. A five year old who carries around a name pronunciation guide written in crayon because he's sick of everyone getting it wrong, who will occasionally flash people who keep insisting that he's a girl, no, not happy.

You want shock troops in your culture war? Do it yourself, then. Shoving your kids into it is asinine.
posted by adipocere at 9:33 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just don't get how this got to be news. Okay, you're not telling people the gender of your child, fair enough - but so what? It's clear from the comments here that there a lot of parents who have tried to dress their child in ways that don't signal gender, have tried to resist the boxes that gender can place people into: they're not being interviewed everywhere. What is so amazing about their actions that they've managed to get talk shows, blogs talking and endless interviews? How did they manage this? Even the horrific names they've inflicted on their children are not particularly newsworthy.

(While I don't have an issue with what they're doing and suspect Storm will end up giving the game away as soon as they can talk, I do think that if they were really doing this for the child and only for the child, they might be giving slightly less interviews.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:35 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


adipocere - now, consider all the kids on the opposite end of the spectrum, who wanted very much to do things not "allowed" for their sex. I'm sure we can all agree that kids with gender role difficulties have had parents that enforced traditional roles very strongly. Aren't those parents also using their kids as shock troops in a culture war? How are they not shoving their kids into it? How are they better?
posted by kavasa at 9:41 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


For future parents who want to do this in a less LOOK AT ME! way, I have personally met just as many male and female owners of the following names:

Gavin
Kelly
Jordan
Blake
Aubrey
Alex
Cameron
Dana
Taylor

Others names of both men and women I have known that, while more imbalanced, still pull double-duty:

Lindsey
Ashley
Audrey
James
Micha(e)l
Jason

And I'm sure there are about ten bazillion others that will draw fewer eyerolls than "Storm" when the kid becomes a job-seeking adult.
posted by phunniemee at 9:44 PM on May 22, 2011


This discussion reminds me of a tweet from Kelly Oxford (canadian mom and twitter/tumblr superstar):

Little boys fall down and get up. Little girls fall down and pause, stunned that they've messed up. This never changes.
posted by sweetkid at 9:50 PM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


You really have to ask that, kavasa?

1) The name. There's no choice there ... aside from waiting until you are eighteen to get it changed.

2) Sticking with the status quo doesn't involuntarily give you a daily helping of shit at school.

It's one thing to want to fight against the status quo yourself, as a child. To be shoved into it is quite another matter. You get tired of being a boy into princesses, you can stop at any time. The name, though, is a different matter. And chopping off your own hair with safety scissors looks like crap.
posted by adipocere at 9:50 PM on May 22, 2011


There are not women named "Michael". Or at least there are very few of them.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:55 PM on May 22, 2011


I'll let you take that up with the two lady Michals I know.
posted by phunniemee at 10:04 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"There are not women named "Michael". Or at least there are very few of them."

I'm a man, and my name is "Michael". The first other "Michael" I ever met was a girl (back when I was around 5 or 6, so let's say 1980?). There certainly aren't many of them, but they do exist.

Also, bizarre thing about "Michael": At least in the 1980's, I'd say around 50% of elementary school teachers were unable to read the name...or, rather, unable to distinguish it from "Michelle". I went to three elementary schools, and at the start of the year, every single year, about half of my new teachers would misread my name as "Michelle" on the first day of class. It's not that I looked feminine (I looked like the generic elementary school boy); they were just doing roll-call off a piece of paper. But considering the popularity of the name "Michael", and the fact that elementary school teachers must encounter it all the time, it was amazing how many read it as "Michelle".
posted by Bugbread at 10:09 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the misspelling makes a difference. (My name is Michael, so I do see Michal as a misspelling. Although Wikipedia tells me that it's just a different, more obscure, and historically female name. But what I think is more important than the truth.)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:09 PM on May 22, 2011


adipocere - the "you really have to ask that" is a lame rhetorical jab and I could use it just as easily against you.

"It's one thing to want to fight against the status quo yourself, as a child."

I am not talking about kids that want to fight against the status quo. I'm talking about kids that are victims of the status quo just because they are who they are. There exist children that violate gender norms no matter how hard they not to. Some of these children have parents that push those traditional gender roles very hard, even though their kid has a very hard time fitting into them for whatever reason. They are shoving their kids into things just as much as your parents shoved you, and probably more.

Stated differently: some boys never stop "being into princesses", and your anger with your own parents has blinded you to their problems, which are just as bad and frequently worse than your own.

I say again: just because a parent enforces traditional gender roles does not mean that parent isn't going to make the navigation of gender roles in society a difficult, painful process.

phunnie - that's a funny list for me to see, considering my name's on it. My facial structure and voice are pretty masculine though, I haven't been mistaken for a girl since my Freshman year of HS. Whee.

Sweetkid - that quote is just silly and untrue.
posted by kavasa at 10:11 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The question is not whether these parents are conscripting their children into the gender wars; the question is which side they are being conscripted onto.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:21 PM on May 22, 2011


So, I think adipocere and kavasa have established that strictly enforcing gender roles is bad parenting, and working your damndest to make sure your kids break all gender roles is also bad parenting. What about just not making a big deal about gender roles, letting your kids decide? Hint: if your kid has nicknamed himself "Gender explorer", and you're actively encouraging your kid to "challenge gender expectations", you're doing the opposite of "not making a big deal about gender roles".
posted by Bugbread at 10:29 PM on May 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am so glad I'm on shaky public wifi after moving house and didn't see this thread until just now. I had half a huge rant typed in here before I decided, 200 comments in, that it would be pointless. Besides, it was mostly "lol cis people" anyway...

My favourite piece of depressing gender indoctrination lulz for the week is here: boys get the Fire Truck Ride-On; girls get the, uh, Little Princess Ride-On?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well Bugbread, compare this thing you said:

"What about just not making a big deal about gender roles, letting your kids decide?"

With:

"“In fact, in not telling the gender of my precious baby, I am saying to the world, ‘Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s (he) wants to be?!.” Witterick writes in an email."
posted by kavasa at 10:38 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kavasa, can you please tell me what conclusion you're wanting me to draw? I don't really understand what you're saying. But, going on face value:

Ok, comparing them, I'd say those match pretty well. What the article says about Storm (not telling folks Storm's gender until Storm says it itself) seems perfectly reasonable and cromulent to me.

What the article says about Jazz makes me think that, probably around the time Storm is old enough to say "I have a wee-wee", ending the "hide the gender" phase, the parents will shift from "not making a big deal" to "making a big deal".
posted by Bugbread at 10:53 PM on May 22, 2011


Bugbread, that's pretty much what I was getting at, so yay! Degree of accord reached!

FWIW, yeah, I'm a little iffy about how much of Jazz's current sartorial ensemble is actually of his own choosing. I am, however, generally attempting to assume the best of people. I'm reminded of the FPP that was posted here a while ago about a mom whose son wanted to dress as Velma for halloween, and how she let him, and how random persons everywhere felt free to tell her that was a bad mother because of that.

Or the thing with the mom who had herself in a... j-crew? I think? ad pamphlet talking about how her son requested pink toenails and she indulged him in that.

What I'm trying to say here is that these parents may in fact be simply acceding to their kid's wishes or otherwise "not making a big deal" out of things which then become a big deal because that's how society is. The little minor transgressions of gender above (halloween costume? toenails?) led to huge blowups in society. Indeed, the j-crew lady became the subject of national, televised media attention, and "painting your kid's toenails because he asked you to" is the definition of "not making a big deal", right?

All of which is why I'm encouraging people to see the whole thing in the most optimistic rather than the most pessimistic light possible.

But also I need to go to bed. G'night!
posted by kavasa at 11:05 PM on May 22, 2011


> When Storm decides that Storm is ready to talk I'm guessing he'll

> around the time Storm is old enough to say "I have a wee-wee",

Are we occasionally defaulting to the presumption that Storm is male because he is non-conforming in terms of male gender, or because of the tradition of masculinity as default status?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:09 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Are we occasionally defaulting to the presumption that Storm is male because he is non-conforming in terms of male gender, or because of the tradition of masculinity as default status?"

I dunno about "we", but I'm defaulting to that because I have two small sons and no daughters, so for me "kid" has become very, very strongly associated with "boy". Maybe before having kids, I would've assumed maleness too, because of traditional default status, or maybe I wouldn't have. I really don't know. Right now, though, my image of "kid" is all about my own two kids. For example, when I think "kid", my mental image is also half-Asian, because my kids are half-Japanese. Being a parent can weirdly rewire parts of the brain.
posted by Bugbread at 11:15 PM on May 22, 2011


Are we occasionally defaulting to the presumption that Storm is male because he is non-conforming in terms of male gender, or because of the tradition of masculinity as default status?

For me, it's more because of the character with that name on The Bold & The Beautiful - the men had all those rugged, outdoorsy names: Storm, Ridge, Thorn...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:19 PM on May 22, 2011


This isn't going to do less damage then those goofy names.

Anyway, are people actually getting indignant about this? In this day and age? Honestly it sounds more like pointless self-indulgence to me The only thing we're going to hear about in 15 years is "yeah, my parents were kind of weird *rolls eyes*". I'm sure by the time this kid is 3 or 4 and actually starts interacting with society it will be obvious what their gender is.
Out with the kids all day, Witterick doesn’t have the time or the will to hide in a closet every time she changes Storm’s diaper. “If (people) want to peek, that’s their journey,” she says.
Talk about hippy-dippy man.
I'd probably say that raising a child in an environment wherein one of the most important social categories is treated as though it doesn't exist is not actually in the child's interest in any coherent way.
The child isn't going to be unaware of gender rolls, it will still see all the other kids, etc. It's just like how, if parents speak one language at home the kid will the learn the language of the other kids around him just fine. This kid is going to leave the parents goofy nonsense at home.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm sure by the time this kid is 3 or 4 and actually starts interacting with society it will be obvious what their gender is.

The parents homeschool. The kid won't start interacting with society until this is well and truly entrenched.
posted by kafziel at 12:10 AM on May 23, 2011


The comments by the author/psychologist, who herself is a parent of an "otherly" identifying child, seem to me quite relevant:

[S]he worries by not divulging Storm’s sex, the parents are denying the child a way to position himself or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between. Other than other.

Is it possible that Jazz's burgeoning trans sense of self is unduly informing the parents' decision to treat the little thing as though it's genderless? Or--oh, forgive me--are all these kids beeing oriented to regard gender as some kind of threat, as their neutral names might suggest? A kindergarten-aged kid who sees himself as a "gender explorer" and wants to help everyone discover the the fluidity of their identity is more than a little precocious, with his particular sort of precociousness seeming rather directed. I'm not saying it's so. I'm just struck by the fact that folks that insist on the artificiality of a thing taken by most others to be natural are actually creating a problem of identification where one one might never have existed. Giving your little boys feminine hairstyles or painting their nails is nothing at all. Telling your child over and over again that he or she can be either a boy or a girl, over and against all that they observe to be true around them is a bit strong. Sexuality and gender identity are fluid, yes, but why bother so much with it when they're so young? Isn't this pushing the point somewhat? Another unfortunate example of how the attempts to exorcise the "binaries" and "taxonomies" of identity categories can result in the amplification of their importance.
posted by Roachbeard at 12:42 AM on May 23, 2011


Mmmm, gender rolls. I'll take a caramel-covered one.
posted by parrot_person at 12:45 AM on May 23, 2011


People can get SO ornery about gender.

In my own gender-contrary way, I always say, "Yes, ma'am" or "No, ma'am" to MEN only. One of the people I work with was female to male transgendered and was mortally offended when I called him "Ma'am." I tried to explain that I only call men ma'am, but he never would forgive me.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:49 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


madcaptenor: There are not women named "Michael". Or at least there are very few of them.

Four-time Emmy winner Michael Learned.

Michael Michele, from ER, among other shows.

Author Michael Drury.

Real-estate broker Michael Saunders.

Massage therapist Michael Fredrick-Martinez.

Rocky Atkinson's beautiful wife, Michael.

My junior-high-school classmate Michael Vimette (how is it possible that she doesn't have a Facebook account? Doesn't everyone except me have a Facebook account?).

(Neither of the actresses' names are stage names--Michael is their birth-name.)

I don't even know why you'd make a blanket statement like that as if it were fact, when it's so easily proven false. Google is your friend.
posted by tzikeh at 1:00 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is the ultimate precious snowflake arrogance.
posted by tarvuz at 1:16 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This poor, abused child will never amount to anything, having been forced to wear dresses and have long hair until the age of six.

koeselitz: I guess I'm just old enough to remember that this is what they said about "miscegenation" back in the 1970s. "I'm as open-minded as anyone, and I believe in equality, but this white man should know better than to marry a black woman and have children! Their poor babies. It's such a cruel world, they surely won't be accepted! It's child abuse to subject kids to that."

For reference, you'd still be just old enough to remember this being said if you were... about 7? A Louisiana Justice of the Peace refused to marry a couple in 2009 on the grounds that he could not ethically encourage them to have mixed-race children. It didn't go brilliantly for him, but he certainly didn't feel that what he was doing was crazy - he was applying the law as he saw it for the benefit of the couple's unborn children.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:35 AM on May 23, 2011


Tsikeh, those are the exceptions that prove the rule (that there are very few of them).

From Learned's bio in imdb: "She was originally billed "Miss Michael Learned" on _"The Waltons"(1972)_ not out of ego or demand, but for the simple fact that Ms. Learned was unknown to the public at the time she won the role of Olivia and the powers that be did not want the audience to be confused about her gender."
posted by ShutterBun at 2:09 AM on May 23, 2011


Not sure if this totally relates, but it reminded me of the David Reimer case, which seemed to demonstrate that tampering with gender identities can be dangerous business.

What these parents are doing seems either helpfully permissive, or proselytizing recklessness. I'm not sure which. But it seems like the risks of "really screwing your kid up" would outweigh the benefits of making a point.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:18 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've lived with an infant. Maybe they're just doing this so they don't have to talk to people.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:24 AM on May 23, 2011


What ever happened to "Is it a boy or a girl?" "Yes."
posted by ShutterBun at 2:26 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


But it seems like the risks of "really screwing your kid up" would outweigh the benefits of making a point.

That kind of presupposes that they are doing this for no other reason than to make a point. That's a pretty dangerous assumption. Even hippies want the best for their kids. Families who raise their children to hate and fear homosexuality and liberalism aren't just doing it to make a point - they're doing it because they think that it's in the child's best interests to do so, even if it makes it harder for them to come to terms with their sexuality (or interview at the Village Voice) later in life.

It might be worth, as a thought experiment, assuming that - even if they have named them after Autobots - these parents are not deliberately screwing their children up to get attention or make a point. Rather, their idea of what is best for their children might simply differ. I suspect that their idea of a holiday - volunteering in Cuba - also probably differs. It doesn't mean they don't love their children or want the best for them.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:41 AM on May 23, 2011


Of course they're not *deliberatetly* screwing up their kid's life, I'm just saying they may be putting it at risk.

As far as their motives, statements like "a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime" seems like more of a challenge to society at large, as opposed to "we think this is best for this individual."
posted by ShutterBun at 3:00 AM on May 23, 2011


So... from your perspective, Atticus Finch was a dangerous, child-endangering narcissist?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or, drawing an example from real life, how about Donald Woods? He already had children when he became editor of the Daily Dispatch, and had more while he was editing the Daily Dispatch. He must have known that he was putting their lives in danger by bringing them into contact with Steve Biko, and potentially endangering their futures by integrating his newsroom and writing anti-apartheid editorials - hell, someone sent them children's clothes which had been dipped in acid. You can't really get much more dangerous than that. Was it irresponsible of him to challenge society at large by continuing to criticise apartheid in public, even though doing so not only immediately risked depriving their children of their father and making them personae non gratae by association with an outspoken critic of apartheid?

This is not to say that these cases are comparable, of course. But if raising your children in line with your own values, even if those values are not shared by the dominant currents in society, is selfish and should not be done, let's be honest about saying that. And let's not be afraid to get a little crazy when we do it. I mean, upthread we had St. Alia saying that these parents were child abusers - that is, that they were doing something that should lead to their children being taken into care and them being put in prison. Turns out that maybe she is still processing her own childhood trauma, when having short hair meant she was mistaken for a boy once. So, we can really let our anti-freak freak flag fly on this one.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that certainly was a lot of words.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:38 AM on May 23, 2011


Possibly when you were raised it was considered abusive to expect children to be able to read more than one paragraph of text without getting headaches. I'm glad this has worked out well for you.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:44 AM on May 23, 2011


If only my parents had bought stock in USA Today.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:06 AM on May 23, 2011


I think there's a difference between "kid gets screwed up & commits suicide due to years of confusion about gender identity" and "kid gets acid-burned by racists due to his dad's work."

I doubt Donald Woods said anything like "Racism is wrong, and I'm willing to risk my children's lives to prove it." (in fact he exiled himself to London once it became clear his family was at risk)
posted by ShutterBun at 4:17 AM on May 23, 2011


I mean, upthread we had St. Alia saying that these parents were child abusers - that is, that they were doing something that should lead to their children being taken into care and them being put in prison.

I kinda agree with Alia on the abuse line of thought. It appears the parent aren't acting in the child's best interest, but in their own. They aren't see the child as separate individual but as proof against society.

It's difficult to see if it is abuse. I'd love to know how the parents responded to Jazz's feeling about being asked questions about his gender at school. The article doesn't say.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:22 AM on May 23, 2011


Hold on, ShutterBun - you're engaging now? That whole "that was certainly a lot of words" threadshit was just... sleeptyping?

But OK.

I think there's a difference between "kid gets screwed up & commits suicide due to years of confusion about gender identity" and "kid gets acid-burned by racists due to his dad's work."

I think that is true. However, there is also a considerable difference between "parents don't tell people the details of their child's genitals before it has its own sense of self" and "baby has penis accidentally mutilated during botched circumcision, is initially raised as a girl, decides later to live as a man, suffers from depression, kills self twenty years later". Notwithstanding the survey size of one, the Reimer case is usually taken to speak to the dangers of assigning gender identity based on external physical appearance - of assuming that "no normally-functioning penis" must equal "girl", in effect. In particular, it has been used to argue against surgical intervention on male babies born with non-standard genitalia. It doesn't really apply to this case at all.

I doubt Donald Woods said anything like "Racism is wrong, and I'm willing to risk my children's lives to prove it." (in fact he exiled himself to London once it became clear his family was at risk)

I doubt that these guys have said "The fixation on gendering babies is wrong, and we are ready to risk our children's lives to prove it". I don't think speech acts are as important as you think they are.

However, I think I roughly understand your point. Despite it being clear that he was in danger previously, Donald Woods acted responsibly by fleeing to Britain once he had noticed that his children might be in danger also.

These parents already live in Dufferin Grove, as far as I can tell. Short of seeking political asylum in Portland, it's hard to know what better place there might be for them to raise their children in a non-traditional way.

So, your argument currently, drawing from an unrelated case, is that they are raising their children in a way that increases their likelihood of committing suicide. That's fine - if we believe that non-traditional childrearing method will make children kill themselves, we should clearly be taking children who are raised non-traditionally away from their parents.

Let's just acknowledge that that's what we want to do, and not hide behind speculative theories like they are just doing this to make a point or they aren't see[ing] the child as [a] separate individual but as [a] proof against society.

None of us are really so viciously anti-human, surely, as to believe that parents will deliberately raise their children in a way that virtually guarantees their suicide just to make a point? Nor so simple as to believe that a process as complex and prolonged as raising a family can only have one motivation or desire attached to it. If we try to dumb ourselves down just for this, we are being unfair to ourselves and to the issues.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:06 AM on May 23, 2011


Some of what children do might be biological (it is interesting that girls in nearly all cultures play with dolls and boys with weapons, even isolated cultures),

Going back to this... I have a really hard time believing that there is some sort of genetic support for this rather than cultural support. Women give birth, and in most cultures, they are primary in terms of parenting. Here in the west, some of that has changed in some circumstances, and our culture has claimed that women may be employed in most jobs, etc. Nevertheless, there's still a pretty sexist distinction in terms of children and providing toys etc. that they will want to play with. Kids here are exposed to this through parents, other caregivers, TV, videos.... so assuming a biological basis, which some researchers have, is, I believe, pretty wrong.

Thus far my daughter (a young toddler) doesn't seem to care much for dolls and stuffed animals but loves blocks and trucks. She goes to day care full time, but it's a day care that provides the same toys to all of the kids. We'll see what happens as she gets older. She has a lot of stuffed animals at home (gifts) so if she wants to "parent" them I certainly won't stop her. It will be interesting, regardless.

(She doesn't watch TV at all. Once in a while (literally every few months) we'll let her watch a video on the internet.)
posted by miss tea at 5:35 AM on May 23, 2011


Just to clarify, my "that was certainly a lot of words" snark was just another way of saying "you're making a thoughtful and intellectual argument against a point I'm not remotely trying to make." I'm here to engage, but the comparison being offered for consideration seemed to be another issue entirely. A lot of words, but not something I felt was germane to any point I was making.

Be that as it may, let's press on.

Again, I'm really not sure how / to what degree the Reimer case relates to all of this. What I do know is that it made a pretty compelling argument that "tampering with gender identities is risky business, right or wrong."

And in the case of the family in the FPP, we're probably not literally talking about "risking lives," but we are talking about potentially putting their "quality of life" at risk. But let's not put me in the "this is child abuse, plain and simple" category just yet. There are certainly plenty of "legal but maybe not great ideas" available to parents, and I'm OK with that. Though it does occur to me that "who am I?" is probably a pretty big deal to little kids, and it's certainly possible to provide some guidance in that area to one's offspring without foisting Tonka trucks or Barbie dolls on them.

As far as the motivations of the parents (beyond raising healthy children) they make it perfectly clear that "breaking down barriers" (quotations my own) is a goal. If society bites their kid in the ass, it's a shame, but not unexpected. Like the snake that bites the hand of the man who saved him: "Look, you knew I was a snake."
posted by ShutterBun at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2011


I'm still not clear on how not telling other people the gender of the baby - the baby's brothers know - magically transforms itself into not telling the baby (once its old enough to know the damn difference). Everyone here seems to be freaking out over something that hasn't happened and doesn't seem likely to happen. David Reimer's parents and doctors flat-out lied to him for years. No one in this story seems to be saying that they know Storm is [some gender] but they're going to raise him or her as [other gender], regardless of how Storm feels about it. That seems to be a pretty significant difference.
posted by rtha at 6:06 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


assuming a biological basis, which some researchers have, is, I believe, pretty wrong.

Let's leave this can labeled "worms" unopened, shall we?
posted by ShutterBun at 6:08 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eeegads, the Reimer reference was just "food for thought," folks. If nothing else, it suggests that gender identities are hard-wired (any Mefites willing to argue against that?) "Gender roles in society" is a whole different kettle of fish, and beyond the scope of any one child or his parents.

Granted, it's the best scene in the movie, but I think Michael J. Fox's character in "Teen Wolf" would have had a much better time of things if he'd been notified ahead of time that he was a lycanthrope, instead of discovering it on his own. Given that he can't change (& didn't choose) his Werewolf-ism, I think some prep-time from Mom & Dad would have been more effective than a "that's his journey" attitude.

And so we're back to nature vs. nurture, and the slippery slope it resides on.

As for me, I'll plop my nieces and nephews down in front of "Free To Be, You And Me" and ask if they have any questions afterwards. That's my style, feel free to disagree.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2011


Just to clarify, my "that was certainly a lot of words" snark was just another way of saying "you're making a thoughtful and intellectual argument against a point I'm not remotely trying to make."

Maybe if you say that next time, instead of threadshitting? I think that your point is incoherent, which may be why it seems it is not being addressed. It can't be addressed, beyond "that doesn't make sense, and this is why".

So. Your point doesn't make sense, and this is why. The Reimer case is relevant if they decide to cut off Storm's penis (if Storm has a penis) and then raise Storm as a girl, in this case for the lulz. I don't think that's very likely. Saying that the message is that "tampering with gender identities is risky business, right or wrong", and therefore that the Reimer case is directly relevant to this totally different situation is quite a lot like saying that the fact that Versace was shot makes homosexuality a risky business, right or wrong, and one to be discouraged. It presupposes that every single thing in any way associated with gender and childrearing is intimately connected with every other thing. In terms of medical and of social science, these cases are totally unrelated. If you want to suggest otherwise, you really have to make a stronger case than that.

However, beyond that, there's another level of the question which I don't think you've considered. All parents raising children, if they don't just put them in a hopper and drop milk down a pipette every so often, are "tampering with gender identities". If you're not tampering, you're not parenting. You can do your best to give children information and then get out of their way (which is the charitable way to read what these Junction Triangle hippies are doing), or you can tell them that boys are like this, girls are like this and chastise them verbally or physically if they cross the lines (a more traditional approach), or you can go in lots of other directions, but you're tampering. What you might mean is not "tampering with gender identities", but rather "tampering with gender identities in the wrong way".

What's interesting about this situation is that other people - people who are not parenting these children - are having very strong reactions about a particular level and kind of tampering. They are then in many cases seeking or inventing medical or social science in support of their belief that this level and kind of tampering is in absolute terms wrong, or speculating as to the motivations of the parents and their desire to sacrifice their children on the altar of their whacko politics without any thought about their welfare.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


My few random thoughts:

The parents in question here seem kind of asinine and I can't say that I like their approach, but to an extent I get where they're coming from. People do overemphasize so-called traditional gender roles, even when dealing with babies.

There are not women named "Michael". Or at least there are very few of them.

Anecdotally, I've met a couple in my lifetime. Not common, but I've met zero women with some traditionally female names that have fallen out of fashion.

As to the idea that there's no commonality between this case and supposedly "bi-racial" or "mixed race" children -- and wow, do those phrases ever seem archaic -- is that the question "What are you?" would be applied to either case. People actually say this, although it's a lot more likely said to someone with diverse heritage. Have you ever seen how cringe-worthy it plays out?

"What are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, where are you from?"
"Illinois?"
"I mean, were you born here, or were your parents born somewhere else, or..."


Seriously. I can understand people being curious about such things, but if we can get people to become the tiniest bit more tactful by making them second-guess whether it's wise to bluntly ask others about things they may feel judged on, I think it might be a thing worth doing.
posted by mikeh at 6:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


gender identities are hard-wired

By its very definition, gender is not hard-wired. Biological sex is 'hard wired'
[gender differences refer to those behaviours and attitudes which are constructed through social practice. It is the social construction of sexual difference.]
posted by honey-barbara at 6:28 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


One man's witty rejoinder is another man's threadshitting, true enough.

I agree with you that *any* involvement (even...neglect? laissez fair? whatever?) in a child's gender identity is "tampering." Hard-wired or not, sexual stereotypes can certainly be imposed on a child, even unwittingly.

I'm even OK with gender-neutral (or, let's face it, 50% anti-"normal") toys, clothes, etc. for the kid. What I object to is the notion (said or unsaid) of "we're keeping it a secret just to see what happens."

It's entirely possible I'm misreading their whole purpose here, but I'd rather have a child who can see the difference between black and white yet consider them equal, versus a blind child who never knew there was a difference.

I know phrases like "different but equal" are going to be a hot-button here, but I honestly can't think of another way of putting it. I guess maybe "different AND equal" is a little better.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:50 AM on May 23, 2011


This experiment is extremely successful at one thing: revealing the general intense obsession and deep anxiety about gender which so many individuals in our culture widely share.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


I hope you'll at least give "our culture" some bonus points for not requiring males to kill a wolf, etc.

Who is "our culture" here? Are there other cultures where male & female roles are more free-spirited?

Do a few ham-fisted "outrage" posts on Metafilter equal obsession and deep anxiety? I think not. This is just mental calisthenics.

If gender identity was "no big deal" couldn't we just tell Transgender people to "get over it?"

Nope, turns out it IS a big deal, and it's lacking in consistent clinical data, as far as I can tell. And as long as it is, there's gonna be a lot of "I think this is the right way" versus "I think THIS is the right way."
posted by ShutterBun at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a film about an intersexed kid whose parents let them choose which gender they wanted to be. The movie takes place when the kid is a teenager and is struggling with their sexuality. It really shows the struggles they (the plural they, the kid and the parents) go through, and I highly recommend it.

It's called XXY (wiki) and it's available for instant watch on Netflix (in Spanish, subtitled in English)
posted by desjardins at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's entirely possible I'm misreading their whole purpose here, but I'd rather have a child who can see the difference between black and white yet consider them equal, versus a blind child who never knew there was a difference.

There is no suggestion that they are not going to tell the child its own sex. The other children in the family already know its sex, and also appear to have a clear sense of their own gender identity - they are called "boys" - they just happen to be boys whose parents don't object to them wearing traditionally female-gendered clothing. I think it may be a question not of misreading but of not reading.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I object to is the notion (said or unsaid) of "we're keeping it a secret just to see what happens."

Keeping it a secret (for now? forever? that's unclear) from other people. Please point to where it says they're going to "keep it a secret" from the child, once the child is old enough to ask.
posted by rtha at 7:14 AM on May 23, 2011


In their own words they spoke of "delayed sharing that information."

Their two (known) boys are "assumed to be girls" by passers-by who are not corrected, to the obvious discomfort of at least one of them. Are great things in store here?
posted by ShutterBun at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2011


I think this whole thing is lame. Mostly because hiding someone's gender doesn't mean that people won't throw you into the male or female box anyway. I'm reminded of the anon askme relationship questions where the askers try to hide the gender of the themselves and their SO. I guess it makes them feel better, but it's pointless because the answerers assign genders to the asker and sig other anyway. I bet most people who interact with that on a regular basis kid have assigned him a gender.

I think a better approach is just to teach your kids that gender roles exist, they are really sexist and mostly arbitrary, it's okay to do stuff associated with the opposite gender, people will treat you differently based on whether you are boy or a girl, and how to deal with the people who act like dicks if they see you doing things associated with the opposite gender. From the article, I got the feeling that the parent just told their sons "It's totally ok for boys to do girl things" and stopped there.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:44 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't really speak to the costs/damages of this kid/gender experiment, but I will say that what intrigues me most is the focus on their names. "Well, the gender thing isn't child abuse, but the stupid names are, LOL" I guess it's to be expected that it comes up a lot regarding Sarah Palin and her kids, but it always sounds a lot like what I heard a lot of kids of rich white northern VA folk would say about the "silly" things that black people name their kids ("Come on really, what kind of name is DeShawn or LaQuonda?" "Good one, Mike!" "Thanks Mike!")

Why is there such a consistent and universal dedication to keeping names boring? It strikes me as an odd contrast: "Sure, it's fine to dress kids however you want, use them in a sociological performance art piece, turn them into book deal / media collateral, but god forbid you name them anything other than 'John' or 'Mary' or anything else not on the ancient list of pre-approved names for humans!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Fine, as long as you agree that Moxie Crimefighter is undoubtedly a girl's name!
posted by ShutterBun at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2011


From the article, I got the feeling that the parent just told their sons "It's totally ok for boys to do girl things" and stopped there.

It seems that way, which is why this turn of argument is so weird... speaking of which!


Shutterbun

In their own words they spoke of "delayed sharing that information."

Actual words from the article:

Like all mothers and fathers, Witterick and Stocker struggle with parenting decisions. The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.

“We thought that if we delayed sharing that information, in this case hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messages by the time that Storm decides Storm would like to share,” says Witterick.


They are very obviously talking about not sharing that information (immediately) with people outside the family, to limit messages about the expected behaviors of somebody with the kind of body he or she has. There is no suggestion at any point that they are going to try to conceal this information from Storm. I have no idea how you'd even do that. It's demented. Permanent underpants?

Shutterbun: Their two (known) boys are "assumed to be girls" by passers-by who are not corrected, to the obvious discomfort of at least one of them.

Actual words from the article:

“As a result, Jazz and now Kio are almost exclusively assumed to be girls,” says Stocker, adding he and Witterick don’t out them. It’s the boys’ choice whether they want to offer a correction. [emphases mine]

On a recent trip to High Park, Jazz, wearing pink shorts, patterned pink socks and brightly coloured elastics on his braids, runs and skips across the street.

“That’s a princess!” says a smiling crossing guard, ushering the little boy along. “And that’s a princess, too,” she says again, pointing at Kio with her big red sign.

Jazz doesn’t mind. One of his favourite books is 10,000 Dresses, the story of a boy who loves to dress up. But he doesn’t like being called a girl. Recently, he asked his mom to write a note on his application to the High Park Nature Centre because he likes the group leaders and wants them to know he’s a boy.

Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. “When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender,” says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.

That’s mostly why he doesn’t want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn’t say more.


I'm sorry for these long quotes, but it's pretty clear that you didn't RTFA to start with, and you are now reading it only to find odd words and phrases which you think might support your argument. They do not.

Jazz, the oldest, picks out his own clothes. He likes to wear dresses, but does not like being called a girl. He's a boy who wears dresses. At some point, he'll make a call about whether to respond to that by moving towards clothes that communicate more clearly to those around him that he's a boy, or by communicating in other ways (e.g. with a note on applications saying "Jazz has an unconventional sense of style, but is a boy and would like to be treated and referred to as such") - and, by the sounds of it, his hippie parents will support that.

You can speculate about how the parents might actually be influencing their kids to cross-dress for some devious political purpose (and further speculate that they will respond to an expressed desire to wear trousers in public more often with anger and refusal - but that's a fantasy not supported by the text). You can imagine that this will not lead to great things - whatever that means. Roosevelt wore dresses and had long, golden locks as a child, and then faced down Hitler from a wheelchair. He did OK.

That's totally your choice. But this is all stuff you are imagining. The only hard evidence you've provided so far that this form of parenting is going to ruin the kids' lives is an offensively different situation involving a botched circumcision.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


"You can speculate about how the parents might actually be influencing their kids to cross-dress for some devious political purpose (and further speculate that they will respond to an expressed desire to wear trousers in public more often with anger and refusal - but that's a fantasy not supported by the text)."

Well, I dunno about "devious political purpose", or going as far as anger and refusal when it comes to picking trousers, but it does say that "the boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex." Maybe that's just a poorly written sentence, but it reads to me that they're not just encouraged to do what they want, but to do what they want with an emphasis on going against gender norms. So maybe not "You want to wear trousers?! Get out of this house, I never want to see you again!!", but "You want some trousers? Ok, sure, I guess. And you want a pink sunbonnet? Of course, how wonderful, we'll go to the store and pick one out today!!"

Again, it could just be a poorly written sentence, so I'm not going to fight tooth and nail for my interpretation or anything.
posted by Bugbread at 8:29 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't the reading process at least allow for extrapolation or at least interpretation?

"Jazz doesn't mind"? How'd they glean that? Because he didn't "offer a correction"? In the very next breath they say he doesn't like being called a girl. So now he has to ask his parents to write a letter stating that he wants people to know he's a boy? Seems to me that growing up is hard enough without that conversation.

Roosevelt wore dresses and had long, golden locks as a child, and then faced down Hitler from a wheelchair. He did OK.

If nothing else, I at least hope you don't think I consider hair length and beskirtedness to be a detriment to accomplishment. If you're making the point that "being gender neutral until age 5 or 6 was the norm 100 years ago," then fair enough.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:30 AM on May 23, 2011


some devious political purpose

I guess this didn't come across in my posts, but I'm not against their goal (a more progressive world), and don't consider it devious. Nor am I against parents raising their children through unconventional means. But come on. This is not "family allows daughter to play with trucks" or a boy wearing nail polish in a clothing catalog. This is a social experiment, so let's at least admit it.

Whether or not it's "OK" is academic. Frankly, I care less about their right to engage in it, than I do about my own right to look at it and disagree.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:55 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sheesh. Once again The Onion scoops the rest of society.

Progressive Parents Refuse to Tell Child Its Sex

(yeah, yeah, I know this has absolutely nothing to so with the people in the article (who are most certainly NOT refusing to tell Storm what gender Storm is), so please forgive the derail in favor of some comic relief)
posted by ShutterBun at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2011


Let me rephrase. My name is Michael. I am very annoyed by the fact that my name is very common, especially because supposedly this is because Michael Jackson was very popular when I was born. There have always been way too many other people named Michael in my life. None of them have been female.

So, as I was saying, there are very few women named Michael, at least in my experience.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:29 AM on May 23, 2011


I haven't been all that convinced by the supposed take-homes from the Rainer case ever since I saw a documentary that had interviews with his mother. Although the documentary maker was also trying to argue that Rainer's story showed that his gender identity was innate, it became clear that his mother was always profoundly ambivalent, at best, about his reassignment. She never really got over the accident, and was eaten up by a guilt she didn't feel she could discuss with her children; she was always conscious of the fact that her child had been terribly damaged. I think her feelings about it would be enough, in and of themselves, to cause a child to have a certain amount of angst about its gender assignment; I'm not sure you need to appeal to a hardwired sense of 'maleness' or 'femaleness'.
posted by Acheman at 9:33 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are there other cultures where male & female roles are more free-spirited?

Yes.
posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on May 23, 2011


> "Jazz doesn't mind"? How'd they glean that? Because he didn't "offer a correction"? In the very next breath they say he doesn't like being called a girl.

The paragraph before makes the context clear: Jazz doesn't mind being called is a princess. He does mind being called a girl.

I agree that the author doesn't state specifically how she reached the conclusion that Jazz doesn't mind, but I think that the differentiation between the two is clearly made. To Jazz's way of thinking, being a princess is not the same as being a girl. Given the way being a princess is marketed to kids as about the accoutrements (lots of pink, pretty dresses, glitter, tiaras), I can see how that could happen.
posted by Georgina at 9:42 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why stop here? Upon meeting someone, we should refuse to divulge how our day is going, where we live, our favorite movies, bands, sports teams, what we do for a living, what we like to eat, or any hobbies/interests we have. After all, who wants to be pigeon-holed into those "categories" by busy-bodies who don't really KNOW us and are going to judge everything on their high horsed, ego maniac, and distorted world views... Freedom at last!!!!

Example Progressive Conversation:

Person 1: "Hello!"

Person 2: "Hi!"

Person 1: ...

Person 2: ...

Person 1: ...

Person 2: ...

Person 1: "So long, nice meeting you!"

Person 2: "Yes, it has been quite the pleasure, until next time!"
posted by Debaser626 at 10:12 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why stop here? Upon meeting someone, we should refuse to divulge how our day is going, where we live, our favorite movies, bands, sports teams, what we do for a living, what we like to eat, or any hobbies/interests we have. After all, who wants to be pigeon-holed into those "categories" by busy-bodies who don't really KNOW us and are going to judge everything on their high horsed, ego maniac, and distorted world views... Freedom at last!!!!

I don't even know where to begin. I think I'll start and stop with calling what you wrote a slippery slope argument if there ever was one.
posted by Green With You at 10:35 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm of the opinion that all children should have long hair, possibly in dreads, and should wear brown courderoy overalls or possibly Ben Davis denim ones and Adidas tennis shoes. It worked for everyone I knew.

I only ask about the sex of babies because I find them completely without any other feature and generally completely uninteresting and yet I am required to show SOME interest in them, if I care about the parent. Any ideas of what else to ask?

The problem with the gender expectations isn't in that the majority of girls will go towards dolls and boys to guns, it's when a girl or boy doesn't fit that mold and effectively ends up punished for it. Even if 90% of girls are into dolls (or animals, in my case), the other 10% need to feel not weird for being into legos instead. I was fortunate enough to grow up that way but the roles these days are SHOCKINGLY rigid. We've really gone backwards.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:38 AM on May 23, 2011


You know, this child has to grow up in a society. In that context what they are doing is child abuse, in my opinion.

...

Stories like these are basically just meant for trolling square minivan moms so they get all indignant at those BAD PARENTS.


Serendipity.

You aren't raising a genderless child you self-indulgent dipsticks. Your child has a gender, and the only people I see making a big deal about it are you.

So what's the child's gender, if you know so much. What's mine?

Or if a kid asks me about my gender expression, should I lie to them so that the "there are two genders and you have always been one" narrative is undisturbed?

That is really it.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:02 AM on May 23, 2011


I don't understand people who are put out by this. There are plenty of things to talk about baby-wise other than the sex of the child.

"What's your baby's name?"
"Storm."
"That's a great name! How old is Storm?"
"Six months."
"Storm has lovely eyes/smile/dimples/laugh/sweater/shoes!"

It's not that hard.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:05 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is like Free to Be You and Me come to life!

Boy Meets Girl - Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas

Goo.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't understand people who are put out by this. There are plenty of things to talk about baby-wise other than the sex of the child.

It's weird, plain and simple. Weird is not bad, but let's not pretend it's not weird.

"Oh my God, sooo cute!!! Boy or girl?"

"We don't give out that information."

"Whaa, oh, um...whaa?" or some variation there of. It's a bit of conversation killer or derailer. That's fine too, but again, let's pretend it's perfectly normal and won't 'cause a stir of some sort.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:26 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I only ask about the sex of babies because I find them completely without any other feature and generally completely uninteresting and yet I am required to show SOME interest in them, if I care about the parent. Any ideas of what else to ask?

"Oh, look at that baby, you must be so in love." If further conversation is ABSOLUTELY required, you can say "Are you sleeping OK?" which is about the baby and yet actually about the adults. Then you can start talking about this book, and from there, many other conversational segues naturally present themselves.
posted by KathrynT at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I cannot tell you how many times in the past couple of years that I've logged onto Facebook, seen a friend's blurry ultrasound pic and a ton of comments below oohing and aaahing over how beautiful the fetus is, if it's a girl, or how strong and muscular it looks if it's a boy.

What's really creepy is when people post sonogram images with an arrow pointing to the genitals alongside the word BOY! It's like the parental version of Lynndie England.
posted by brain_drain at 11:44 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand people who are put out by this.

Get beat up a couple times because of inappropriate gender expression, have a best friend or three leave you forever because he/she doesn't approve of your gender, lose a job because your gender expression is not in conformity with expectations ('you're a sex-change- OMG!')- then maybe you'll understand. Until then it's perfectly understandably why you don't understand how setting a kid up for unrealistic expectations of what to expect from general society vis a vis gender is something some of us might not approve of. Until then , it's perfectly understandable why you don't understand why someone who got their ass kicked by gender expectations wouldn't wish that on anyone else.

The parents aren't the ones going on national TV in cross-gender roles in order to make their point. Their using their kids for that
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:48 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I say, if Jazz grows up to play bass as well as Michael Steele, Witterick and Stocker will have done something right as parents.
posted by virago at 12:08 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Until then it's perfectly understandably why you don't understand how setting a kid up for unrealistic expectations of what to expect from general society vis a vis gender is something some of us might not approve of.

So whose rules and expectations should they prepare their kids for? The people who will be horrified if you get your son this toy instead of this one, even though he likes pink and purple better? Or maybe the people who think it's totally cool how into science your daughter is, but inappropriate that you let her play (American) football or join the wrestling team?

Do you give in when the grandparents think hir hair is too short/too long based on what genitals they have? Do you teach the kid to tell people to fuck off when someone says "You can't be a [firefighter] [nurse]! Only [boys] [girls] can be a [firefighter] [nurse]!", but to conform by wearing the "correct" clothing for their sex/gender?

Which set of fucked up and contradictory messages are the parents supposed to obey so that their kids are guaranteed to not get bullied or end up in therapy? I know people who were raised in pretty rigidly gendered ways and people who weren't, and pretty much all of them have been in therapy for one thing or another.
posted by rtha at 12:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I love how you assume that I haven't.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:19 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poet_Lariat: “Get beat up a couple times because of inappropriate gender expression, have a best friend or three leave you forever because he/she doesn't approve of your gender, lose a job because your gender expression is not in conformity with expectations ('you're a sex-change- OMG!')- then maybe you'll understand. Until then it's perfectly understandably why you don't understand how setting a kid up for unrealistic expectations of what to expect from general society vis a vis gender is something some of us might not approve of. Until then , it's perfectly understandable why you don't understand why someone who got their ass kicked by gender expectations wouldn't wish that on anyone else. The parents aren't the ones going on national TV in cross-gender roles in order to make their point. Their using their kids for that.”

That's a fair perspective – but are you really telling parents to force their kids into artificial gender roles simply because society won't have it any other way? The point of parenting is supposed to be to protect your kids from this kind of crap, not to impose it on them in order to create the right "expectations."
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Debaser626: “Why stop here? Upon meeting someone, we should refuse to divulge how our day is going, where we live, our favorite movies, bands, sports teams, what we do for a living, what we like to eat, or any hobbies/interests we have. After all, who wants to be pigeon-holed into those "categories" by busy-bodies who don't really KNOW us and are going to judge everything on their high horsed, ego maniac, and distorted world views... Freedom at last!!!!”

One could quite easily act exactly in the way you're describing and be a great parent. In fact, I think acting like that might actually make you a better parent. Being a parent isn't about being "friendly" to everybody; it's about protecting your kid from the crap society tries to foist on her or him. And if a parent does that, who are you to complain that they didn't greet you properly when you met her or him on the street?
posted by koeselitz at 12:42 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a fair perspective – but are you really telling parents to force their kids into artificial gender roles simply because society won't have it any other way?

I am not telling anyone anything other then what I have said, which is to not use your children as little experiments to "fight the power". Just let them be themselves. Don't intentionally set them up to have a more difficult life than anyone has to have.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:49 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I say, if Jazz grows up to play bass as well as Michael Steele, Witterick and Stocker will have done something right as parents.

Alright! I get it! There are women named Michael!

(I bet she's pissed that that Republican guy stole her name. I had a a professor named Michael Steele, a man, who used to have on his web page something saying, basically, "I'm not that Michael Steele".)
posted by madcaptenor at 12:53 PM on May 23, 2011


"Well, why the hell didn't you correct me?" obviously annoyed and flustered, probably worried I was sorely and gravely offended.

When my son is mistaken for a girl (usually at least once per outing...probably the long hair), I go out of my way to use his (somewhat ambiguous) name or otherwise avoid pronouns because people seem so worried that you'll be upset. I just can't deal with all the apologizing anymore. All toddlers look the same; who cares?
posted by Dr.Enormous at 11:01 PM on May 22 [+] [!]


To expand on Dr.E's comment, I do inform people that we will regularly see, if not have an intimate relationship with, of Toddler Zizzle's sex (as opposed to gender because we don't know what he thinks of himself as yet) so it doesn't become a thing when they find out later on. Which they would eventually, potentially making it a thing.

But mostly, if we encounter strangers at a restaurant or the park or somewhere, and we're not likely to see them all that often, we don't bother to correct them because it just doesn't matter. We're not hiding the fact he is a boy by any means, but it doesn't bother us or him that people will often mistake him for a girl. And why should it? If it ever does some day, we'll deal with that then.

And for as much as Toddler Zizzle loves and adores his Thomas trains, he is also madly in love with his mom's old teddy bear, who bears a girl's name having belonged to a young girl at one point. I can't even begin to tell you how the name of a 25 year old stuffed bear blows people's minds.....all because the bear belongs to a boy.....
posted by zizzle at 1:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love how you assume that I haven't.

Wait, was that directed at me? Because I don't know what I've presented as an assumption about you.

posted by rtha at 1:25 PM on May 23, 2011


I love how you assume that I haven't.

Wait, was that directed at me? Because I don't know what I've presented as an assumption about you.


I'm pretty sure it was directed at Poet_Lariat, who's complaint sounded a lot like "until you've been treated badly because of your gender affiliation, you have no idea" which certainly sounds like it assumes that those of us supporting Witterick and Stocker have not experienced that sort of mistreatment. Which seems rather baseless to me as well.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:55 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What's your baby's name?"
"Storm."
"That's a great name! How old is Storm?"
"Six months."
"Storm has lovely eyes/smile/dimples/laugh/sweater/shoes/vulva!"


ftfy
posted by davejay at 1:57 PM on May 23, 2011


Interesting. "How old is baby?" has always been my stock small-talk question, and I haven't been consciously avoiding the gender conversation.
posted by desjardins at 2:04 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What's up with its head?" usually gets me out of most boring baby small-talk situations.
posted by klangklangston at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Obligatory Tim Minchin
posted by zizzle at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2011


Interesting. "How old is baby?" has always been my stock small-talk question, and I haven't been consciously avoiding the gender conversation.

Mine too, but even still, it's always "how old is he?" or "how old is she?" - 99% of the young children I've met are gendered by their names (Ben, Daniel, Zooey, Emma). For those undecipherables, I ask "how old is Glorb?"

After that, there are always the standard stage-level questions? Is Glorb walking yet? Talking? Eating solid food? Sleeping through the night? Toilet trained? Daycare? Sports? Art/Music?

But mostly, if we encounter strangers at a restaurant or the park or somewhere, and we're not likely to see them all that often, we don't bother to correct them because it just doesn't matter. We're not hiding the fact he is a boy by any means, but it doesn't bother us or him that people will often mistake him for a girl. And why should it?

Ditto. I have a daughter (the cutest ever, of course), and although she has beautiful, blond hair, it's short and she is constantly mistaken for a boy. Who cares?!

I actually wish I was more like Witterick/Stocker in regard to gender, but it's not easy.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:16 PM on May 23, 2011


Wait, was that directed at me? Because I don't know what I've presented as an assumption about you.

No, rtha, I think you're wonderful!

poet_lariat has no idea what sort of struggles any of us have had in our lives due to our gender expression and it's a bit ridiculous to assume that those of us that are "siding" with the parents have no idea. I'd wager a lot of us have MORE of an idea.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, mrgrimm, for helping me with my reading comprehension. Confusing exchanges are sometimes confusing!

On preview: thanks, elsietheeel!
posted by rtha at 2:20 PM on May 23, 2011


The people condemning the parents here seem to see this as akin to raising one's children in a cult.

It looks to me more like raising your children Jewish/Buddist/whatever in a town that might be sort of hostile to such.

Parenting always involves transmission of ideology. These parents feel like they have to take what might look like a ridiculous stand in order to try their best to counter the ideological effects surrounding them.

Like laying some groundwork to make sure your kid doesn't come home believing in Jesus.
posted by nobody at 2:21 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think poet_lariat is saying that it's not fair to give children the idea that having an unconventional relationship to gender, or to the relation of one's biological sex and one's gender expression, is a good idea, because not cleaving to a gender binary actually sets one up for a lot of stress and unhappiness. Which is realistically true, but is not IMHO a totally compelling reason to shun complexity. I suspect, to be honest, that there are things which are going to be of more importance to young Jazz (who can start to call himself Jo and wear trousers in public pretty much when he wants to, as far as one can tell) than whether he wears dresses at the age of five - whether he has a loving home, whether he has access to affordable healthcare, things like that. If his parents were planning to force him to wear dresses into his twenties under threat of being cut out of their will, that would be another matter, but based on the available evidence they aren't.

(I recall a well-meaning relative telling me when I was a teenager that I should avoid being gay, because gay men had a tough life compared to straight men. Which at the time made me feel that this relative clearly had a sincere desire for my happiness, but that if I did find myself ending up gay I now knew that this relative would feel that my life was a less good life than I could have had, and that this was in some way my fault for not having worked hard enough on being straight.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:44 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And speaking of the available evidence...

Shutterbun: Doesn't the reading process at least allow for extrapolation or at least interpretation?

It does, but it also both allows for and requests reading. Tell me that Hamlet is motivated primarily by an incestuous desire for Gertrude, and I will be unconvinced, but ready to hear your textual argument. Tell me that Hamlet was motivated by an alien space parasite put into his head by Ricardo Montalban, and I will think that you have not actually read or seen Hamlet, and have instead watched Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

I think this is why I've got caught up in this. It's not that someone is being wrong on the Internet, exactly. It's more that somebody is being wrong when it would be so much easier not be. It feels like pains are being taken to comb a fairly short piece of text intently for words or phrases to support a position initially expounded without having read it.

Compare and contrast:

"Jazz doesn't mind"? How'd they glean that? Because he didn't "offer a correction"? In the very next breath they say he doesn't like being called a girl.

One might indeed wonder how the writer had gleaned that Jazz didn't mind. Had there been a conversation that was not repeated verbatim, for example? Did Jazz simply appear totally unfazed, in a way that could not be described in detail for reasons of space or interest? Did Jazz actively express pleasure, in a way which was again left out for reasons of length? These are possibilities.

Then, one might wonder how one could reconcile the statement that Jazz didn't mind being called a princess with not liking being called a girl. One might have concluded that Jazz did not object to people praising his outfit, but did not like being identified specifically as a girl. He might not mind having his look identified as that of a princess, but not like the conclusion being drawn that he was a a girl. These are possible gleanings.

There are about half a dozen possible reading before we get to the idea that the writer is both a liar and a completely inept liar - one who directly contradicts herself a sentence later. Again, the option of not believing the writer is available, but that's an interpretative level above where we are.

If nothing else, I at least hope you don't think I consider hair length and beskirtedness to be a detriment to accomplishment. If you're making the point that "being gender neutral until age 5 or 6 was the norm 100 years ago," then fair enough.

a) What you actually said was Are great things in store here? - admittedly based on an eccentric reading of what was actually written. So, yeah, whatever that meant. It sounded to me precisely as if you were suggesting that letting male children wear their hair long and wear skirts was detrimental to something. That's what I gleaned, and it's not a crazy gleaning, but it might be subject to clarification.
b) Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn't gender-neutral. His _outfit_ was gender-neutral. He was a boy in a dress with long hair, for whom great things were in store. Is all I'm saying.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:49 PM on May 23, 2011


My son has always had lovely wavy hair. When he was little I couldn't bear to cut it, so it was quite long and wavy down his back until he was 4 or 5. We did cut it a little at that point to make it easier to keep untangled. He's now 23 and his hair is back to long and wavy - usually pulled back in a ponytail.

I think we need to allow kids to try different things as they grow; otherwise how are they going to determine what they really prefer? I think adults put way too many boundaries and parameters on kids. Keep them safe, keep them healthy, and give them as many opportunities to experience the world and see where they fit.
posted by garnetgirl at 3:28 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, on failblog...
posted by phunniemee at 4:38 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm pretty sure it was directed at Poet_Lariat, who's complaint sounded a lot like "until you've been treated badly because of your gender affiliation, you have no idea" which certainly sounds like it assumes that those of us supporting Witterick and Stocker have not experienced that sort of mistreatment. Which seems rather baseless to me as well.

You're right it is baseless. Good thing you said all that and not me.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 4:40 PM on May 23, 2011


So what was it you were trying to say? I took it the same way mrgrimm did.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:07 PM on May 23, 2011


"Meanwhile, on failblog..."

There's a brand of diapers here in Japan, for toddlers, which comes in boys and girls colors. The same toddler photo is used on both packages, with its hair photoshopped shorter for boys (or is it photoshopped longer for girls?) and the shirt color swapped out.
posted by Bugbread at 5:09 PM on May 23, 2011


These parents feel like they have to take what might look like a ridiculous stand in order to try their best to counter the ideological effects surrounding them.

That's an interesting assumption and one that I would be inclined to agree with were it not for the fact that neither parent is going on their interviews dressed gender neutral or counter-gender. Were I a betting woman (and I am) I would bet that neither of them shows up to their jobs that way either.

They are making their stand through their children who are really too young to have a real say in it or understand the future consequences.

which is what I have been saying all along and nothing more
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:45 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


No, they are taking a stand through the way they talk about their children to people who are not their children. This could in principle have some effect on the way other people treat their children, but until I find out what that's like, the only effect on the children that I observe is that they have to tell people their preferred pronouns, which... whatever.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2011


No, they are taking a stand through the way they talk about their children to people who are not their children.

Isn't it a little more then that? They have also chosen to place their kids photographs, names and lifestyle on the internet around the world. We're talking about 2 to 4 year olds here. That's going to follow them around for a while . So when some 11 year old friend (or a parent) does a google search 6 years from now on Jazz, it's not Mr. Stocker who is going to be sorry a bunch of his friends left him and/or making fun of him. Mrs. Stocker isn't going to be beat up behind the 7-11 because of this. It's going to be Jazz and his siblings who are going to reap rewards for Mr and Mrs. Stocker's 15 minutes of internet fame.

So it's a little more than just talking about it. These kids are on display now and the Internet has a long memory and it's getting longer.

and maybe nothing bad will happen. But why lay all that on your kids though?
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:59 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


What I don't get about your position, Poet_Lariat, is that this seems like a binary decision. Either parents are open minded with their children regarding gender - or they participate, even if through passivity, in the suppression of their expression and an enforcement of gender norms. You say you lived for years as a gender you didn't want to be, yet you don't think parents should give their children the freedom to realize that for themselves.

You keep saying that parents shouldn't "experiment" with their kids. That's a definitively normative thing to say. Apparently parents ought to raise their children in the "correct" way.

Maybe I just don't understand.
posted by koeselitz at 7:15 PM on May 23, 2011


koeselitz : You say you lived for years as a gender you didn't want to be, yet you don't think parents should give their children the freedom to realize that for themselves.

Clearly, I do say otherwise very clearly at least a couple times throughout this thread. Seriously, I do :)

I understand that this is an emotionally charged issue for many (including yours truly) so I also understand why you may be reading your own fears into what I actually said. To be clear: I , of all people , am for the freedom of kids, parents, hobos, - whatever - to express their gender freely. I, of all people, wish there were more of it. My only real concern is that these parents are expressing their own gender philosophies, experiments, whatever, upon their children while their children are really far too young to have any say or understanding in the matter.

There are risks and consequences to being out of the norm , sometimes serious heartbreaking consequences. Let adults (or young adults or whatever) who have the capacity to weigh those consequences vs. benefits agree to take those risks. I am merely against those parents laying this all on their young children (and yes, my natural cynicism leads me to believe that they are doing this more for their own glorification than the benefits to their kids).
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:31 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a definitively normative thing to say. Apparently parents ought to raise their children in the "correct" way.

The correct way is to let the kids decide who they are. Forcing them to be "genderless" is as bad as forcing me to be something other than what I was.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:33 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's an interesting assumption and one that I would be inclined to agree with were it not for the fact that neither parent is going on their interviews dressed gender neutral or counter-gender.

But as far as I can tell the explicit goal isn't to have gender neutral or 'counter-gendered' children, per se, but to have children who feel free to express their gender however they fancy.

I didn't see anything in the article to suggest that should one of their boys decide to give up the frills for classically boy-gendered stuff, that the parents would be disappointed or unsupportive (despite obnoxious -- and well-favorited -- comments like this one from early in the thread).

My guess would be that the big fear -- what they'd have trouble supporting -- would be if their boys grew up to be sexist/homophobic jerks.
posted by nobody at 8:14 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't see anything in the article to suggest that should one of their boys decide to give up the frills for classically boy-gendered stuff, that the parents would be disappointed or unsupportive (despite obnoxious -- and well-favorited -- comments like this one from early in the thread).

I see nothing obnoxious about that comment. It would be hilarious if that happened because these parents are so obviously opposed to traditional gender roles. Tthe ultimate expression of their kids' independence (which the parents claim is what they really want) would be to decide to adapt those gender roles. We're talking delicious irony there. I'd actually respect the parents a lot more if that happened and they took it in stride.

That comment is also well-favorited because right now everything about these kids speaks in opposition to gender stereotypes. And not only is it statistically unlikely that these kids would only go for long hair and pink and purple princess outfits, and never prefer camouflage or trucks, it is absolutely absurd to think that a 4-year old is using terms like 'gender explorer' without prompting from Mom and Dad.

Someone upthread mentioned not having a TV when their kids were young, and people seeming horrified at this and reacting with vitriol to the idea. That's terrible, if accurate; I could see parents reacting with vitriol to someone pompously espousing, "Is this something I'd have to have a TV to understand? Because I'd never expose my kids to TV."
posted by misha at 8:46 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Until about five years later when I discovered that, with a sincere smile, referring to people as Sir or Mame actually made the vast majority of interactions with people I didn't know so much easier, just that little bit of respect regardless of our relative social/economic/power situations.

I was also raised on ma'am and sir and although I mostly agree with you, the ramifications when you get it wrong are ugly enough that I've had to train myself out of it, at least over the phone where there's plenty of room to guess wrong (even when you think tou are completely, 100% sure you can tell the gender of the person you are talking to based on the voice....sometimes you are wrong). People don't really appreciate it.
posted by naoko at 9:41 PM on May 23, 2011


What else is there to know about a baby? It's not like it has any other distinguishing personality traits at this point.

Existential Dread, you've never actually spent much time around infants (note the plural), have you?

My goddaughter was fussy and cuddly, at 4 hours after birth. My buddy's firstborn was assertive, could hold his head erect and focus on people 10' away, and boldly noncrying 6 hrs after birth. His younger brother was completely different: tending to cry, eager to please, demanding to be the center of attention.

Secret: Humans have personality, straight from the womb (and probably before then).

Double-plus secret: Said personality is not limited nor selected solely by genitalia.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:56 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Follow-up article on Parent Central here, one part of which is the parents saying that they are not going to do any more interviews:

“We don’t want them to feel like exotic bugs, and when consulted, they said no thanks to more media attention,” wrote Witterick, 38, in an email.

(Incidentally, Misha, in the photo accompanying that article Jazz appears to be wearing pants. I don't think princess outfits are obligatory.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:05 AM on May 24, 2011


Tthe ultimate expression of their kids' independence (which the parents claim is what they really want) would be to decide to adapt those gender roles. We're talking delicious irony there.

I get that I may be giving the parents undue benefit of the doubt, and 'obnoxious' may have been a bit strong, but yes: what I see in the article suggests that the only thing that would really phase these parents on the gender front would be if their kids turned out to be rigid enforcers of gender stereotypes out in the world -- i.e., sexist jerks -- which is different from deciding to conform to gender stereotypes themselves. And it would be cruel to call that irony 'delicious,' no?

because right now everything about these kids speaks in opposition to gender stereotypes.

Again, I might be giving too much benefit of the doubt here (though I think others in the thread are doing precisely the opposite), but my assumption was that these 'cross-gender' markers were simply being emphasized by the writer as the novel-things-worth-writing-about.

In any case, let's say they were over-praising their oldest son when he displayed 'girly' behavior (and under-praising 'masculine' behavior?). Knowing the messages about his gender he is surely going to receive from culture over and over and over again, I think to a certain extent their pushing for the opposite could be seen as a form of inoculation.

And their strategy with the new baby could theoretically keep them from having to take such gauche steps this time.

All that said: yeah, the 'gender explorer' bit made me cringe. But mostly because it's so artless.
posted by nobody at 5:35 AM on May 24, 2011


I didn't see anything in the article to suggest that should one of their boys decide to give up the frills for classically boy-gendered stuff, that the parents would be disappointed or unsupportive (despite obnoxious -- and well-favorited -- comments like this one from early in the thread).

Ahoy. Perhaps I was being a bit obnoxious; I am more than a trifle cynical. For the record, I tend to feel that while these parents are imposing their ideology on their kid, every parent does that in their own way, and on the whole, so long as he's getting food shelter and affection there's probably not too much to worry about. But since they have chosen to make such a pointed and public stance on this issue, my cynicism does lead me to wonder a bit whether they're more into accepting their child as it is or breaking down gender barriers. Best of luck to them either way, but if say, ten or fifteen years from now, their biologically male child sits them down "mom, dad, I'm afraid I have something to tell you. This is something I've known about myself for a long time, and struggled with, but it's something i've come to accept about myself and I hope you will, too: I really like tackling people so hard you can hear the bones crunch. I'm a middle linebacker." ...well, let's just say I'd pay good money to see their faces.
posted by Diablevert at 9:22 AM on May 24, 2011


I have a certain amount of respect for this. You go to the clothing store, and there's hte pink, lacy, frilly area, and the sturdy, sports, NO PINK ALLOWED area. Toy store - pink Barbie aisle, blue/red Matchbox aisle. Too bad if you want gender-neutral clothes so you can hand them down. Little gorls are urged to be princesses, boys should want to be race-car drivers.

But. Stunt parenting weirds me out. Good for them, and I hope it makes a difference. And I think the kids will be terrific.
posted by theora55 at 5:02 PM on May 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I heard Kathy Witterick on the radio this evening, and I was pleased to, because I read this article yesterday and loved this family immediately. I guess I shouldn't be so shocked that anyone is commenting on their choices with such vitriol, but I kind of am.

It's pretty clear to me from the article and from hearing Witterick on the radio that they're doing this for Jazz. Storm will reveal what Storm will reveal, probably within, oh a year and half or so, but it seems pretty obvious that Jazz is struggling with gender identity issues and I think they wanted to show support for him in this way. Storm will not be hurt by it. Kio and Jazz have not been told to keep secrets. In fact, they have been told that they can tell anyone they want to what Storm's sex is. They just choose not to, and I think they choose not to because of Jazz.

I think, no, I hope, any parent with a child who is struggling with gender identity would want to do something to help him see that he has options, support, and love no matter what. I would hope that the goal of a parent with a child like Jazz would be to show him that gender is a construct that he can interact with and modify; that gender expression is a choice, not a given; and that are more ways to be in the world than just the one dictated by what's between his legs. If he were mine, I would want him to know that he is okay in his body with whatever gender expression he wants to employ. I applaud them for trying to teach him that. I think it's the most compassionate and loving thing they could do. It's the opposite of the violence we do to the bodies of transgendered people on a regular basis, demanding ultimate conformity no matter what the cost or physical damage, and I wish the world had more such accepting and loving parents.

I'm glad they're in Toronto. I want to go down and buy one of Jazz's books.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:17 PM on May 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


klangklangston: ""What's up with its head?" usually gets me out of most boring baby small-talk situations."

My son was in the birth canal for a bit. He came out with a very pointy head. That was one of my first comments. Luckily, the wife (at the time) had finally gotten her drugs. She had natural childbirth. I still have the scars, both mental and physical.
posted by Splunge at 6:19 PM on May 24, 2011


Toy store - pink Barbie aisle, blue/red Matchbox aisle.

My father dressed me in pretty dresses, did my hair, taught me about color matching enough that I helped him pick out ties when I was six, and also bought me Matchbox cars. In the mid 80s. My brother really liked helping my mom cook when he was little, whereas I had no interest (despite my still liking the girly dresses and Matchbox cars)

My parents are FAR from radical stunt parents. Like, immigrants from an Asian country, far far far. They just had their interests and tried them on me and my brother to see what gelled. And they didn't give interviews.
posted by sweetkid at 8:09 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I shouldn't be so shocked that anyone is commenting on their choices with such vitriol, but I kind of am.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Look, I don't think anyone is actually being vitriolic about this. We can certainly debate the issues, and disagree, without caustic bitterness. Mostly.

Also, in keeping with the movie quotes: what we have here is a failure to communicate.

We have people in this thread and in the article suggesting that the objections against what Kathy Witterick and David Stocker are doing with their kids come from people who feel threatened at the idea of gender norms being challenged.

But that is not at all where I am coming from. What I question is the very public way in which this couple has chosen to "make a stand", not through their own actions, but through their kids. And I think that others, who have likened the kids to lab rats in a social experiment, have the same objection. And those comments are dismissed with glib one-liners like, "What kids aren't social experiments?"

Well, mine aren't. Parenting, to me, is not about philosophies or social statements. Before I ever had kids, I faltered between feeling totally inadequate to the task and picturing myself being this parental treasure chest of knowledge, dispelling precious pearls of wisdom at just the right moments. And then my kids were born, and I threw away all my preconceptions and got down to the real work.

Because parenting your own kids is a constantly changing dynamic that grows and forms along with them. And each child is an individual who deserves individual consideration. You have, say, one boy who wants to play with dolls riding dinosaurs, and you go with it, and then you have another who takes all the little people out of the Tonka trucks and tosses them aside in favor of crashing the big empty trucks into each other, and you go with that, too. You don't go around saying, "Boys can play with dolls! It's okay! Really!" because that just makes it into a big deal and it isn't really, and your kid doesn't speak for all boys anyway, he's just Him.

So, when I read this article, and I see that long-haired, pink-and-purple-wearing Jazz is so upset at being thought a girl that he won't go to school, my heart aches for him. And the way this couple is dealing with that is hiding him away at home, which I admit is probably a very seductive idea, because it is the easiest course for them all right now, but as parents shouldn't they really be thinking: what is best for Jazz in all this?

They could talk to the kids at school about how Jazz just happens to like rainbows and pink and feather boas, and they should respect that because Jazz is a cool kid, and not make fun of him for being different, because every one is different in some way. But they don't do that. They aren't doing anything to actually address the issue that is hurting Jazz--the way other kids react to him based on their perceptions.

Are the perceptions hurtful? Yes. Is what the parents are doing with the whole gender explorer nickname and the stay-at-home schooling actually going to do anything, in any way, to change those perceptions? I don't see how. And there's a strong argument that their constant focus on OMG Gender just makes it all into an even bigger deal.

And hiding Storm's gender completely accomplishes nothing. What will happen is that people will speculate all the more about the gender, basing their opinions on superficial characteristics because that's all they have to go on, and then using those as justification to say, "See? I told you so!" if the baby turns out to be the gender they identified.

In other words, they have just made Storm the ultimate in gender stereotyping.
posted by misha at 10:10 AM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


My father dressed me in pretty dresses, did my hair, taught me about color matching ...

My parents are FAR from radical stunt parents. ... And they didn't give interviews.


I don't understand. Are you male? ... or is the cars for girls thing? Weird.

I'm male and I helped my mom cook too. That doesn't mean that I didn't have TONS of other gender expectations forced upon me...
posted by mrgrimm at 1:16 PM on May 25, 2011


"My son was in the birth canal for a bit. He came out with a very pointy head. That was one of my first comments. Luckily, the wife (at the time) had finally gotten her drugs. She had natural childbirth. I still have the scars, both mental and physical."

Luckily, most of that evens out as the kid gets older.

But I'm a big proponent of drugs for both parents, once the kid is born.
posted by klangklangston at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]



I don't understand. Are you male? ... or is the cars for girls thing? Weird.


No, I'm female. All I meant was that I think people can raise children with a variety of expectations without resorting to all or nothing thinking where it's either "pink for girls/blue for boys" or " we're not telling anyone the gender." There's middle ground which i think is healthy and effective.
posted by sweetkid at 7:51 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Effective at what?
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I see that long-haired, pink-and-purple-wearing Jazz is so upset at being thought a girl that he won't go to school

That's a bloody massive assumption, and has been generated by something other than this article or anything Kathy Witterick has said. Jazz isn't upset at being thought a girl. You don't know very much about Jazz. This article isn't really about him, but the radio bit mentioned him a lot. He's not hiding from being thought a girl. What I'm gleaning (another assumption, just an educated hunch) is that he may have gender identity issues, and they are trying to give him a bit of space to deal with those outside of all the pressure everyone, peers and (obviously) adults put on him. They are helping him work with it.

the way this couple is dealing with that is hiding him away at home

I don't think you get to basically call them media whores and then accuse them of hiding Jazz away at home at the same time. I'm not a big defender of homeschooling, but these people are hardly the first to do it.

They aren't doing anything to actually address the issue that is hurting Jazz--the way other kids react to him based on their perceptions.

You have no idea what is hurting Jazz. This article is not about that. This is another big huge assumption, and it's based on a complete absence of understanding what the issues involved actually are. Gender identity issues aren't just about other people. They are also internal. They are certainly made worse by other people. But this isn't only an external issue. None of this is as simple as you seem to think it is.

their constant focus on OMG Gender just makes it all into an even bigger deal.

Wait...so not talking about the sex of one of their children is their constant focus on gender? Don't you think the constant questions about the gender of an infant is more of a constant focus than not wanting to talk about it? Oh, you mean, they have a kid with apparent gender identity issues, and as mature, thoughtful parents it is a subject that they are willing to broach in private and in public? Is that really an argument you want to make? You know that any time someone outside the mainstream status quo makes the slightest peep about their differences the usual refrain is "don't shove our faces in it?" Do you think they should squelch the kid, tell him over and over he is a boy and should present as such, send him to school to be bullied because that will solve his issues? And you think THAT is the compassionate approach? THAT is changing the world?

But talking to the press about the fact that we fixate on childhood gender roles to a crazy degree (obvious and we all know this is true), and that maybe some kids get hurt in the process: that is the crazy thing that will change nothing?

You're aware that attitudes change though public discussion, right? That's how things happen? Did it occur to you that they might be willing to talk to the Star about this because they're hoping it will make the place more welcoming for other kids with questions about gender?
posted by Hildegarde at 8:33 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I see that long-haired, pink-and-purple-wearing Jazz is so upset at being thought a girl that he won't go to school

That's a bloody massive assumption, and has been generated by something other than this article or anything Kathy Witterick has said


Straight out of the article: "But he doesn’t like being called a girl. Recently, he asked his mom to write a note on his application to the High Park Nature Centre because he likes the group leaders and wants them to know he’s a boy.

Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. “When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender,” says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.

That’s mostly why he doesn’t want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn’t say more."

You don't know very much about Jazz. This article isn't really about him, but the radio bit mentioned him a lot.

And you know Jazz a lot because of that radio bit? Good for you. This FPP is about the article, though, and that's where my take comes from. But if you would like to link to 'the radio bit', I'd love to listen to it.

the way this couple is dealing with that is hiding him away at home

I don't think you get to basically call them media whores and then accuse them of hiding Jazz away at home at the same time.


I didn't use the term media whores, but they can be, and are, doing both. They are talking to the media about Storm and the family and posting pictures of them, while keeping Jazz at home so they don't have to actually address the consequences of their actions, which is the way he is being treated at school as a result of all this.

They aren't doing anything to actually address the issue that is hurting Jazz--the way other kids react to him based on their perceptions.

You have no idea what is hurting Jazz. This article is not about that.


It is specifically stated in the article that Jazz is upset because 1) he has been called a girl, and 2) children and teachers at the school reacted over his gender.

their constant focus on OMG Gender just makes it all into an even bigger deal.

Wait...so not talking about the sex of one of their children is their constant focus on gender?


They sent out announcements when Storm was born, and they didn't just leave off the gender, they included this: "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? ...)".

They're talking to the media about gender (including, apparently, a radio show with 'a lot' more about Jazz, according to you) and have nicknamed one of their children the Gender Explorer.

yep, I'd say that's constantly focusing on gender.

Do you think they should squelch the kid, tell him over and over he is a boy and should present as such, send him to school to be bullied because that will solve his issues?

I've already said that I think they should treat him like a kid, not their poster child, and talk to the kids at school about how Jazz is just this cool kid who likes pink and purple and whatever and deserves to be treated with respect. I don't know where you got this "telling him over and over he is a boy" idea, as I have specifically said that I think they should just let Jazz be Jazz without focusing exclusively on gender.

Did it occur to you that they might be willing to talk to the Star about this because they're hoping it will make the place more welcoming for other kids with questions about gender?

What place? I would think the place to start would be at the local level. But they've decided to cut themselves off from the local school because they didn't like the way the students and teachers reacted, instead of starting a meaningful dialogue. That's in direct opposition to what they say is their whole motivation, "They don’t want to isolate their kids from the world, but, when it’s meaningful, talk about gender."

So then, when their neighbors want to talk about gender, they decide not to tell anyone what Storm's gender is. They're the inconsistent ones, not me.
posted by misha at 10:46 AM on May 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


More like "Agenda Explorer."
posted by adipocere at 7:57 PM on May 27, 2011


It is specifically stated in the article that Jazz is upset because 1) he has been called a girl, and 2) children and teachers at the school reacted over his gender.


So the way I'm interpreting Jazz's reluctance to go to school and the "reacted over his gender" part is that Jazz went to school in his usual attire and hairstyle, which is apparently quite feminine per the article, and other kids teased him for being a boy who looks like a girl. Lots of "EWWWWWWW!!!!!!" and such, like little kids do when they're grossed out. I sure wouldn't want to go to school with those kids, if it were me they were making fun of.

Jazz seems like a sensitive kid, as portrayed in the article. He also clearly likes to wear his hair in braids and wear clothes in pretty colors and maybe have a sparkly tiara on, too. It's also clear that his parents don't want to discourage him from dressing the way he wants, and I applaud that.
posted by palomar at 8:54 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Argh, hit post too soon. Anyway, some kids are way, way more sensitive than others, and if Jazz needs a little more time in a safe, controlled enviroment until he feels secure enough with himself to tell mean little kids, "I'm a boy AND I wear princess clothes, deal with it," hey, no skin off my nose.
posted by palomar at 8:58 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also clear that his parents don't want to discourage him from dressing the way he wants, and I applaud that.

I wonder how much the parents are doing to prepare their kids for getting made fun of. Just because the teasing isn't right and isn't fair, doesn't mean it's not going to happen. I'm all for letting the kids dress how they want, but if they're not telling Jazz "you can wear your hair in braids, but peoplewill make fun of you," they're doing him a great disservice. Not everyone in life is going to be as accepting of him as his parents are. Teaching him to have a thick skin is a huge part of the battle.
posted by phunniemee at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right. Unfortunately, since the article didn't delve into an in-depth view of exactly how the family handled the situation at school, we don't know precisely what the parents are doing to help him grow that thick skin. Some kids never grow it. It took me until my 20's to really get a thick skin, and I went to public school the whole time and was luckily cis-gendered. I can't imagine the difficulty Jazz's parents face.

My parents never prepared me for the teasing I faced. What should Jazz's parents be doing to prepare him, beyond telling him he might be teased? Is telling a child that people are going to hurt them helpful? I don't have kids so I don't know what the protocol is for telling kids to toughen up.
posted by palomar at 9:08 AM on May 28, 2011


Frowner: "There are all kinds of things which we gently deplore - raising kids to be homophobes, raising them to be against evolution, raising them in houses with unsecured guns, feeding them horrible food, refusing to vaccinate - but no, it's the 'let them sort out their gender more slowly and based on fewer social cues' thing that get cries of 'this is child abuse'."

I'm on the record stating that refusal to vaccinate and feeding children horrible food are both forms of abuse.

I think what these parents are doing falls far short of "abuse", but isn't the great progressive achievement folks want it to be either. Though I often disagree with her to the point of spittle-flecked fury, St. Alia has a point here (though Brandon Blatcher said it better).

It would be one thing if they simply omitted gender imprinting on their children to the extent that that's possible. If they told their inquisitive friends "Storm was born with [fe]male genitalia", and personally bore the burden of explaining why they won't give a simple answer what is (to most people) a straightforward and innocuous question.

We get it. You traveled through Mexico and learned from the Zapatistas. You went to Cuba and learned of Castro's revolution. You named your child "after whipped winds and dark rain clouds, because they are beautiful and transformative". I don't want to offend you with a gender-biased expression, so I'll congratulate you on being such an effective strawperson for the religious right.

I snark, but I'm actually enthusiastic about people trying to shift the Overton window to the left. What I'm less okay with, is people using their children as accessories to their personal political views. Your obligations as a parent are thus: These parents are doing neither. Their children did not choose to be icons of gender agnosticism. As much as we sympathize with and defend gay kids who grew up in fundie households, we should be aware that these kids may find their true path in the arms of intolerant fundamentalism and they have the right to do so.

It is not okay for your parents to choose your worldview for you, even when we agree with their worldview.
posted by Riki tiki at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2011


Riki tiki: “What I'm less okay with, is people using their children as accessories to their personal political views. Your obligations as a parent are thus: ¶ Allow your children to blend in if they want, because "being normal" is actually okay even when our standards of normality are kind of fucked. ¶ Teach your children the critical thinking skills required to express the individualism they choose to express. These parents are doing neither. Their children did not choose to be icons of gender agnosticism.”

How the hell do you even know that? I've said this already, but the judgementalism on display in this thread is sort of obnoxious. I know it's everybody's favorite pastime to inflict any and all parent-child issues we have on people by telling them how they should raise their own damned kids, and I know it's fun to look at another couple and tsk-tsk about all the little ways they must be doing it wrong, but we have no call for saying this about people we do not know whom we have never met.

For all we know, this family is the happiest family in the world. For all we know, the kids are so incredibly joyous to be alive in that home that they dance and sing. Isn't that what we should be hoping for? Isn't that what we should be expecting? Is it ever a good thing to simply assume the very worst without any evidence, and to loudly announce that these children must be miserable and wretched?

Furthermore: the whole "accessories to their personal political views!" bullshit should end here, because it's disingenuous. "Personal political views" can be translated as: "political views which some silly people might hold, but which I disagree with, and which any rational parent should drop promptly." In the course of history we've seen denigration of all kinds of "personal political views" such as – yes, I brought this up before, and I'll bring it up again – the widespread notion during the 1950s and 1960s in America that the idea of equality for black Americans was 'fine in principle, but when you come to raising children, you shouldn't use them as accessories to your personal political views.' Any parent who had the audacity to tell their kids that black people deserved equal protection under the law and equal treatment by society was tut-tutted and told that they were turning their ideals into child abuse.

Why? Because they were teaching their kids the right way to act. They were teaching their kids right from wrong. And, as difficult as it may be for people to believe, these two parents actually have the audacious conviction that gender equality and acceptance regardless of gender preference are the right thing for society. And they have the boldness to actually teach their kids the things that they believe are right.

It's not stunt parenting to make a point with your children about right and wrong. In fact, any parent who doesn't have "personal political views" about right and wrong and justice, any parent who doesn't try to instill these things in kids and impress upon them what it means to be open-minded and respectful and honor all humans regardless of who they are, is a failed parent.

And, all that aside, we really have no idea how well these poor people are raising their kids. We're just in such a goddamned hurry to appear as wonderful self-righteous parenting gurus that we rush to the scene to declaim them and announce that they are parenting failures. Sincerely, I wonder if anybody here has had that said about themselves, or has thought about what that's like – particularly for kids, mind you. What will it be like when Storm or Jazz or Kio reads this thread years from now? Shitty, that's what. Because some people apparently were not taught by their parents how to respect other people as human beings.
posted by koeselitz at 4:12 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


phunniemee: “I wonder how much the parents are doing to prepare their kids for getting made fun of. Just because the teasing isn't right and isn't fair, doesn't mean it's not going to happen. I'm all for letting the kids dress how they want, but if they're not telling Jazz 'you can wear your hair in braids, but people will make fun of you,' they're doing him a great disservice. Not everyone in life is going to be as accepting of him as his parents are. Teaching him to have a thick skin is a huge part of the battle.”

If you think "teaching [kids] to have a thick skin" is an important part of parenting, I wish you'd met my grandfather when he was alive. He felt as though it was a good idea to knock his kids around and insult them frequently because otherwise they'd get "soft." He'd like what you're saying here a lot.

Also, if you don't know how awful it is to have a parent sigh and tell you that you're going to get made fun of if you wear that outside the house, I genuinely hope you never have to.
posted by koeselitz at 4:20 PM on May 28, 2011


Sometimes an issue is too complex to really figure out. That's how I feel here. Ideal world, we would know what gender a kid is at birth and raise them with that in mind.

The ideal is to neither push nor prod in either direction too much. I think most of us agree on that, and a lot of the conflict here is about how best to achieve that ideal.

I don't know enough about these parents or these kids to judge anything about their parenting, but I do agree the point would hit home with me better if Dad was in a princess outfit too.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:29 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "Any parent who had the audacity to tell their kids that black people deserved equal protection under the law and equal treatment by society was tut-tutted and told that they were turning their ideals into child abuse."

You're just being disingenuous here. This is not about the values you teach your child. This is about making your child's identity a part of your own values, and vice versa.

Your analogy would only apply if there was a couple in the 1960s who (somehow) refused to reveal their child's race because of their views on racial equality. Yes, those views are great and right but the acrobatics they'd go through to conceal that information would be damaging enough even *before* they made a media spectacle of it.

koeselitz: "If you think "teaching [kids] to have a thick skin" is an important part of parenting, I wish you'd met my grandfather when he was alive. He felt as though it was a good idea to knock his kids around and insult them frequently because otherwise they'd get "soft.""

Believe it or not, there are fuzzy grey-area scenarios where "preparing kids for the possibility that they'll be criticized" is not synonymous with physically assaulting them.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:33 PM on May 28, 2011


Riki tiki: “You're just being disingenuous here. This is not about the values you teach your child. This is about making your child's identity a part of your own values, and vice versa.”

I guess the point I was making was that the distinction between 'general values' (which apparently you should teach children) and 'your own values' (which apparently you shouldn't inflict on them) seems like a weird and sort of nonexistent distinction.

And I get that your problem is that it seems to you that it looks kind of like they're making this a thing definitional of a child's identity, but I don't see how you can know that, either. The things that happen within the family unit are not things we're privy to. That's just how families are. They say they're raising their kids openly, giving them the freedom to be whomever they want inside and outside the home, and since I don't see anything here that contradicts that claim I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I think the assumption that they're bending their childrens' entire lives into their own political aims is an assumption that has no evidence behind it whatsoever. Honestly, it seems like a projection to me. We all know parents who have done that; and yes, it can suck. But I don't see any reason to think that it's happening here.

The civil rights analogy was indeed not quite on. Since it seems to me that gender bias is almost a kind of religion, it seems to me that a better analogy might be to a couple who refuses to announce their child's religious status until that child is old enough to decide what she or he wants to say to people about it. That often annoys people, but I think it makes sense; it means giving kids a respectful distance in which to choose what they feel is most natural.

“Believe it or not, there are fuzzy grey-area scenarios where "preparing kids for the possibility that they'll be criticized" is not synonymous with physically assaulting them.”

I agree. But you should think a bit about what this means; it is much, much more difficult than most people realize when they say it. Sincerely, I mean it when I draw that out, because 98% of the parents I have met in my lifetime who felt strongly that kids should be taught to have thicker skins have been at least hurtful to their children.

I know that's just correlation, and correlation doesn't equal causation. However, in practice, it's a very, very difficult line to walk, I think. When your kid wants to wear that ridiculous shirt, I think it can be tempting to laugh and tell them they look silly; or at the very least, to pooh-pooh the things they actually really like and teach them that they should try to be conformist in order to avoid teasing. Should children be taught that? I don't think so, although I know this isn't an easy thing.
posted by koeselitz at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2011


I agree. But you should think a bit about what this means; it is much, much more difficult than most people realize when they say it.

"Kiddo, I'm so proud of you for making your own choices, and you know that your dad and I will always love you no matter what. Don't be surprised if the other kids in your class make fun of you for wearing your hair in pigtails. Most boys don't wear their hair in pigtails, so most people won't understand what you do. It's your choice how you want to wear your hair, and I'll respect you no matter what you choose. OK, now let me check your math homework."

How's that?
posted by phunniemee at 7:12 PM on May 28, 2011


I just think it's more complicated than that, phunniemee.

One of my main messages to my kids will be: "make your own choices, regardless of the way that other people make you feel about them." It will be: "don't let pressure from other people change who you are or what you want to be." So if I then turn around and say: "oh, by the way, I love you, but that hairstyle will get you made fun of by the other kids" – well, it just seems very difficult to impart that information in that way without sending a completely mixed message.

As a kid, I can imagine wondering: "why is dad telling me this? Didn't he tell me I shouldn't care if the other kids make fun of me? Maybe he didn't really mean that. I don't get it."
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 PM on May 28, 2011


... and it also doesn't seem like preparation so much as the application of pressure. Yes, I know you can couch it in terms that make it clear you love the child; but there's really no reason to tell the kid that they're going to get bullied if they wear their hair like that without implying that they should act on that information, and there's no direct way for a kid to think of to act on that information without just conforming and playing along with whatever society wants.

I guess I just feel very strongly about not pressuring my kids to try to be like everybody else. I know you're not saying that that's what people should do at all, but I can't see how I could say what you're suggesting without it sounding like that to a kid. And that's something I really think about, contemplating how I'll deal with the whole fatherhood thing.
posted by koeselitz at 9:30 PM on May 28, 2011


"well, it just seems very difficult to impart that information in that way without sending a completely mixed message. As a kid, I can imagine wondering: "why is dad telling me this? Didn't he tell me I shouldn't care if the other kids make fun of me? Maybe he didn't really mean that. I don't get it.""

Respectfully, kids are not stupid, and they are perfectly capable of holding two contradicting thoughts at once, such as "You are too young to have sex. Here is how a condom works." (contrary to popular belief in some parts of the world, teaching them ABOUT sex does not make them HAVE sex) or "Don't you dare drink at that party. If you've been drinking, call us any time, middle of the night, and we will come get you because it is much more important you get home safe." Whatever.

As someone who both marches to the beat of my own drummer AND is appallingly thin-skinned, I received EXACTLY the two messages you're talking about from my parents from very early on: You're perfect and awesome the way you are and should do what makes you happy; and If you do X, people are going to mock you. I remember being six years old and understanding that my parents were telling me the second to protect my emotional well-being. That the world was not entirely full of awesome people; some people are mean. Not every hill is a hill you want to die on, even when you're six, and my parents helped me think through the consequences of my actions, prepare for public reaction, and learn to decide when I'd found a hill I wanted to die on. Yes, in my teenaged years we had a few pitched battles where I was adamant I wanted to go ahead with something socially appalling and they were deeply concerned I was going to end up extremely hurt by it, but I understood that THAT was their concern, and once it was clear that was my hill, they were always in my corner.

I'm 33 and I still need a thicker skin. I HATE it when people don't like me, even when they're people who don't matter. But I'm a much happier "individualist" than most individualists I know, because I'm quite comfortable navigating my more unusual desires/life/needs/whatever and society's expectations, and I'm quite aware of when I'm going to transgress in a way that might provoke negative reactions, and I'm quite prepared to deal with those negative reactions in constructive ways. I have never felt, either as a child or as an adult, that I couldn't go ahead and do the things I want to do. Because my parents taught me how by teaching me both to be true to myself AND how to negotiate and navigate society's expectations and demands.

And you know what? It's totally legitimate to acknowledge to children that they should make their own choices but that social pressure is hard and sometimes sucks. "You should ignore what others say and do what you think is right" is a nice message and all, but there are VERY few people in the world capable of ignoring others completely. What about, "I know, sweetie, it's really hard when you think one thing is right and everyone else is pushing you to do something else. It's hard to go against your friends, people you like and respect, even if you know you're right. What do you think you should do?" Let the kid TALK about those fears and anxieties and ACKNOWLEDGE that social pressure is real and powerful. Empower your child to find the strength within himself to recognize those pressures and overcome him, rather than being a clueless adult who says, "Just do your own thing, be yourself, don't worry about other people." Who doesn't worry about other people? That's crazy talk. Humans are built to worry about their status in the monkey tribe. You can't just ignore it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:12 AM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


'Genderless' baby's mother responds to media frenzy.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:31 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indulgent idea that puts parents before child - article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:15 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


(by Jane McCredie, author of Making Girls and Boys: Inside the Science of Sex - University of New South Wales Press. ABC Radio interview here)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:23 PM on May 29, 2011


Just reading the response of the mother, this stood out:

The strong, lightning-fast, vitriolic response was a shock. These voices demonstrate how much parents are in the world's critical eye

... yes, parents who give interviews about their out-of-the-ordinary parenting style are very much in the world's critical eye. I love her pie in the sky naivety, "I can't believe people were actually upset by our amazing parenting style!" - are there really people in the world today who are surprised when people not only disagree with them, but will disagree with them to the point of anger?
posted by antifuse at 11:21 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


... yes, parents who give interviews about their out-of-the-ordinary parenting style are very much in the world's critical eye.

Not interviews. One (1) interview. I don't think that's an insignificant correction.

"we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including all-expenses paid trips to New York City to tell our story on American morning television"
posted by mrgrimm at 1:32 PM on May 31, 2011


Based on her response, this mom is A-OK with me.

I don't understand the vitriol either.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Look, I don't think anyone is actually being vitriolic about this.


Here less than elsewhere but:

In that context what they are doing is child abuse

Vitriol. Do you prefer invective or vituperation?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2011


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