No Longer Either/Or

Firstly, it is wonderful to finally to write again, especially with a story in need of another reading.

You may have heard of the Toronto family who decided to raise their new child without acknowledging the baby’s gender. Since the publication of the story, Kathy Witterick, David Stocker, and their three children have been at the center of normative outrage.

Comments range from support to anger, though I saw more of the latter. One woman wrote, “Never has an article left me so upset. These parents are turning their children into a bizarre lab experiment.” Witterick and Stocker raise there two sons, Jazz (age five) and Kio (age two) in a similar atmosphere of choice, one which overtly interrogates the prescribed rigidity of girl or boy.

The negative responses to this story remind me of our culture’s fear toward gender ambiguity. What happens when color, clothes, and hairstyles can no longer be used as shorthand? This image conjures instability and uncertainty, something hegemony violently demands. Perhaps this is where the anger comes from. Witterick and Stocker refer to this tension, the societal demands for conformity, as “the tyranny of pronouns.” Indeed, it is because Storm is dis-attached from “she” or “he” that fear is evoked.

The first time I heard about this family’s decision, I was impressed; I still am. Dominant culture has such sedimented beliefs toward gender, toward being able to identify “female” versus “male” at glance. With all the socially sanctioned markers gone, children can decide for themselves (what a concept!) how they will define their own subjectivity. Choice re-enters the equation.

With the rhetoric of “psychological harm” adding to the negative critiques, the language of normativity re-surfaces. I am reminded of how quickly society reinforces the boundaries of “normal” and “abnormal.” I am reminded of how anything that leaves the range of “normal” is seen as “bizarre.” I read Witterick and Stocker’s decision as a bold challenge to us: let us begin dismantling (more publicly) the belief that with birth comes a firm definition of gender. Dare to live as you wish to live. Move outside the two options “female” and “male.”

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