Saturday, May 28, 2011

A gender storm leaves us all in danger

When I was studying at the John Paul II Institute, one of my professors would frequently remark that the world's conception of freedom, when logically carried out, would make choosing one's own gender the ultimate act of freedom. Since we see freedom as the ability to choose between A and B without any desire or pull or "claim" from A or from B, then "freedom" would have to lead us to ignore our bodies and our gender as already "deciding" something for us.

We would all ponder our professor's words, knowing that they made sense. But what happens when one is confronted with a news story that makes his words also prophetic?

A Toronto couple is raising their child, Storm, without gender. They refuse to tell anyone whether or not they have a son or a daughter. And their other two sons, Jazz and Kio, are encouraged to experiment with how they defy gender stereotypes. So, they pull out their dresses and pigtails and pink sparkly bikes just because they want to. And the parents stand proud that their children aren't going to bow down to any preconceived notions of gender.

The article startlingly underscored the exact reasoning of my professor:

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...).”


Witterick and Stocker believe they are giving their children the freedom to choose who they want to be, unconstrained by social norms about males and females. Some say their choice is alienating.

In an age where helicopter parents hover nervously over their kids micromanaging their lives, and tiger moms ferociously push their progeny to get into Harvard, Stocker, 39, and Witterick, 38, believe kids can make meaningful decisions for themselves from a very early age.

“What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” says Stocker.

Jazz and Kio have picked out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores since they were 18 months old. Just this week, Jazz unearthed a pink dress at Value Village, which he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom. It feels so nice.” The boys decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.

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.

So, we have reached a world where the body doesn't matter. And if the body doesn't matter, then being male or female doesn't appear to make much of a difference.

If, on the other hand, we see that God is Love -- literally, a Communion of Persons -- and that He creates us in His image and likeness, with the ability to give and receive love, then we also see that our bodies have a language. Our bodies matter. Our bodies aren't some sort of "dumb matter" that just so happens to exist. Our bodies are saturated with meaning -- and that meaning is love. Since love requires giving and receiving, we also see a concrete reminder of our call to love in our masculinity and femininity. Our gender is expressed biologically because our bodies express something more. They point us to our origin and destiny of love.

But the inherent meaning of the body is something we have largely forgotten. Now, instead, we have parents content with experimenting with their children, as if they were animals rather than human persons:

Dr. Ken Zucker, considered a world expert on gender identity and head of the gender identity service for children at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, calls this a “social experiment of nurture.” The broader question, he says, is how much influence parents have on their kids. If Ehrensaft leans toward nature, Zucker puts more emphasis on nurture. Even when parents don’t make a choice, that’s still a choice, and one that can impact the children.

When asked what psychological harm, if any, could come from keeping the sex of a child secret, Zucker said: “One will find out.”

Is "one will find out" really an attitude we want to have to our children?

And finally, we have the closing line of the article:

“Everyone keeps asking us, ‘When will this end?’” says Witterick. “And we always turn the question back. Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?”

And we're brought back to my professor, who said that in the world's logic of "freedom" the only logical conclusion would be that choosing one's gender would be seen as the ultimate freedom. Most of us will read this story and shake our heads in outrage -- and we should -- but maybe the problem is lurking much deeper than one couple's alarming decision to raise a "genderless" child. Maybe if we saw freedom as a matter of being in relation, masculinity and femininity as a gift and not a curse, and life as a road to God and not an arbitrary nothingness, then children like Storm would have a very different life.


  1.       “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.”
          “Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire"
    "Without Liberty, Law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without Law, Liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness." James Wi

  2. Great comments Emily -

    I saw this earlier on the news and was horribly shocked. The message of how our bodies matter and our gender is inherent to us as persons is something that society has chosen to turn its back on.

    thanks for sharing!

  3. Great comments Emily - I was shocked upon hearing this story and horrified at the responses of the parents and children.

    Thanks for sharing!