I was recently quite disturbed by this story of a couple in Toronto who have refused to divulge the gender of their recently born child, who they named Storm (how perfectly gender ambiguous!). Though Storm does indeed have a gender, Storm’s parents–Kathy Witterick and David Stocker–aren’t telling anyone, not even family and close friends, what it is.
“We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now–a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation,” wrote Witterick in an email. “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?!.”
“What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” said Stocker.
There are many troubling aspects to this story, not least of which is the fact that a newborn has been turned into a political statement by his/her “progressive and proud of it!” parents. If we’re talking about giving children more choices and more freedom, did anyone ask little Storm if he/she wanted to be turned into a political statement about gender ambiguity? No one asked Storm, but nevertheless it appears the baby is fated to live a life forever tainted by his/her parents refusal to raise a child with gender as a given attribute of identity.
More troubling is the notion that a baby’s gender is a choice that parents can make for it, or even a choice that the baby can make for itself at some point. I realize that this is contested territory in our society today (look no further than the new documentary Becoming Chaz to see how normalized the notion of gender malleability is in our culture), but I just have a hard time accepting this extreme insistence on freedom of choice in the realm of something as fundamental as gender. Are we really free to become anything we want to be, if science/surgery can make it possible? Where does it end? I suppose it’s a natural outgrowth of our society’s values of autonomy and liberty (no one but me controls my fate!) that now even the bodies we are born with are subject to our consumer preferences.
But perhaps most troubling in this story is the idea that making choices for children is a bad thing–that, even from birth, humans are entitled to decide everything for themselves, and that parents who get too pushy about dos and don’ts are merely cogs in the machine of an oppressive hegemony, hellbent on suffocating the freedom and fancy of autonomous individuals.
Personally, I’m thankful for rules. I’m thankful my parents lived in a world of moral norms, dos-and-don’ts, crime and punishment. I’m glad they didn’t let me decide everything for myself. I’m glad there were structures, guidelines, expectations. How awful to grow up in a formless void of anything-goes, “every feeling you have is true!” vapidity. We are fallen creatures, and every feeling we have is not true, good, or right. We need to learn that. We need people to tell us that we aren’t always right, even when we feel like we are.
In The Tree of Life, the boys have a hard time with their disciplinarian father (Brad Pitt) and seem to favor their more gracious mother (Jessica Chastain). But notice what happens when their father goes away for a trip. Under mom’s lenient watch, they get into all sorts of mischief. They discover their dark side. Freedom, unbound by the accountability of dad’s watchful eye, leads them to sin. It’s fun to be free, but it leads them down a dark path. Ultimately, they need their father. They need someone to tell them no, and they respect him all the more for it. This is loving: Being able to guide the unwieldy whims and freedom of someone you love into a pattern of virtue and restraint. Left to our own devices, free of all constraints and having no choices made for us, we’re bound for all sorts of trouble.
The whole thing reminds me of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (which I blogged about back in February), an album which sets forth an increasingly heralded ethos of embracing whoever and whatever you want to be. “There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are,” sings Gaga. “Cause he made you perfect, Babe… God makes no mistakes.”
But if God makes no mistakes, why not celebrate the gender of a baby who is born one way and not the other?
What Gaga is really trying to say is “YOU are God, and you make no mistakes… Forget how God, or evolution, or biology made you… None of that matters because you can change it any time you want. You are bound by no one and nothing.”
And that’s an ethos that can only lead little Storm, and the world in which he/she will grow up, into utter chaos.