Babies: Born This Way?

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.

21 responses to “Babies: Born This Way?

  1. People have a hard enough time finding their identity. Those first years are so crucial to development. It seems like the child will have a harder time deciding who he/she is when they grow up.

  2. The essence of all of this is rooted in the idea that we are born good/innocent/pure. Obviously, as Christians we know otherwise.

    I even know young-ish Christian couples having children and trying to avoid pink colors for their baby girl for some reason. That disturbs and saddens me greatly.

    An apt quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics:

    “Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

    The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, ” Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This , clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

  3. Projecting your political/cultural values into your children is hardly progressive. Human parents have always done this, nothing new under the sun. As a mental health social worker, I can also say that children generally do not do well when carrying potentially explosive secrets and stigma of this magnitude.

    I’m not outraged by this story, but I do pray that Witterick and Stocker will be open to thinking more holistically about their child’s best interests and consider the wisdom of family and friends with more parenting experience.

  4. Amen, brother Brett! Well said and right on.

  5. I think your forgetting something important Brett that some people do have to pick their gender because they are born with both genders. It is sometimes not as black and white as people want to think.

  6. Brett, I wonder if you understand the difference between sex and gender? Yes, every person is born sexed (some male, some female, some intersex, and many variations); however gender is a socialized construction. The communities we are surrounded by influence what is “OK” for each gender (actions, emotions, presentation, and so on). I think the parents might simply be attempting to let their child make those decisions for him/her self, free of the stigma and shame that some communities foist on us if we do not conform. Sure, some community standards are helpful and productive, but some aren’t.
    Also, you make the comments about the politicization of this situation. It seems to be assigning some negative motivations to the parents to think that they made this decision for purely political reasons. Perhaps they want a life free of undue guilt and shame for their child? Sadly, we live in a society that often values living according to cultural norms more than seeking the best. Because of this, yes, the decision becomes politicized.

    Just some thoughts. Thanks for posting on this topic.

  7. *revison*
    I’m sorry, it was “Dan” that made the comments about the political nature of the decision, not Brett. My apologies.

    Also, AJ: I wonder why the Christian young couple avoiding pink for their daughter disturbs and saddens you greatly? I’m not sure why someone allowing their daughter to choose her own favorite colors should arouse such alarm?

  8. Good posting. And good for you for being more respectful than I would have been; I’d refer to young Storm as “he” when the pronoun was required because I’d rather not call a baby “it” and because picking “he” would probably tick his parents off more than “she.”

  9. @Tony: You’re kidding right? If you don’t believe this is purely political, you’re very naive.

    Also, no guilt or shame, yeah good luck to as s/he gets older being known as the “sexless” baby/person Storm. This should be real easy to overcome.

  10. Wow. I do not know what to say. As shocking as this is, and disturbing, it is more sad. I’m only 15 and lack much cultural awareness but this si tragic. For some reason letting the child decide their gender at some point seems more cruel than accepting how the child was born. Because when that decision time comes the child is gonna be in a struggle.
    Just my thoughts.

  11. Poor kid…
    Storm, indeed!

    btw, I think it’s a boy. Just sayin’

    I wonder if it’s particularly American (or North American) to be so bent on an all-important quest for identity? It’s a major focus/theme treated like an irrevocable right, it seems. Don’t other cultures play this less attention?

    • Lisa- I think you might be right about the tendencies of certain cultures (like American culture) to place such haphazard importance on a sort of self-validating quest for identity. This “you can define your identity however you want to” mentality is just the natural next step in the trajectory of western hyper=individualism.

  12. I was incredibly disturbed and saddened to read this article too, Brett. I believe it’s a parent’s main responsibility (after helping to nurture a relationship with Christ) to prepare their child for the world around them, which will guarantee safety and success in their future. These parents are not only shirking this responsibility, they are burning it at the altar of progressive political beliefs.

    What will these poor kids do when they learn that they cannot choose their reality in the real world? When their boss says, “Wear a tutu to work one more time and you’re fired” or when a landlord tells them they cannot paint palm trees throughout their apartment? I think you hit it on the head when you said that it is a good thing for parents to make decisions for their children. Not all of them, of course. Otherwise the child won’t learn to think independently, but this family is a tragic example of modern progressive “thought” run amok and unfortunately it’s the kids who will pay the price when they realize, 10 or 15 years from now, that they were not given the tools to succeed in the world in which they find themselves.

    @ Tony, sex and gender are paired for a reason. It’s modern psychological gobbledy-gook to pretend that we can simply create our own gender however we choose.

    @AJ – Great quote!

  13. The thing that immediately comes to mind for me is this: did the parents want a boy and got a girl or want a girl and got a boy? Maybe what they are actually doing is working to reverse what they got, to be able to push their child towards what they want, despite their claims otherwise. Sure, that’s cynical, but that’s my immediate conspiracy theory response.

    I am reminded of a recent study in which men and women (straight and gay alike) were shown sexually provocative images so that their responses could be measured. The researchers measured the various responses of the different people to both same sex situations and opposite sex situations. On the one hand they measured according to what the subject said he/she was feeling/thinking and on the other hand they measured the physical response of the subject (heart rate, blood pressure, etc). According to the report I read, everyone – even those men and women who claimed to be attracted to their own sex – was MOST “aroused” by the opposite sex more than the same sex. So even lesbians had a stronger physical response to the opposite sex than they did their own sex, even when they claimed to have less of a response to the opposite sex.

    There is such a thing as nature, and as, CS Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, to declare otherwise is to add bricks to the “post-human world”. These parents are raising their children in a post-human environment and by doing so they risk, to borrow another Lewis’ phrase, they “castrate the geldings and bid them be fruitful”.

    This is a child that is being told he can do whatever he wants, the nature of things be damned. And one day, he, and his parents, will pay for it. I have a feeling this could turn out tragic.

  14. That was poorly written. Sorry.

    • Nonsense! I really appreciate these thoughts David. The Lewis quotes are certainly appropriate. The Abolition of Man definitely has been on my mind in thinking of these issues.

  15. Dear David Kern,

    Can provide a link, or better the full academic reference, for the study?
    It sounds very interesting.

    Kind regards

  16. As far as I can see it’s just a shameless publicity stunt. Honestly, just becuase they choose not to share the gender with the world (and in fact in just making that statement they are deliberately giving opportunity for people to choose it for them – how convoluted is that!), doesn’t change the fact that this child is…duh…already a boy or a girl.
    Children don’t understand ‘gender’ for their first couple of years anyway so, seriouly, what are they trying to prove?
    And then when the child asks, am i a boy or a girl, as all children do, what are they going to say…you choose? how absolutely ridiculous…even a two year old can work it out on their own!

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