- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2011

NEW YORK — Ridiculous or ultra-enlightened? A Toronto couple’s decision to keep the gender of their 4-month-old baby a secret has touched off a sometimes nasty debate over how far parents should go in protecting young ones from society’s boy-girl biases.

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker recently landed on the front page of the Toronto Star, explaining that they hope their third child, Storm, can remain untouched by the connotations of pink versus blue, male versus female, long enough to make up his or her own mind.

The decision has online haters and supporters of the family on hyperdrive. Child development experts, meanwhile, question the impact on the cherubic infant later in life and whether the couple have gone too far in their quest for gender neutrality.

“This is not a secret without consequences,” said Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., and instructor at the University of Maryland. “This seems more controlling than the helicopter parents.”

Soon after the baby was born, in a pool of water at home, Ms. Witterick, 38, and Mr. Stocker, 39, sent an email announcing to loved ones: “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? …).”

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, pictured with their 5-year-old son Jazz and 4-month-old baby Storm, have called their decision not to announce Storm's gender "a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation." (Toronto Star via Associated Press)
Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, pictured with their 5-year-old son Jazz and ... more >

The couple has been overwhelmed by attention since the story was published last week, telling the Associated Press in an email Friday the idea that “the whole world must know what is between the baby’s legs is unhealthy, unsafe and voyeuristic. We know — and we’re keeping it clean, safe, healthy and private (not secret!).”

Storm’s two older siblings — both on-the-record boys — know the baby’s gender, along with a close family friend and the midwives who delivered the child. They plan to keep the secret as long as Storm, 2-year-old Kio and 5-year-old Jazz are OK with it.

There’s nothing unusual about Storm’s genitalia, the parents note, but they’ve been stung by criticism of their older children for liking pink and purple clothes, bikes and other “girly” things, like the occasional dress and long hair for Jazz, who’s currently sporting braids.

Among neighbors and others, the couple has faced the cringe-inducing question so many other parents have also heard: “Oh what a lovely child. Boy or a girl?” But, Mr. Stocker told the paper, “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.”

Liza Hough, 29, a student of traditional medicine in Alameda, Calif., isn’t a parent but felt so strongly about the family’s “courage” in trying to knock down gender walls that she began a Facebook page in support. She called their approach “peaceful radicalism” and told the AP: “Whether these parents intended it as a political move or not, it is precisely what it has become.”

Ms. Witterick “unschools” all three of her children. It’s a fringe style of homeschooling based on a no report card, textbook or test philosophy of letting kids explore the world for themselves. She and Mr. Stocker, who teaches at a small alternative school, say they have the support of the children’s grandparents, though the grandparents were confused at first about the gender-free secret for chubby-cheeked, blond-haired Storm.

Can a child at a very young age navigate a gender choice for him or herself, as these parents hope? Or is it a case of political correctness gone awry?

“When I read the article it kind of angered me, that I would read something like this about parents doing this kind of social experiment on their own kids,” said Stephan Tan, 36, a music school owner and father of four young children in Brampton, Ontario.

He put up a Facebook page in opposition to the family’s secret and has commenters hurling insults and threatening to report the couple to child abuse investigators.

“What struck me was that the father had made a statement that he found it obnoxious that so many parents make so many choices for their children, but it’s plain to see that he himself is making a very extreme choice for his child,” Mr. Tan said.

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