Ask Kathy Witterick and David Stocker whether their cute-as-button baby is a boy or a girl and the response you will get is ... silence. In Toronto, Canada, a storm has brewed over the decision of these two parents to keep the gender of their 4-month-old baby, named Storm, a secret from almost everyone who comes into contact with the child. The only people who know the baby's a boy or girl are Storm's brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend, and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a home birth.
Why all the secrecy over one of the most basic facts of life? Witterick and Stocker say that they want their child to choose its gender identity for itself, without undue influence and pressure from society over what it means to be a boy or girl.
"When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, 'Is it a girl or a boy?'" Witterick says in an interview with the Toronto Star. "If you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs," Stocker adds.
When Storm was born, the couple sent an email birth announcement to friends and family that read: "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? ...)."
The email was sent, Witterick and Stocker explain, to give their child the ability to figure out whether its a boy or a girl in a space unconstrained by social norms about males and females.
"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?!'" Witterick wrote in an email to the newspaper.
The couple's decision to raise a "genderless baby" has been greeted with mixed reactions, according to the Toronto Star. Storm's grandparents are supportive of keeping the baby's gender a secret, but resent having to explain the gender-free baby to friends and co-workers. Friends told the newspaper that they worry Witterick and Stocker are imposing their political and ideological values on a newborn—the opposite of free choice. Most of all, people are concerned Storm is being set up for a life of bullying and ridicule.
But what do child psychologists make of all this? "If the parents are able to fulfill all of the needs of the child and are able to meet the child's needs in terms of guidance and nurturance, I really doubt that there's going to be any real damage to the child. I'm more concerned about how other people are going to react to the child," clinical psychologist Jeff Gadere tells FoxNews.
As for the rest of the family, Storm's two brothers, Jazz and Kio, are encouraged by their parents to explore gender meanings by buying clothes they like—whether they're from the boys or girls department—wearing nail polish, playing with toys regardless of gender association, and growing their hair to whatever length they prefer."
Whether these gender-bending ways are healthy or not, at least one psychologist is concerned about asking two small boys to keep a secret about the baby of the family. "For very young children, just in their brains, they're not ready to do the kind of sophisticated discernment we do about when a secret is necessary," says Diane Ehrensaft, a California-based psychologist and author of Gender Born, Gender Made (quote via the Toronto Star).