Genderless Baby? Or Brainless Parents?

In the play Baby With the Bathwater by Christopher Durang written in 1983…Helen and John are very unprepared for parenthood. They can’t seem to name the baby. John thinks it’s a boy, but Helen says the doctors said they could decide later. When the baby cries, they can’t quite decide what to do. They raise him as a girl but he thinks and feels like a boy.  At the end of the play we meet Daisy – dressed as a girl, but otherwise a polite, confused young man. In a “jump cut” sort of scene, we follow his years and years of therapy, where he alternates feeling depressed and angry, and is unable to complete his Freshman essay on Gulliver’s Travels for over 5 years. The end the play comes full circle as the former Daisy and his young bride fondly regard their own baby—forgiving of the past but determined not to repeat its calamitous mistakes.

As the play demonstrates gender matters. Parents response to gender matters. Kids responses to their gender matters.  How we feel inside and think of ourselves is called gender identity. Which can be different than the physicality of our sex organs. Gender is many things but what we do know clinically is it matters biologically (meaning our brain), emotionally and physically. In Toronto 2011…Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. “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? …),” it said. That’s right. They’re not saying whether Storm is a boy or a girl.  There’s nothing ambiguous about the baby’s genitals. But as Stocker puts it: “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.” So only the parents, their two other children (both boys), a close friend, and the two midwives who helped deliver the now 4-month-old baby know its gender. Even the grandparents have been left in the dark.

Stocker and Witterick say the decision gives Storm the freedom to choose who he or she wants to be. “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” adds Stocker, a teacher at an alternative school. (Zachary Roth, Yahoo News May 24)  This is another example of parent’s narcissism and unhealthy needs hijacking their child’s childhood. Like bubble boy, Toddlers and Tiaras, John and Kate, or 25 Kids and Counting or any of the slew of reality shows featuring families and kids, the parents make decisions based on their own need to be known, to make a statement, to incite media curiosity and let’s face it make cold hard cash on the backs of their vulnerable children. My concern is the Stocker family may be trying to do the same thing with this “scheme” which is wrapped in some misguided belief that gender equality means not “knowing” ones gender. Short sighted and I believe abusive emotionally. What will follow if they continue these efforts over the long term will be requiring a whole lot of therapy to fix. This poor child is going to grow up with shame about his/her gender, anger and confusion toward their parents, and with the world watching! Frankly, it’s pathetic and disgusting!

While it is true, there are many choices that parents make for us growing up, in healthy parenting that is necessary. Children need boundaries, need to know that someone is in charge and need guidance in order to feel safe to push against those boundaries to discover who they are. Most of all, children deserve not to be a social experiment. In my opinion, raising your child with healthy gender identity does not mean denying or shrouding the fact of their male/ female or even hermaphroditic/ ambiguous gender. It means to raise a child with a strong sense and appreciation of who they are, a base of healthy self-esteem, from which to expand into all the possibilities of who they might become.

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