What’s your a-gender?

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I grew up with a protective “Italian Mama” and, when I was young, there were certain things I couldn’t do. These included anything from popping over to a friend’s house wearing a wrinkled, un-ironed t-shirt (“what will they think of our family?”) to going anywhere near the water whenever our school camps included a day at the beach (“you’ll die”). Even simply crossing the road typically used to involve a compulsory phone call home detailing the logistics of traversing the street in question and another informing her that I hadn’t died in the act. For all her motherly love, my mama was not a liberal parent.

What would she make of Canadian married couple and parents of three, David Stocker and Kathy Witterick, whose ultra-liberal take on parenting means that they are unwilling to interfere in so many aspects of their children’s lives? As dad David told the Toronto Star: “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious”. The two have recently gained worldwide exposure for granting their baby, four-month old Storm, full autonomy over something previously thought nonnegotiable: the kid’s own gender. Instead of being something indisputably natural, in this couple’s eyes, gender is unfairly forced upon on our offspring and should rather be the individual choice of the child, free of any parental pressure. Their stance was a firm, if somewhat confusingly worded one: “Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be?”

The Daily Mail had its usual “it’s-political-correctness-gone-mad!” slant on things with the mood on its online comment forum best represented by Fiona from Glasgow who concisely summed up her view: “idiot parents”. Moreover, many like Nic from Sussex were very willing to make up for the couple’s seeming indecision by making their own: “WHAT A GORGEOUS LITTLE BOY!!!” The web has been awash with accusations that the parents are either carrying out their own unethical social-engineering experiment or gathering publicity for a possible TV series. Either way, critics vent, they are forcing their kid into a lifetime of bullying and emotional confusion and are a perfect example of why parents should need a license to have children. Many mums simply wonder if these two don’t find parenting time-consuming and stressful enough as it is. Yet others herald the couple for their resistance to “bringing a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on its forehead”. In allowing their children to dress as they like – be it a superman costume or feather boa – and giving them the choice to play with either G.I Joe or Barbie dolls, they are simply taking parenting into their own worldly, liberal hands and not “letting Disney or Mattel run the lab”.

We live in increasingly open and accepting times. FHM (that bastion of liberalism and gender equality) has just voted a man, Andrej Pejic, as the 98th sexiest woman in the world and Elton John, who only recently became a father through a surrogate mother, was last week was nominated for “Celebrity Dad of the Year”. While I do ultimately believe that our gender, apart from in a tiny minority of cases, is something we are correctly born into and that what David and Kathy are doing is pretty wacky and potentially very harmful to Storm, I’ve just got off the phone to my mum reassuring her that I crossed Broad Street safely and in one piece on my way back from a lecture, so who am I to judge?

Alistair Luca Renton

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