Separated at birth

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday June 1, 2011
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(Illustration: Christine Smith)
(Illustration: Christine Smith)

In this era of instant information overload, even the smallest of fads becomes big news. From vajazzling to planking, we live in a time when even the most inane trends are inescapable.

Enter the gender reveal party.

Perhaps this replaces the typical baby shower or just adds another excuse for a pregnant couple to throw a big ticket party, but the idea is a simple one: gather your friends together and throw a party where you'll reveal the sex of the still-gestating child. It seems as if most gender reveal party planning sites suggested having a cake with colored frosting, or a colored gumball in the middle of cupcakes.

It all seems a bit weird to me, but then again, the idea of focusing so intently on the genitals of an infant – let alone one not yet born – does seem a bit off in modern society. But I digress.

The gender reveal party just seems like an extension of a century long move toward stronger and stronger gender division. As discussed in the book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America by Jo Paolett, children one hundred years ago were raised quite differently. A child of any sex would wear long hair – perhaps in fashionable curls – and wear a dress, Mary Janes, and frills.

Far from being considered a girl's outfit, such attire for young children was viewed as gender neutral. It would not be until children sat through their first haircut at age 6 or 7 that they would move into gender-specific attire.

I'm sure that doctors still announced the sex at birth then, and there was likely plenty of other gender-specific expectations present, but when it came to matters of appearance, the look was not gender specific and would be, by modern standards, viewed as girlish.

Pink for girls and blue for boys was still a long time to come: white was the color for children, thanks to its ability to be bleached clean. It wasn't until the teens and 1920s that you begun to see pastel tones for children, and it would be another two decades before those colors were divided into the gender-specific camps we have today.

There have been times when we stepped back a bit, such as in my youth when unisex fashion was all the rage. Pink and blue pastels were out as well, in favor of bright, bold, and in some cases eye-searing color combinations.

Of course, when I was born there weren't gender reveal parties, nor was a child's genitals on view via ultrasound. My earliest clothing was not pink or blue, but a presumably neutral yellow.

All this swung back the other way in the 1980s, as ultrasound became an option and the somewhat androgynous fashions of a decade before were replaced with more gender specific attire.

It may have been the era that brought us Boy George and Annie Lennox, but gender was more codified than ever. Store toy aisles became the place of transformers and ninja turtles for boys, little ponies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls for girls. And now people can shop for all the things to help get their boy or girl off to a color-coded start. You could even get elastic headbands in gender-friendly pink to wrap around your baby girl's head, lest anyone mistake them for a boy.

So in a century's time we've gone from children becoming gender segregated at age 6 or so, to having gender reveals before a kid is even born. Enter into this era Baby Storm.

Storm is the child of Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto. After experiences with her first two children, Kio and Jazz, the couple decided to go very much the opposite route of the gender reveal party. They've opted to not reveal Storm's sex, letting hir decide on hir own.

"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? ...)" was how the email to family and friends from Stocker and Witterick read. So much for pink and blue icing.

Unlike the way this story has been framed in much of the media – and certainly in the conservative arenas that have painted the story as that of the so-called genderless child – those closest to Storm do know and acknowledge hir sex. Further, Storm will also have plenty of say in how they choose to present when the time comes. This is about the family resisting the barrage of messages from well-meaning outsiders trying to tell Baby Storm how they should act for one of their birth sex.

I mentioned the media and others above. The usual talking heads have weighed in, claiming all sorts of psychological damage that Storm will face, let alone accusing Witterick and Stocker of abuse simply for not disclosing their child's gender. No such accusations are leveled at those who feel it necessary to equip their young ones with tiny baseball hats and denim-patterned diapers to somehow preserve their masculinity – let alone monsters like Pedro Jones who allegedly pummeled a 17-month-old baby in his care to death because, "I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl."

In a world with gender division forced that strongly, I wish Baby Storm and hir parents the best of luck, and hope that their stance may make it safer for other children to express themselves without having a gender forced on them from before birth.

That would be a fad I could get behind.

Gwen Smith thinks Storm is also one heck of a cool name. You can find her online at