Mysterious Kin


(Warning: This column contains multiple references to baby genitals.)

Two of my brothers are married. (Not to each other.) At the moment, both of my sisters-in-law are pregnant, and are both due to deliver in mid-June. This is as it should be, as the almanac tells us that Snider mating season did indeed fall in September last year.

Jeff and Beth have taken the route of most modern parents and learned in advance what the child’s gender is. They already have two other kids, one of each sex, so all the novelty is gone anyway. Plus, it’s handy to know ahead of time what you’re having so you can make plans. If it’s a boy, you need to get blue nursery decor and buy clothing with trucks on it, and set up a college fund in case the lad doesn’t get a football scholarship. If it’s a girl, you have to paint everything pink and buy clothes with flowers and lace, and start saving up a dowry so that she will attract high-quality suitors. (It’s never too early to start planning for your daughter’s future!) Jeff and Beth are having a boy, and have distributed ultrasound photos among family members in order to prove it, I guess, not that anyone didn’t believe them. The grandmothers and aunts are cooing over how cute the fetus is, which of course is madness, since the fetus is currently floating in amniotic fluid and looks like a rubber monster from a David Cronenberg movie. I just can’t get over the fact that my nephew isn’t even born yet, and already we’re using modern technology to look at his junk.

Lane and Kelly, on the other hand, have instituted a “no spoilers” policy on their baby. They let their doctor tell them that it’s normal and healthy, and that there’s only one of them, but as far as the gender is concerned, they want to wait and be surprised on opening day. Not that it can really be much of a surprise. I mean, the options are either “baby boy” or “baby girl.” It’s basically a coin toss. Now, if there were other possibilities, then you’d have potential for some serious surprises. Like if usually women gave birth to either a boy or a girl, but sometimes it’s a fax machine, or a raccoon, or a bucket of sand, or whatever.

Once Lane and Kelly’s baby is born, however, there will be no more secrets. All who desire to know whether the baby is male or female will be told without hesitation. The child’s sex will be proclaimed throughout the land. You might think that this policy wouldn’t need to be spelled out — but tell that to the Toronto couple who are currently raising a “genderless” baby.

As reported by the Toronto Star, David Stocker and Kathy Witterick won’t tell anyone what their five-month-old baby is. They named it Storm, which could apply to either gender, since it isn’t a real name anyway. They could have also named it Stove or Curtain or Ladder. Is Storm a boy or a girl? The family won’t say! It’s a big comedy guessing game!

To be clear, Storm is definitely one gender or the other. This isn’t a hermaphrodite/Middlesex/Jamie Lee Curtis situation. Its parents just aren’t telling anyone which it is.

“We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now,” David and Kathy said in an e-mail to friends and family just after the baby was born. They described this as “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.” It will not surprise you to learn that David and Kathy are hippies, and that Storm was born in a birthing pool at their house, and that Storm has two older brothers named Jazz and Kio, and that David and Kathy let the kids do whatever they want all the time. The parents are tired of society putting all these DEMANDS on them, always INSISTING that a person’s gender is determined by something as random and arbitrary as whether he or she has a ding-dong or a hoo-ha. Let the kid decide his or her own gender, for crying out loud!

Kathy bemoaned the state of things in the newspaper story. She said, “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 boy or a girl?'”

I know, right? People can be so shallow. I try not to be like that. Whenever I learn that an acquaintance has had a baby, my first thought is to inquire about its hobbies and interests. “Congratulations!” I’ll say. “What does your newborn do for a living?” Then we’ll discuss the infant’s social circle and political views, maybe talk about what movies it’s seen lately, who it follows on Twitter, and so forth. Then, eventually, maybe I’ll get around to asking whether it’s a boy or a girl. But that’s pretty far down the list. Gender is interesting, but you learn so much more about a newborn by looking at its Netflix queue.

David agrees with his wife. “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” he said. Well, if THAT’S how people were phrasing it, I can see why he got tired of it.

David and Kathy’s friends and neighbors find the whole thing pretty weird, which is only natural, since it’s pretty weird. Here’s an excerpt from the news story about it — which I hasten to add was written by a professional journalist, approved by copy editors, and printed in Canada’s largest newspaper:


“The neighbours know [David and Kathy] are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it. While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.”

Let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING AMBIGUOUS ABOUT STORM’S GENITALIA. If you were to see those genitalia, boy howdy, would your questions ever be answered. But let me tell you something else about Storm’s genitalia. While there’s nothing ambiguous about them, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl. From this we are to understand that Storm’s genitalia themselves have three children, and that the gender of the third offspring of Storm’s genitalia remains unpublicized. Look, Storm’s genitalia can raise their children however they want. What gender they are — indeed, how the sexual organs of a five-month-old infant managed to have children of their own at all — is none of your concern.

It is also possible that “they” in that sentence was meant to refer to “David and Kathy,” even though the immediate antecedent was “Storm’s genitalia,” and the antecedent before that was “the neighbors.” As you can see, pronouns can be very tricky. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t know what gender anybody is. If we don’t know what Storm is, how are we supposed to fill out the paperwork to have him or her rescued from David and Kathy’s custody? We’ve got to get moving on this, people.

[ Baby updates: they both turned out to be boys, born a week apart in June 2011. I’m their favorite uncle. ]