(WCMH) — A Toronto couple received widespread attention in 2011 when they said they would raise their child, Storm, without announcing the baby’s sex at birth.
Kathy Witterick and David Stocker said they wanted to let Storm decide what gender to identify with. The only people they told were Storm’s brothers, a close family friend, and two midwives who helped them deliver the baby.
The parents told the Toronto Star they are giving their children freedom to choose who they want to be without social norms telling them what is “male” and “female.”
In an interview from July 2016, Witterick and Stocker told the Toronto Star many people sent angry letters to their door and even yelled “Boy!” from the windows at Storm as the family was on the way somewhere.
They say that now, they are still confident in their parenting choices and that they have found a community with other families. Storm said in the interview that she identifies as a female.
In those seven years, a small community of parents has formed who are raising “theybies,” a term for children who grow up without being assigned gender at birth.
Nate and Julia Sharp of Massachusetts are allowing their twins, Zyler and Kadyn, to choose what gender they want to be.
According to NBC News, about 220 parents are on a Facebook group for parents raising “theybies.” The parents do not reveal the sex of their children to anyone, and children are not taught to associate certain body parts with being a boy or a girl.
Parents say this is so the child won’t be pigeonholed into gender stereotypes.
“A theyby is, I think, different things to different people,” Nate Sharpe told NBC News. “For us, it means raising our kids with gender-neutral pronouns — so, ‘they,’ ‘them,’ ‘their,’ rather than assigning ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘him,’ ‘her’ from birth based on their anatomy.”
Julia told NBC she was conflicted about learning the sex of her twins when she got pregnant. Nate said he did not understand at first, but began researching how stereotypes affect a child’s development and changed his mind.
Christia Spears Brown, a developmental psychologist and author, says research suggests gender is largely influenced by a child’s environment. Even before the child is born, he or she is given toys and clothes based on gender.
Dr. John Steever, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York, said gender-open parenting could be a way to show children they will be accepted no matter what. Steever said it is unlikely that children would be confused by a gender-open upbringing.
Brown says some children may be confused in a society that’s “really obsessed with a gender binary” and added it is important to prepare children for this.
“And people are going to want to put that child into one of those binary categories,” she said to NBC News. “And so for children to not be confused, parents have to give kids the language and the understanding of recognizing that ‘I’m not taking part in this binary.’”