When I Am Young I Will Wear Orange

I’m kind of a half-assed knitter, one who doesn’t follow patterns well and never seems to have enough yarn to finish a project. This fact was confirmed once again on a recent weekend as I was working on a baby kimono for a pregnant friend who chose not to find out the sex of her baby until it was born. Since I didn’t know whether the baby would be a boy or girl, I’d decided on a bright red yarn that seemed fitting for either sex. Then, of course, I realized my yarn was running out. Crap. Red seemed neutral, but everything else I had on hand seemed to push the little kimono into more gendered territory. Then I checked my email and learned that my friend had gone into labor that morning and had a gorgeous little boy. Perfect, I thought, blue it is.

It’s only later that I realized that my instinct to reach for the blue ball of yarn was reinforcing all of the preconcieved notions of gender in society. The blue is for boys, pink is for girls, here’s truck little Timmy, here’s a Barbie little Sally reflexes that have been imprinted upon us, literally, since birth. I’m not a parent yet, so I haven’t had the experience of attempting to raise a child without falling prey to gender stereotypes. But a lot has been written and discussed about this, particularly with the recent publication of Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, which shot to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list.

So I was fascinated with this case of parents in Toronto who have decided not to reveal the sex of the baby…even now that it’s born. Little Storm is blonde little cherub whose gender isn’t obvious at first glance, and Storm’s parents are just fine with that:

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “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? …).”

Their announcement was met with stony silence. Then the deluge of criticisms began. Not just about Storm, but about how they were parenting their other two children.

The article has drawn nearly 500 comments, many of them forcably infuriated by this idea, or anxious about its outcomes. But this isn’t the first instance of parents deciding to raise an “ungendered” child. A family in Sweden decided to keep the sex of their child, Pop, a secret as well. And the push for parents to rethink gender stereotypes and allow their children to define themselves is becoming a widely discussed concept, one that’s also getting a fair share of attention from parents who are raising children whose interests and habits don’t sync up with preconcieved notions of what ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ should be. The New York Times ran an article this weekend which looked at the case of Harry, a young boy whose fondness for Barbie dolls and princess clothes was eventually accepted by his father, who purchased the boy a Barbie doll to support his interests. The piece goes on:

For generations, parents who saw their toddler boys put on tutus or play with dolls would either ignore the behavior as a phase, or reflexively repress it. But in recent years, more parents have chosen the approach taken by Harry’s mother and father. Rather than looking away, they are trying to understand their toddler’s unconventional gender behavior, in order to support it and prepare for what they fear could be a life of challenges.

That openness is a heartening thought, one that leads to a much larger question: What if gay children never have to enter the closet…and thereby never have to come out? It’s a topic that that Andrew Sullivan addressed the other day, citing a recent blog post by the author of Raising my Rainbow, a blog written by the mother of a “slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.” Sullivan writes:

My response: yes, it’s possible. It’s happening in more cases than in the past and parents aren’t always panicking… It seems to me that the point of the gay rights movement should not be to posit the need to be gay, or straight, or trans, or to hoist one model of how to be gay.

The point of the gay rights movement is to allow more people to be themselves. Which also makes it a liberation movement for straight people too.

So while we don’t have to hide the gender of our kids in order to make them (or ourselves) feel more comfortable with who they are or will, being cognizant of gender stereotyping and it’s long-term effects is critical. And allowing children to explore the spectrum of gender on their own terms is part of that.