Have you heard the one about the couple who decided to raise their child "genderless?" Actually, that's not a joke at all. It's a true story, and it's dead serious. A Toronto couple has decided to raise their child "genderless," letting their child choose it's own gender later in life. There's a little more to it than this, but essentially, they believe gender should be the child's choice, and it's wrong of parents to choose for them.
I don't feel bad commenting on the situation because the couple is openly talking to the press. Even if they weren't, however, this is a further example of how confused our society has become on the issue of gender. First, that it's ours to choose. Second, that it matters as much as we think. In the Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom offered some observations worth reading while summarizing some key facts about the story. He notes:
Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have decided that their third child, named Storm and born on New Year's Day, will decide its gender when it is ready. In the meantime, they are keeping it secret, and making their two other children, both boys (at least as far as they're telling us), keep the secret as well.
"If you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs," Stocker told the Toronto Star.
Added the mother in an e-mail to that paper: "Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be?!."
Among the issues involved in this situation are at least the following:
- Is the child more likely be raised confused or free? Sadly, this child will show signs of confusion–like their other children have. I will also wager that if the issue isn't settled by school-time…school is going to be rough on this child.
- Are the child's civil rights are being elevated to an unhealthy level? Yes. In fact, one could argue that if rights are a part of the picture–the child's rights are being violated by the lack of care their parents are demonstrating here. Children don't raise themselves and they aren't prepared to choose gender or understand what gender means. God gives gender. As far as meaning? Parents are supposed to help with that. To some extent, society shapes gender expectations (for good or ill). My hope would be the Church, under the authority and guidance of the Bible plays a signficant role as well.
- Does humankind have the right to choose it's gender? No. From the creation of the first man and woman–we see God as divine Chooser, not humankind.
- Does gender matter? Who one "is" is shaped to some degree by gender, but gender is also not the sum of the person. I am a man and that has implications for my self-understanding and my way of being. However, that's not all there is to me.
It seems the parents here are both underestimating and overestimating the role of gender in their child's life. On the one hand, they are treating gender flippantly by letting the child be raised "without" one for quite some time. On the other hand, to view gender as the seat of identity as they do is to overestimate it. What matters most is not the right of a person to choose their gender. What matters most is how God created that child–knitting it together in it's mother's womb–as male or female. That issue has already been decided–whether the parents acknowledge it or not.
One more thought: We need to do some thinking on this subject and have good, clear understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. I know we have assumed gender is a given. That isn't a given any more. I've noticed the church's picture of manhood or womanhood getting hazier over the years. Having a clear theology of gender will be a blessing in the days ahead–not just gender itself, but also what it means to be a man or a woman.
As for the parents, Mitch Albom sums it up pointedly but correctly, "When your child asks, "Am I a boy or a girl?" and you answer, "Whatever you want," you're not being wise, hip, progressive or nonjudgmental, you're just being a fool."