TORONTO — A Canadian couple says it's none of the world's business to know their baby's gender despite a firestorm of criticism over their controversial decision to keep the infant's sex a secret.
Kathy Witterick said her 4-month-old baby Storm should be able to develop its own sexual identity without having to conform to social stereotypes or bow to predetermined expectations associated with gender.
Witterick, 38, and her husband, David Stocker, 39, have faced a backlash since the couple's story first appeared in the Toronto Star last weekend. Witterick says their critics are being judgmental.
Witterick said in an email Friday that the idea that "the whole world must know what is between the baby's legs is unhealthy, unsafe and voyeuristic. We know — and we're keeping it clean, safe, healthy and private (not secret!)."
Witterick said Storm has a sex which those closest to him or her acknowledge and said they don't know yet about the baby's color or dress preferences.
Witterick and her husband have also been criticized for the way they are raising their other two children. Five-year-old Jazz and two-year-old Kio are well aware that they're boys, but have been encouraged to shun gender norms and express themselves in whatever way they wish.
Witterick said Jazz has the right to choose his clothes and hairstyle and said he chooses freely to wear pink despite criticism.
"Jazz has a strong sense of being a boy, and he understands that his choices to wear pink and have long hair are not always acceptable to his community," she wrote.
Witterick said the argument that children need a sex taught to them in order to feel safe in the world does not hold up in their experience.
She said an infant at four months is still learning to recognize himself or herself and it's not appropriate to force a sex on them.
Witterick said the couple has been trying to keep their children safe from a media frenzy but said it has been difficult.
The couple has been criticized for imposing their ideological values on a newborn and subjecting their kids to ridicule.
Don't miss these Health stories
More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
- Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
- Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
- CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
- What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says
- More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
"Storm will certainly need to understand his/her own sex and gender to navigate this world (the outcry has confirmed that clearly!), but there has never been any question that within our family, the issues of sex and gender and the decisions relating to it are always open for age appropriate discussion," Witterick wrote.
Witterick said it's important to challenge traditional thinking.
"The discussion that emerges not only "outs" people (in their rush to judge, they demonstrate the prevailing views), but also has the effect of helping people examine whether they truly do believe the status quo to be the best that we can do. Is this the best that we can do to grow healthy, happy, kind, well adjusted children?," Witterick wrote.
Laura Swan, a friend of Witterick's, called Witterick a "really good mom" and said her kids are great. Swan declined further comment.
A follow-up article in The Star published earlier this week documented furious reader feedback criticizing the parents for turning child-rearing into a social science exercise.
Dr. Ken Zucker, the chief psychologist and head of the gender identity service for children at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said the story has caused anxiety among people who are now wondering how they became who they are.
"The reason this story has gone viral and been of so much interest is because it has activated an ongoing discourse of how does a child's gender identity actually get formed," Zucker said.
"There would be people on one side of the spectrum who would say that gender identity is completely hard wired and even if you don't sex a child they are going to develop a gender identity in accordance with their biology," he said. "And then there are people on the other side of the spectrum that say that gender identity is completely influenced by socialization."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.