Apparently in America, there’s a new craze for ‘birth parties’. Here’s how they work. Mum and dad poddle off for the ultrasound, but aren’t told the gender of their child. Instead the stenographer picks up the phone and calls the local bakery to let them know the results. The parents-to-be then throw a birth party, where guests are invited to come dressed in pink or blue, depending on what they think the baby will be. After suitable merriment, the cake is unveiled and they slice into it to reveal either pink or blue sponge. Dad then retreats to cry alone because he hasn’t got the little boy he wanted, but other than that, the party continues.
This is the opposite approach to that taken by Kathy Witterick and her husband, David Stocker. Based in Toronto, they are the proud parents of a four month old baby – but are refusing to reveal the child’s gender to the outside world in case it grows up constrained by gender stereotypes. They already have two other children – Jazz, aged five and Kio, aged two, both of whom chose their own hair and clothes. The decision came after Jazz, who loves pink and paints his nails, was bullied by the other kids for looking like a girl.
Stocker commented, ‘If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs’. But whilst I haven’t yet got Mr Bun the Baker on speed-dial, I’m not sure I agree.
Recently I watched a documentary on the Canadian, David Reimer, who was born as a healthy male, but was ‘sexually reassigned’ and raised as a female after his penis was accidentally destroyed during a botched circumcision. The psychologist John Money oversaw his case and used it to support his theory that gender identity is learned, rather than given. Reimer was raised as a girl yet never fully identified himself as female. He was ostracized and bullied by peers, and neither the dresses nor female hormones made him feel female. By the age of 13, Reimer was experiencing suicidal depression, and told his parents he would commit suicide if they made him see John Money again. At age 15 his parents told him the truth and he decided to begin living as a male (again, major surgery was required). He later married and then went public with the story to show how it had wrecked his life. Tragically in May 2004, aged 39, he committed suicide, after suffering from years of severe depression.
The report and subsequent book about Reimer fuelled debate about the biology and psychology of gender.
Are we really sovereign over our gender? Who is the “me” who is outside my body – able to reassign my sexual identity via surgical means? And which is it: Is my gender so important that I have a right to have it reassigned to the correct one? Or Is it so fluid and inconsequential that I can treat it as a gloss on the real me?