A little baby in Toronto named Storm is raising quite a storm of its own, all because the child's parents are refusing to divulge the baby's gender.
Storm's mom and dad say they've decided not tell anyone beyond the child's two siblings and a tiny handful of others whether Storm is a boy or a girl, because they want to allow the baby to develop as long as he or she can without the constraints of gender stereotypes.
Storm's parents, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, sent an email to friends and family when Storm was born to explain their decision, which read: "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? ...)."
So far, the parents have granted only one interview: to the Toronto Star newspaper. But that one interview has turned into an international sensation, raising ire and commendation from parenting experts, child behaviourists and seasoned parents alike.
"These parents are turning their children into a bizarre lab experiment," one woman wrote in to the Star, which published the original story on Saturday.
Another reader wrote, "The world around us has been set by thousands of years of social evolution. To try to undo this evolution through your child is very selfish and very inconsiderate to the child."
National Post columnist Barbara Kay suggested that Storm's parents' decision likely had less to do with Storm and more to do with the parents.
"The denial of biological reality by highly educated, but humanly naive ‘progressives' — and their choice to privilege the ‘world' over the needs and rights of their own children — speaks more to their narcissism than to their idealism," she wrote.
Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter worried about what kind of adult Storm and his/her siblings will become, noting they've been allowed to wear what they choose and grow their hair as long as they choose.
"Without boundaries, I wonder if little 4-month-old Storm will wander aimlessly, like so many of my thirty-something friends," Porter wrote.
Is it possible the parents are being judged on more than just their decision about revealing Storm's gender? The family is of course hardly conventional, choosing to home-school - or "unschool" -- their children, as the parents explain -- and co-sleep together on mattresses pushed together in the parents' bedroom.
But Storm's family is hardly the first to flout conventions.
In 2009, a Swedish newspaper reported a couple doing the same thing as Storm's parents, with their 2-year-old, nicknamed Pop. The parents explained they wanted to "avoid [him or her] being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset."
Plenty of parents allow their boys to try on dresses, high heels or nail polish at home – though few have the guts to let their sons leave the house looking "like that."
Remember the outrage that greeted a J. Crew ad featuring a little boy with a pink toenail polish?
Or how about the "mommy blogger" who wrote the post entitled "My son is gay". She described in the post the backlash to her decision to allow her son to dress as Daphne from the Scooby-Doo TV series for a Halloween party at her son's daycare.
That parent too decided to flout gender stereotypes – and was later asked to leave the daycare because of the resulting firestorm.
Storm's family has certainly found themselves in a firestorm, but it appears to be one they didn't expect – and don't welcome. The parents have decided not to do any more interviews, telling the Star they don't want to get caught up in an unconstructive, back-and-forth conversation with critics. And they say they don't want their other children to have the spotlight shone on them any further.
"We don't want them to feel like exotic bugs, and when consulted, they said no thanks to more media attention," Storm's mother Kathy wrote the newspaper in an email.
But Kathy also suggested that while she was stunned at the vitriol in some of the comments left online to the original article, she still welcomed the debate their story had opened.
"Isn't defensiveness sometimes a first sign of learning or changing behaviour, so even the ‘rabid' responses may have a place in making the world a more thoughtful place," she wondered.