Though there are no solid answers, experts on gender say whether a child identifies as a male or female comes from a mix of biology, environment and something deep inside themselves. And at the end of the day, the "genderless" baby, a 4-month old named Storm, will more than likely figure out which gender he or she identifies with.
Raising a child without a public gender is indeed unusual (In 2009, a Swedish newspaper reported a couple doing the same thing with their 2-year-old, nicknamed Pop), and experts say the jury is out on how or if the doing so will influence Storm's development. But the response to the case has revealed how deeply gender issues resonate, said Diane Ehrensaft, a California psychologist and author of "Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children" (The Experiment, 2011).
"It makes people mad, like you've tricked them," Ehrensaft told LiveScience, adding, "There's a real division between those who want to hold onto our traditional gender norms and those who say, 'What for? They've only limited people's lives."
Case in point: Hundreds of outraged comments all around the Web reacting to Storm's parents' choice.
Bringing up baby
Storm's parents know their child's sex, as do Storm's older brothers. The goal of keeping the information inside the family, Storm's parents told the Toronto Star, is to limit messages that tell young children how to act based on their sex.
"We thought if we delayed sharing that information, in this case, hopefully, we might knock off a couple million of those messagesby the time Storm decides Storm would like to share [his or her gender]," Storm's mom Kathy Witterick told the Toronto Star. [Read: America's Most Hated Baby Names]
It's unclear whether the experiment will work out, said KatrinaKarkazis, an anthropologist at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University and author of "Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority and Lived Experience" (Duke University Press, 2008). That's because gender messages are inescapable in our society,
Gender and biology
None of this is to say that gender identity, separate from gender behavior, is a social construct. Gender is "nature, nurture and culture" woven together, Ehrensaft said. And regardless of what they're told and how they're treated, kids usually identify their own gender early.
"There are children who are assigned male on the birth certificate who say, 'Hey, I'm not. I'm a girl,'" Ehrensaft said. "That's not because anyone told them who they are. It comes from inside."
For that reason, it's unlikely that Storm's genderless status will go on for long, Karkazis said.
"You'd have to give an extraordinary amount of power, all power really, to nurture [rather than nature] to say that this will without a doubt shape all sense of if this child is male or female and his or her behavior," she said. "We'd have to give no space for biology."
Storm is growing up in a household and a culture in which almost everyone identifies as male or female, Karkazis said. And because babies pick up on gender cues early — by age 1 or so, studies suggest — by the time Storm starts talking, he or she will likely have something to say about his or her own gender.more