A couple in Toronto has decided to keep the gender of their baby, named Storm, private. Good for them!
Way too many people can guess what gender I am, it takes the fun out of everything. Guessing my sexuality is quite a bit more difficult, but I digress.
People are upset about Storm the genderless baby! Why? How we portray friendly and scary aliens in science fiction may help explain why people are worried about a person’s gender being indeterminate.
Let’s clear some things up first. Storm has a biological sex. I have no idea what it is, but chances are that Storm is biologically male or female, as those are pretty common ways for people to be. Of course, intersex – that is, ambiguous genitalia and/or blended sexual maturation – is a real, though minor, possibility. And that’d be just fine too.
But you and I don’t know for sure. Storm’s parents feel that our society’s obsession with the need to know what sex a person is biologically (and how that jives with that person’s gender presentation) is an invasion of privacy. Second, gender is, almost by definition, impossible to keep secret. Gender is what we present to the world.
Thus, if I can’t tell what gender a person is, that doesn’t mean that person’s gender is secret, it just means I don’t have a mental category for what I’m seeing. Gender presentation can be obvious, ambiguous, over-the-top, cliché or mundane, but it’s never hidden.
So it’s not that Storm doesn’t have a sex or gender that is getting attention, but that Storm’s parents don’t seem eager to make Storm’s gender presentation obvious, nor to confirm that their baby’s gender presentation matches their baby’s biological sex. Ok, so where do aliens come into play?
The discomfort around not knowing Storm’s gender arises in part because gender is how we humanize someone. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, those who view Data as a mere robot refer to him as “it” until they have an epiphany and recognize Data as a person, at which point Data becomes a “he.” Gendering Data is the way he is acknowledged a subject instead of an object.
We do this to babies as well…