Baby Storm, a then-four-month-old Toronto tot who was being raised "genderless," became one of the biggest viral news stories worldwide back in 2011.
A Toronto Star article headlined "Parents keep child's gender secret" explained how Storm's parents sent a birth announcement email that 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?)"
Soon after being published, the story took over the newspaper's website traffic, and soon spread south via aggregator sites like the Drudge Report and Fark.com before crossing over to Fox News, CNN, "The Today Show," "The View" and so on.
"And then it went global. We had two book offers, we had people calling from Australia and Russia and Europe and the United States. Dr Phil and Oprah," dad David Stocker recalls during an interview at the social justice-based City View Alternative School. That's where he's the teacher rep for the middle school's Queer-Straight Alliance and helped implement Canada's first voluntary all-gender washroom.
The original article alone had over 35,000 comments within days, and follow-up opinion pieces and TV segments were everywhere. Everyone had an opinion on Stocker and his partner Kathy Witterick's parenting choices. Some were supportive of their decision to raise their child free from gender norms, while others vehemently criticized them for imposing their political ideology or worried about future bullying.
As Witterick wrote in a Postmedia piece, "We have received many letters that include intelligent, heartfelt, research and experience based support for the idea. We've also heard some articulate and meaningful concerns expressed. We've witnessed a discussion erupt that could be transformative.
"[But] the strong, lighting-fast, vitriolic response was a shock."
Five years later, HuffPost Canada spoke to Stocker about the whole experience, how Storm identifies now, and the role Storm's sibling Jazz played in all of this.
Why do you think this story blew up so big?
All sorts of reasons. There's a fairly ingrained adultism. We don't largely believe that young people have the right to make their own decisions, which can be different from their parents and guardians. [We live in] a culture where adults tell kids what to do all the time – dress this way, go to this place, eat this thing. So I think that played a certain role. To say my kid can go into Value Village and select their own clothes as long as they fit and are functional, pick whatever you want.'
Or my kid can decide what pronoun they are happy with. It was so new to people.
Do you think the story would still be as sensational in 2016 compared to 2011?
No, and at the same time, I'm almost certain that parents would largely not choose to do the same thing. People are still embedded in saying "I'm having a girl."
I asked Storm last night "Do you remember any of that? Why were you in the newspaper?" And Storm said, "because when people asked you if I am a boy or a girl, you said 'I can't tell you that, only Storm will be able to tell you that some day.'"
That's still the case today. You have a kid, you can say that kid is male-assigned at birth, and there's still some social construct around that, right? But is that kid a boy, a girl, both, neither?
Has Storm picked a pronoun?
Storm has picked a pronoun, her gender identity is she. Assigned at birth, still nobody knows.
At the time, Jazz was Storm's brother who liked long hair and pink dresses. I read that Jazz has since picked a female pronoun, and that her experience was what fueled your initial decision to let Storm decide.
Jazz has been trans-identified since the later end of six years old, just before seven. She is quite an activist in the field. She presented at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference last year. She was nine, she's 10 now.
Would you change anything about how the Storm situation rolled out?
I would say it was a very difficult series of months. There were people who had no qualms about approaching, in particular Kathy, on the street and saying really nasty things. I was here in the bubble of City View, so it was just activism. Strategically, if you look at the fallout of all the discussions that took place, and the documentaries that were produced afterward, and the more engaged in-depth conversations, I think it was really valuable.
It was a perfect Storm, so to speak.
Story continues after slideshow:
Baby Storm in 2011
The commenters and the people who approached you on the street, they were personally affronted by someone doing this because they were having their beliefs challenged. But also a lot of people probably had never thought about this. How did it affect your friends and family?
An interesting thing that happens is that the people standing around you, some of them say things that you never knew they thought. There it is, the transphobia, or the homophobia, or whatever. And then other people in your life, who you never knew felt so passionately about it because they never talked about it, are saying this is very important to me and I take strength from this message. So it refines your social network to create more support around the people who need it.
Jazz probably has the most ideal parents a trans kid could have, but not every child would have such support. In the discussion over gender-neutral bathrooms and sex-ed updates, some have been asking why we have to deal with these issues in school, that it should be a parent's choice. Explain why school should be the place where this is taught?
In any public-facing institution – your recreation programs, your libraries, your schools – you want to catch the young kids who are at high risk for all things we know about, anxiety, depression and suicide, because they are experiencing homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, whatever it is.
And to make [kids] aware, these are your rights in this province, in this country. Let's make sure you have the words to articulate that and express your experience and fight alongside everyone else here for your rights.
Also on HuffPost: