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Wednesday
Jun012011

A Modern Story of X

Recently, there’s been this human-interest story making the rounds about some parents who have decided not to disclose the gender of their latest child, Storm.  Unsurprisingly to me, the couple in question was influenced by X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, published in 1978.1  I’ve been a fan of that story since I first heard it in middle school and think it makes a good point:  Children don’t need everyone telling them what they should be doing (in relation to gender roles) for them to develop an understanding of who they are.2  In modern American society, at any rate, people care about the gender of young children with an intensity that makes little sense.  I once saw a video in a psych class where parents introduced their infant to strangers by differently gendered names, a small difference which colored the entire interaction so intensely that the resulting film was rather comedic.  What’s in a name, indeed?

However, that’s not the end of that case.  As Reddit commenter Majoribanks notes:

[…] it doesn’t actually sound like they ARE giving their kids such an unbiased choice. It sounds like they really really really want radical genderqueer show-off children to support their own worldview.

I mean, they say this: “What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious” but then also this “The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.”

The two are in direct opposition to each other. These kids don’t go to school, and don’t interact with people outside their family very much or for long amounts of time. Their parents “encouraging” them to “challenge” their gender expectations is basically tantamount to telling them “you should act like girls to please mommy and daddy!” I mean, if their sons ask for a pretty frilly dress and the parents respond with “of course! you look so wonderful in it!” but if they ask for a machine gun they get “do you really want to conform to expectations for boys to be so violent” instead, how is that any sort of meaningful choice?

That phrase seems to explain, to me anyway, why BOTH their sons want to have longer hair and wear pink and purple and glitter, when even their parents have short hair and don’t wear makeup. Most kids who DO play with makeup, girls included, do it because they see their mother and female relatives doing it.

That comment really reminded me of another blog post from earlier this year, written by Heather Soersdal:

So, here’s my mistake: I never should have written the post about my gender conforming kids in response to the posts about the gender nonconforming kids. […] What I know now is that I had no idea of the scope and scale of this my-son-acts-girly blogging phenomenon and just how truly offensive it is. I’m embarrassed to have taken any part in it.

As it turns out, there are a lot of blogs like this. Like, a lot. […]

They all have 2 things in common: they’re all about boys who act feminine, and the boys are all prepubescent and in some cases barely emerging from toddlerhood. Nobody’s concerned with girls who like boy things even though some of them could be gay, too (gasp) and anyone with a copy of What To Expect the Toddler Years ought to know better than to start a career writing about gender nonconformity in a child who is too young even to have any real solid idea of how to be gender conforming.

Girls aren’t an issue because girls acting like boys are considered to be expanding their horizons and even promoting themselves. Femininity in women isn’t assumed to be innate, but learned behavior (see: charm schools, every womens’ magazine ever). Therefore, masculinity in women is not assumed to be innate but as contrived as femininity and possibly semi-rebellious behavior that will probably get her far in life if cripple her chances of getting a husband. Boys acting like girls, however, are immediately assumed to be acting on innate feminine impulses that are probably connected to them wanting to date other boys. Mens’ genders are real, womens’ genders are faked. [… no seriously I’m omitting a lot here …] There’s no need to assume anything about a child’s sexual orientation and if anything there’s a need not to obsess over it. Planning this far into a child’s future simply does not make sense.

However, these parents insist they’re not planning this far into their boys’ futures. They insist and insist and insist on it. Oh, the insisting. They go on about how they know this is not a guarantee of a gay son. They have links all over the sidebar about GLBT causes and titles like “Raising My Rainbow” but don’t you dare forget, they know that this probably doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gay except in BoyGir’s case, where it necessarily definitely means he’s gay and genderqueer. They insist they do not care about whether their sons are gay or transgender. There are really only two conclusions I can think to draw here. Either these parents are struggling with their homophobia and overcompensating for their negative feelings toward their own sons in the same way you might buy an extra special gift for the in-law you hate to prove you don’t hate them, or they just really love the attention, Münchhausen’s style.

[emphasis mine, link also mine]

(I’ll just do that thing I do where after a lengthy quote I tell you to just go and read the whole post anyways.)

Okay, so that end is probably overly harsh, but I don’t think the criticism is inaccurate, or that a similar sort of thing might be going on in this story.  It’s easy (or at the very least, tempting to some) to cross the line between doing the right thing because it’s right and doing the “right” thing so you can wave some sort of political flag before an audience.  If you think that something shouldn’t be a big deal, making the most of the media coverage is probably undermining your point.

1. If that name is a comics pun, that’s quite a groaner.

2. In fact, there’s strong evidence that “confusing” someone about their gender identity is really hard.

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