“If it would destroy [a 12-year-old boy]to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?” Co-founder of nonprofit, “A Call to Men: The Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women,” Tony Porter, said in his TED speech in 2010.
This notion became strikingly apparent after Wisconsin parents lashed out in offense of a school’s proposed “Gender Bender Day.”
The Milwaukee K-8 school, called Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities (yes, schools in Wisconsin have names like this), implemented a day called ‘Gender Bender Day’ as a part of their School Spirit Week.
This optional event, (now called “Switch It Up Day”) chosen by the student council, was meant to allow boys to dress in typically female clothes and girls to dress in masculine attire.
However, it wasn’t the students who took offense to this non-conventional day. It was the parents.
“I think it’s just teaching them the wrong lesson about gender. If you’re a boy, stay a boy. You shouldn’t have something like that at school,” an anonymous father said, as reported by the Huffington Post.
Regardless of what people will admit, such fear of breaking gender rules is usually related to homophobia, as it is a common misconception that gender dictates sexuality. This simply is not the case.
Gender and sexuality are two completely different entities. A person’s gender does not predict their sexuality. And a person’s sexuality does not indicate a person’s gender.
Some men are sexually attracted to women. Some men are sexually attracted to men. And some are attracted to both, or neither. Needless to say, in any instance, gay, straight, or bi, the person’s gender has nothing to do with their sexual preference.
Similarly, a person’s sexual identity does not affirm nor negate a person’s gender or worth. Being gay does not make a man less “manly,” nor does a “feminine” dressed man make him gay.
“We think of manhood as innate, residing in the particular biological composition of the human male, the result of androgens of the possession of a penis,” sociologist Dr. Michael Kimmel said in his article, “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity,” published in the 2009 Anthology: Sex, Gender & Sexuality: The New Basics. He continued, “I view masculinity as a constantly changing collection of meanings that we construct through our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our world.”
When a man or a woman dresses out of the gender binary, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that that person made a conscious choice to wear what pleased them, regardless of the norm. It is no indication of their sexuality.
One Tippecanoe School mother, Deidri Hernandez, who claimed to be not one to complain, was so stirred up by the unconventional day that she spoke up.
“Having students dress as ‘transvestites’ will distract from the learning process,” she said, according to the Huffington Post.
Further reports suggested that she also expressed that the dress-up day would also promote LGBT acceptance, sending a message to students that it was (heaven forbid!) okay to be gay.
And in a striking offense, Hernandez said, “They might as well call it ‘Transgender Day,’” reported EAGnews.
By breaking the binding norm of everyday attire, this day provides only a fun outlet where students can have “a day off” from the homogenous standards and pressures of society.
“Manhood is not the manifestation of an inner essence; it is socially constructed,” Dr. Kimmel said.
As indicated, gender is socially constructed, meaning that gender-specific behavior is not innate. It is learned by social standards and other displays of normalcy. All of which were constructed and have evolved from the beginning of time.
If dressing out of the gender norm will promote homosexuality, then one could draw the same conclusion that we should ban traditions where costume and role-playing are at the center. For starters, let’s ban Halloween. (This should illicit just as much shock as the proposed ban on gender-bender day.)
No, we must ban Halloween. It is far too dangerous. If our kids dress as villains they will most certainly become one.
Or, let’s compromise and say Halloween can continue under the contingency that boys emulate male characters and girls dress as princesses.
Heaven forbid a boy wanted to dress as Tinker Bell and express a gentle, kind, or magical energy. Or, even worse, if a girl expresses a likeness to Batman…watch out (!) she may become a lesbian. Or even more threatening… she may become a strong woman!
Let’s send a message to our vulnerable young women that they cannot be strong, forthright or assertive. That they should wait for a Superman-like creature to swoop in and save them, rather than defend themselves. Let’s continue to push the subservient philosophy, since it has worked so well…
Author of “Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender Nonconforming Children” and the Director of Mental Health on the Child and Adolescent Gender Center and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UCSF, Diane Ehrensaft explains the importance of gender experimentation and diversity.
Many parents share the experience of their kids wanting to dress in clothes which are unconventional to their gender, such as boys wearing tutus or girls wearing Spider-Man costumes. Some of those parents ask gender professional and child specialist Ehrensaft how they should react when their kids experiment with style.
By accepting your child who challenges the gender binary, Ehrensaft says, you would be “giving him the message that you [the parent]can celebrate whoever he is and whatever he likes to play with, at preschool and at home, and that he is indeed ‘free to be me.’”
She reiterated that a child who dresses untraditionally provides no reason to believe he or she will be gay or gender variant. “We couldn’t possibly know if he will be gay, a cross-dresser, or any other gender variation when he grows up,” Ehrensaft said.