Defining gender for children, limiting

HERE I AM again and, as usual, I am inspired to write about what has come up in classes I’m in. These past two weeks has given me plenty to talk about.

Gender is the issue. Not gender alone, but all that goes with it.

Why is it we insist on making a day-old infant recognizable from day one (or before, actually) by dress and décor, as a boy or girl? Babies don’t care what they wear.

As a society, we want to immediately drive home the point: if you are this, then that. We shape children into a mold, not giving them a choice as they grow.

Many, maybe most, equate gender with the physical sex of a child. But there are major problems with that.

When I was growing up, I wore a lot of dresses, and I was polite and sweet and all of the stuff society says a “girl� should be.

But thankfully, my parents let me be free of those encumbrances in some arenas.

I loved to climb trees and hike. I rode horses (even a couple that weren’t broke, resulting in a lot of flings to the ground) and loved a great game of baseball in the backyard with a few friends.

While both helped in shaping my gender, the “girl� persona won.

There was too much pressure to be a girl, and one doesn’t very often think they have a choice. Certainly, a young child doesn’t.

But here’s the rub. A large percentage of people do not fit into these molds. I’m not talking necessarily about sexual orientation, although members of our society usually think of the two as one and the same.

They aren’t.

Sex is the physical makeup (biology) that determines our physical sex.

Gender speaks to the roles society places upon our young at birth and reinforces in many ways throughout their lives; but it’s amazing how man of us get the two mixed up and think of them as one and the same.

The pressure to conform is enormous. The biggest expectation, probably, is to grow up, get married to the opposite sex, lead responsible lives and have babies and raise them to do the same.

What we don’t do is allow a child to grow up, being whoever they are. This creates a multitude of problems, if a child feels itself to be “different.�

Immediately, the pressure is on to put them on the right path — the one that fits our society’s version of what and who a male or female, is supposed to be, in terms of gender.

We learn how we are supposed to act and react. One example is, “boys don’t cry.� I don’t have to name them all. But a few common ones are the choice of toys, obviously, the choice of dress, who we play with as a child and who (or what sex) we hang out with as adults.

But why do I say it is problematic? Well, there have been many, many brave “queer� men and women who have come forth and told their stories about their own struggle with sexual and gender identity.

Some of the stories are absolutely heart wrenching. Most mention the extreme pressure not to be who they were learning themselves to be. In other words, they were being told, directly and indirectly, who they were based on whether or not they had ovaries or testicles.

Imagine this scenario. You are raised in a traditional household. Your mom wants to be a grandma, and you know that you will not be marrying anyone of the opposite sex and will not be having babies with the opposite sex.

What does one do? The lack of acceptance is profound.

I saw a great episode on the old television series, “Ellen.� If I remember correctly, it was about a dream, following a bump to the head. In that episode, she dreamt that the heterosexual world was “abnormal� and the queer society was “normal.�

Heterosexual bars, heterosexuals holding hands as they walked in public; all the things that in reality, heterosexual couples take for granted, were reversed.

Thus, the gay crowd was the one saying, “That’s disgusting! If they insist on being that way, they should at least do it in private!�
Sound familiar?

But I need to clarify one point. Lest I make it sound like women who take on more of a male persona, or a man who is somewhat effeminate, must be gay, this is not the case. It is not as simple as either/or.

But our society seems to believe it is one or the other. But on the balance beam of gender and sexual development, there are many people who do not fit into one category or the other. There are numerous “variations.�

In conclusion, I just hope this has given someone food for thought.

As we all know, when we write something down it sticks with us longer. I never want to forget what I have learned in regard to gender and diversity. We don’t necessarily fit into a box, even though society tries its best to put us all into one, or the other.

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