Gender confusion as “reparative” therapy, cont.

Image: James Franco in drag, ht Sociological Images. Text:

girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short
wear shirts and boots
because it’s okay to be a boy
but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
because you think being a girl is degrading

Continued from here. Trigger warning for cissexism.

The claim that reparative therapy enables gender variant people to lead “normal” lives or form “normal” bonds of love and friendship with “normal” people shows a similar sort of confusion. Rekers alludes to this when he defends his motives in treating Kirk Murphy as “positive”: “I only meant to help…the rationale was positive, to help the child, to help the parents who come to us in their distress.”

Here’s the thing – any distress a child or parent experiences over the child’s gender variance has nothing to do with the actual propriety of the child’s behavior and everything to do with the reactions of people and society around them. Gender variance poses no inherent obstacle to friendship or romance, speak less of basic tolerance or acceptance. No, parents worry that gender variant children can’t have a normal lives because our society treats any departure from gender norms as dysfunctional. Children experience distress because they are taught to see their natural inclinations as somehow perverted, and legitimately upsetting or infuriating to others.

Teaching children to suppress gender variance so that they will be accepted by society holds them to an arbitrary and demonstrably harmful standard of behavior, and sends the message that its their fault that they are not accepted as they are. It places the responsibility for the isolation, humiliation, and physical and psychological violence that gender variant people often endure on GV people themselves, instead of where it belongs – on people who respond to gender variance in bigoted and oppressive ways, and on the society that tolerates such responses.

This is classic victim blaming and abuse apologism. It’s justified as concern, and the concern is often sincerely felt, but that doesn’t make it less victim-blaming. From the same NPR report quoted above:

As Bradley grew older, his discomfort with things male also grew. He would shun other boys — he played exclusively with girls. Again, this concerned Carol, but she wasn’t frantic about it.

It was a single event that transformed her vague sense of worry into something more serious. One day, Bradley came home from an outing at the local playground with his baby sitter. He was covered in blood. A gash on his forehead ran deep into his hairline.

“What had happened was that two 10-year-old boys had thrown him off some playground equipment across the pavement because he’d been playing with a Barbie doll — and they called him a girl,” Carol says. “So that sort of struck me, that, you know, if he doesn’t learn to socialize with both males and females … he was going to get hurt.” [ht Transadvocate]

By placing the responsibility to “learn to socialize” on her son, this mom tacitly accepted violence as a reasonable response to gender variance. It would have made far more sense for her to expect the other two boys to learn that throwing someone to the ground is not an appropriate response to seeing them play with an unexpected toy. It would have been more sensible to expect them to learn to socialize with all different kinds of people without violence, more reasonable to expect their families to attempt to modify their behavior and outlook accordingly. Instead, her response to this incident was to try to modify her son’s behavior  – effectively blaming her son for being attacked.

The impulse to “fix” gender variant children instead of condemning violent responses to variant gender expression is another kind of gender confusion. It hurts kids, it poisons families, and it needs to end.

2 Comments

  1. Hey–Your link to The Society Pages does not work. Here is the correct link:
    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/06/12/androcentrism-its-okay-to-be-a-boy-but-being-a-girl/

    The problem seems to be that an “a” was introduced into “androcentrism”.

    I’ve just started reading your post, but so far you’re hitting the nail on the head….