Friday, December 7, 2007

Transgendered children?

I got this video from BAC, who is a great blogger, so if you have seen it you can skip the video and just read my reaction, unless you want to see it again.

First, I had difficulty making it all of the way through this video as the new co-host they have added, Sherri Whatever, really annoys me. This is the second time I have seen a video of her recently and both times it just shows the utter stupidity that is her. She is bigoted and homophobic and she has reproduced which scares the shit out of me. But as a teacher, I have to respect her opinion as a parent and that she has the right to raise her children in any way she sees fit as long as she is not hurting them, yes I could argue that she is hurting them psychologically, but I will not go there. So if a parent came to me with the same concern she had, their son is wearing dresses in the dramatic play center, well then I would handle it one of two ways. One, basically ignore the parent and placate them by having the child not wearing the dresses or other offensive clothing when the parent is going to be around including at the end of the day, when the parent may be coming for pick-up. Two, explain my view as an educator in this situation. This also touches upon what really annoyed me about this video, which was Barbara Walters asserting that if you see a little boy wearing a dress, you need to be concerned and talk to the parents about this. She seemed to say that this was a major issue that needed to be addressed, "not that we would label them", but still addressed. Guess what, by pointing it out as an issue to the parents you are labeling the child and possibly offending the parent.

There are several issues when we look at the issue of boys wearing dresses or other stereotypically feminine clothing. First, as I have mentioned before in this post about nature versus nurture in young children, children this young, from three to five years old is the age that seems to be discussed in this video and is what I am focusing on, are still grasping gender roles. They are still figuring out that women traditionally wear dresses and men do not. They are still figuring out what clothes are "appropriate" for each gender and so at times they wear what they want to wear. They see their mothers wearing dresses and so they put on a dress when they are at school. This is part of normal human development and most children begin to figure out ender roles later in preschool up until maybe first grade. So is this child consciously trying to cross dress, no.

Second, in my experiences in many different classrooms from being a student teacher to now two and a half years of being in my own classroom and seeing a lot of other teacher's rooms, typically all that is available are dresses or other women's clothing. In most rooms there are several dresses, a few skirts, some scarves, some dress up shoes, normally these are a combination of women's shoes, and maybe a vest or women's hat/s. There are not boys clothes for the boys to dress up in, they do not have the option of wearing what would be considered men's clothing. What are men's clothing, I am not totally sure? I have been in a classroom where several old costumes were donated, batman and spiderman. In my classroom last year, my assistant had a son so she would bring in clothes that he had outgrown, like little boys shoes, some old suits and clip on ties or other "Sunday clothes". And guess what, the boys wore the boys clothing too, they still continued to wear the dresses some times and even carry around purses and have the high heeled shoes on, but they wore the boys clothes as well. This shows me that it is not always that children are choosing to wear the dresses, they are choosing to dress up and use what dress up clothing they have available.

The availability of dress up clothes brings me to my final point, it is socially acceptable for a little girl to dress up, but not a boy. It is OK if a boy wants to wear a costume for Halloween and sometimes it is OK for a little boy to wear their costume even when it is not Halloween, but that costume is normally a superhero of some kind or an animal or other non-gendered thing. The costumes for girls are princess and cute cats and other things that force girls to be more feminine and if the girl wants to wear that everyday for a week, a month, a year, it is OK as she is just being cute and feminine. Little girls are supposed to dress up, they are supposed to want to be like mommy and wear make up and dresses. Girls are expected to want to play in the housekeeping area and wear the dress up clothes. Boys are supposed to build with blocks and draw, but don't make the drawings too "sissy", oh no, superheros are fine, but if child draws something else on a regular basis than it is cause for concern. Boys are not expected to want to dress up so why should we provide dress up clothes for little boys? (As a male teacher I get told to just bring in some of my old clothes, yeah, that doesn't work, so if you have a son who has grown out of their clothes think about donating them to the daycare that you child goes to or went to, they would probably appreciated.) So back to the topic, since boys are not expected to dress up, than there are not the clothes for them to dress up. You can walk into any store with a toy department and if you look you can find little princess costumes and other dress up clothes for girls, but none for boys.

There are dress up clothes that are made for boys, and they are doctors and firefighters and police officers. I have seen them and have even had some donated to me, they are awesome, but you know what they consist of. They are normally a hat and a jacket to signify what ever profession is supposed to be portrayed. The costumes are usually unisex and show both boys and girls on the picture of them. The children I have worked with get bored of these costumes after a while or combine them with, yes, the purses and the high heeled shoes (which can be kind of comical to be honest). Also, when a child dresses up as a police officer their friends want to dress up too, so they have to use what ever else is available, hmmm the dress or other "feminine" clothing is used. And it is socially acceptable for the girls to wear the superhero costume or the doctor or firefighter's outfit, but not for the boy to wear what other dress up clothes are available. I am not arguing that girls should not wear the "masculine" dress up clothes in fact I encourage that in my classroom, but I also encourage the boys to wear the dresses or the skirts or whatever they can find if they want to dress up. These children are expressing their own creativity and individuality and are playing.

So, to get back to my original point about my annoyance with Barbara Walters, no just because a boy is wearing a dress does not mean they are transgendered. Sure some of them may grow up to be transgendered and may even know that things just don't feel right, but I am not sure that we want to make that leap to indict every child of anything, from being transgendered to being gay to being totally comfortable in their own skin. They are children who are using the resources available to play and to learn through play. They learn about gender roles, they learn about the different roles that people play and they learn that boys and girls, men and women can be caregivers or be the family supporter and work.


konagod said...

yes I could argue that she is hurting them psychologically, but I will not go there.
Such abuse would constitute a majority in this country most likely.

BAC said...

First, thanks for the link and the kind words. The reason I posted the video in the first place was that I thought Sherri was over the top with her comments.

I think I have more acceptance of what Barbara was saying because I think I know where it was coming from. As I mentioned in comments on my blog, she did a program earlier this year for 20/20 on transgender kids. Most of the children featured were between one and five. These kids clearly, without any apparent influence from outside sources, were identifying with the opposite gender.

Some of their parents handled it very well, others didn't. I think what Barbara discovered is that being transgender is not a choice. It's just something you are, if you are a transgender person.

And as you probably know, transgender doesn't mean gay. There are transgender people who also identify as lesbian or gay, but there are others who don't.

I got the sense that Barbara was saying this not to attach a lable to anyone, but to simply point out that sexual identity happens at a very early age.

Does this mean that every boy who wears a dress is transgender? No. Just as not every little girl who wears a Superman outfit is either.

I personally hate the gender stereotypes society forces on children. As a little girl I certainly did not want to wear a dress -- still don't! I've always known I was a lesbian, and do not feel comfortable in traditional "girl/woman" clothing ... whatever the hell that means! ha

Sorry for the length here, but I do think the "problem" person in this video is Sherri, not Barbara.


Boxer rebel said...

Kona- I agree with you totally.

BAC- I agree with you that Sherri is the issue here. The comment about being gay by wearing a dress actually came from the fact that my assistant decided to bring in the boys clothes because she was afraid that the boys who were wearing dresses were gay. I guess more my point if it wasn't clear, is that the lack of availability for boys dress up clothes can be the issue, not what they are wearing. After looking at the video again, I see where you are coming from, I guess I was so annoyed at Sherri that some of that annoyance spilled out onto Barbara. Now I really want to see that special on transgendered children, you have me interested. Thanks for posting the video in the first place.

FranIAm said...

Great post Boxer. That Sherri chick is a bit much and I have encountered her three times in as many days. Too much!

Gender and roles are so confusing and have been and will continue to be. Add to that people's own issues and here we all are.

I have said this in a couple of places so forgive me if I repeat myself...

One of my business clients is a M2F transgendered person. I did not know the man too well, just a little and I did not like him at all. I found him to be angry, bitter and mean-spirited.

Then as I was getting to know him he had started his journey to her. And what a journey it was. She handled it with a tremendous amount of dignity,humor and grace.

As the journey continued over the course of several years it included wearing women's clothes outside, changing his name to her name, therapy, medication(hormones) and multiple surgeries. And an assload of electrolysis.

The image of an angry caterpillar turning into the most gorgeous butterfly would pretty much capture it all. No- this was not a handsome man and she is not a gorgeous woman- on the outside. But as people go- she is gorgeous.

All this is said because there is much more we do not know than what we do know.

And every time we shut down the good and healthy curiousity and impulses of any child we take them another step down the path to healthy adulthood.

I really appreciate what you say about the dress up and not only availability of clothes but also of the implications. The girls are encouraged to do that and the boys... well, not so much.

Anyway, thank you for this provocative post which dovetails rather nicely with your other one.