NYC Therapist Talks: Gender Roles, Kids, Sexual Orientation & Bronies

Remember the little boy a few months ago with pink toenail polish in that catalog? Scandal! Did you hear about the picture of two men kissing that was removed from that social networking site (FaceSpace or whatever or something)? How about all the preachers and politicians from a while back that were quoted as encouraging physical abuse, putting gay people in fenced-in areas so they can die out, cracking limp- wrists, etc?

What you may or may not know, is I did my doctoral research (thanks Frank, Dae and Dr. Granzig) about gender roles and sexual behavior. There was a test developed back in the day called the Bem Sex Role Inventory, which measures how masculine or feminine someone is. I’ll save you some of the boring details, but the short version is that society defines gender roles, and a role, just like in a play, is something to be acted, if you will. People can score highly as masculine, feminine, both (called, in the test, androgynous) or neither (undifferentiated). What seems to come up in a discussion of this test, time and time again, is that people who are overly wrapped up in gender role tend to be pretty unhappy, as illustrated with whatever the gender frenzy is this week.

The boy in the catalog is just a kid. Kids have imaginations, which make them kind of awesome. A child told me once when she grew up she wanted to be a duck. This isn’t pathological. A kid painting his toenails is just a kid putting paint on his feet. What kind of odd world it must be to a child to get the signal that it’s okay to finger paint, but when applied to toenails, and in certain hues, it’s the downfall of the American family! Kids aren’t making some sort of transgender political statement. They’re just being kids. It’s the adults making the statements, and some of those statements are pretty appalling.

Throughout our lifespans, we will explore and experiment with different gender roles that may or may not have anything to do with who we fall in love with (romantic inclinations), who turns us on (sexual orientations) or whether we feel male or female internally (gender identity). There is SO much punishment for behaving any other way than a normal, heterosexual man child, and SO much positive reinforcement of not-so-subtle misogyny that we really need to get over this idea that gender role is much more than play acting. Add to that the fact that gender roles are defined mostly by the here-and-now. If you’re a member of the Wodaabe tribe and you’re a dude, then you’re wearing your best makeup. If you’re in NYC, you’re Metrosexual (maybe) and if you’re in Kansas, you’d better watch your back, because you’re clearly a sissy-boy homosexual.

Check this out:

Afraid your kid too much of a “mama’s boy”, “sissy”, “tomboy”, “butch”, etc? First of all, are you kidding?! Who cares! Secondly, you could send him to a therapist, or a “bootcamp for sissies” (remember that sound byte from a while back?). That sounds plausible. (I’m nothing without my sarcasm, folks!) Or you could see the ENTIRE WORLD as a bootcamp for sissies. Yeah, middle school PE? Bootcamp. High school dances? Bootcamp. Being picked on and bullied to the point of wishing you could leave (the planet)? BOOTCAMP. If just waking up and being in a hetero-normative world that seems to celebrate masculinity (putting bro in front of everything to make it “No-Homo”, for example) and demonize anything female isn’t enough to “turn your kid” to the straight and narrow, then it’s probably not going to happen. Your best bet? Coming to family therapy to learn some skills you could have learned from paying more attention to the great Fred Rogers.

Born this Way or not, It Gets Better or not, there are people out there right now (and not just therapists) who can and do accept you- with your imagination, your pink toenails, your gender variance, your sexuality (or lack thereof), your body- fat, or thin, able-bodied or in a chair – just for being you. And Bronies, bravo to you, my dudes, but it doesn’t stop with just watching a tv show outside of your demographic. (Great video, though!)

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