Alex Blaze

Do the media know the word "transgender"?

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 08, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

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Or "transsexual"? Or "trans"? Because you wouldn't know it from coverage of the blog post from the woman whose kid, "Boo," dressed up like Daphne from Scooby Doo.

This weekend I posted a video from CNN with a child psychologist talking about how it's every parents "worst nightmare" to have a gay child in response to Daphne's mom. Anyone worried about having a son who is not the gender they think he is?

The psychologist apologized to AfterElton.com and explained:

I accept full and total complete responsibility for using that unfortunate choice of words. I think if I were able to say the other part of that, that it wouldn't come out that way. But I think that is a lesson for me to learn to be even more sensitive even though if you Google my name, you'll see anything that I've ever written or said about sexuality has always been 100% positive for whatever someone's sexuality might be. But certainly, I feel horrible about it. And I've gotten some call from some folks -- I can't talk about who they are -- but some folks who want to exploit it. Who say, "Come on and you can say what you want about it." But I say "No." I was absolutely wrong and I understand why people are upset about it and I need to learn from that situation. Again, I accept full responsibility and offer a full apology.

Was Boo's "sexuality" the story?

Here's the Today show, where a psychologist talks about whether dressing up like a girl means that a boy is "gay" and that the fundamental issue is "homophobia."

Then they did another segment with Sarah, Boo's mom. The narrating journalist says that the dress doesn't determine his "sexual orientation" and a family psychiatrist says that he's hesitant to say that dressing as Daphne will be Boo's "sexuality." The segment does mention "gender identification" and "gender confusion."

I don't really know where the expert at the end was coming from. He does make the important distinction between gender identity and gender play, saying that the former is "significant," but strangely he says a boy identifying as a girl might be related to a child's "sexuality" later on.

Anyway, I don't want to make too big a deal of this because coverage of this story has been fairly supportive, and most of the grown-ups discussing the blog post are right on the most immediate issue: Boo's five and who knows what his sexuality or gender identity will be. They're also right on the big picture: how he dresses up shouldn't lead to bullying, and if it does it says more about the bully than it does about him.

But does it strike anyone else as strange that here we are, in 2010, and the assumption they're discussing is that a boy who wears a dress at five will be gay? That seems to be the old gender-inversion paradigm that suggests that gay men are men who want to be women and, by extension, that transsexual women are just really, really gay men.

This is just me saying "hm." The coverage conflates gender and sexuality in sloppy ways in an attempt to cordon off a safe space for "kids just being kids," reminding parents that they have no reason to freak out if their son wants to put on a dress because it doesn't mean that the kid will be gay (not that that was Boo's mother's stance). But since no one's asking for Boo to be shipped off to therapy or karate lessons for putting on that Daphne costume, it's still better than most coverage of child gender/sexuality issues.


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You're spot on, Alex. People simply do not get the difference between gay and trans. That's why trans people who get all high and mighty about how they aren't a part of the GLBT community and shouldn't be lumped together really need to get over that. The people who hate gays don't know and don't care that we're different. When they open the camps, saying you're trans is not going to save your ass.

It's also the basis for homophobia. Bigots who react badly to gay people do so because they feel that they're transgressing gender and betray their gender's place in society.

It doesn't surprise me even a little that dressing in a female role denotes "gay" to these people. But let's face it: how many gay people who heard the story also thought this was gay behavior? The lack of understanding of the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity in the gay community is only slightly less than the broader society. Of course Bilerico readers are excluded.

"Bigots who react badly to gay people do so because they feel that they're transgressing gender and betray their gender's place in society."

That is why I think both homophobia and transphobia are expressions of sexism. In both cases what bigots hate is the breaking of traditional gender roles, and enforcing them (or trying to) is, more or less, the definition of sexism.

Yes, absolutely, Vene. In my first incarnation of coming out a thousand years ago, I realized that sexism was the underlying cause of homophobia. Gay men were hated because they were seen to be 'like women'. And the only explanation why being like women was worthy of scorn and hate was because women were lesser beings. Besides, what kind of 'sicko' would want to give up his magnificent masculinity and male privelege to be associated with women!!

In my second incarnation of coming out, I added a trans perspective to this understanding which also talks about gender roles. But the conflation of queerness and the disinterest in granting any of us a humanity results in blanket discrimination.

Yeah, people continue to have trouble understanding that gender and sexuality are two different things. They sometimes collide of course (eg. me finding butch girls particularly sexy lately), but for the mainstream it's one big mash-up. Always more work and more educating to do.

alex, i hate to be too blunt here, but the correct answer to your question is: no.

virtually no one outside the lbgt community has a clue about issues that relate to transgendered or androgyne folks--in fact, i would bet you that the very word "androgyne" is unknown to 90% + of the "straight" population.

the idea that gender and sexuality are two different things is also not so very clear for a lot of people, and "dolls for girls, guns for boys" is just the most logical thing in the world for a lot of those same...well, for a lot of people, anyway.

i famously stumbled around these issues on these very pages a while back, which suggests ignorance and intent are also not the same thing, which is a good thing to keep in mind as well.

Moreover, there is a big difference between gender variant expression and those who have transsexual (I'm going to shorten it to 'trans') issues. One of the few books I've ever seen demarcate those differences is "The Transgender Child" by Brill and Pepper. (Boo's mom should read it no matter how her little Boo evolves)

Not only do people (even professionals) not understand the difference between gender and sexual orientation (although there can be some overlaps) but they don't understand that children viewed as boys wanting to play with Barbie and princess drag doesn't mean they'll be gay nor does it mean they'll be trans either.

I still see articles stating things like those 'feminine' boys who come into *ahem* 'therapeutic' programs for gender issues, how some end up straight, most end up gay and very few end up transitioning. And this is said as though it's supposed to have some huge impact on the craziness of treating trans children at a young age because these authors don't even know the difference between Barbie play and having intense gender-mapping issues about your body.

And yes, at the risk of sounding like a corrupted Mp3 file, politics aside, this is one of the issues I have about enfolding the trans community within the larger LGBQ coalition... how can we have a trans community identity when people don't even understand these basic concepts? When everything having to do with issues of gender expression (much less identity) is somehow "gay." I know it pisses many gay people off no end so you can imagine how we sour/bitter trans people feel.

Does everyone who picks up a Barbie before adolesence have to be trans or gay?

Well there are folks (mostly trans) who push this paradigm in a nobel effort to build tolerance, with the goal of making the case they were all suppressing their inner Daphne and since they were denied this expression they lived in misery for 20-30-40 years.

The media is taking these stories in the direction where activists and GLAAD types are pushing them. 5 years olds belong in school not on the Today Show.

Yeah, its obvious that so far no one involved had dinged on the gender issue.

Not that it is an issue, right now its just a child who wanted to go trick or treating as Daphne, but just think.

If the kid had worn a Scooby costume, what would the 'concerned mothers' at the school have to talk about then?

All this hair-splitting is really beside the point, isn't it? Of course we all have different stories, different bodies, different experiences of our genders and sexualities, but we come together because we have enough in common that we can express a political identity which gives us some power. What we have in common is that we are oppressed, persecuted, discriminated against for transgressing gender norms.

Why is it necessary for the average Joe to understand all the minutiae of our various gender experiences and sexualities? We don't even agree amongst ourselves. The point is that we will not tolerate being abused.

We're not talking about average Joes here, we're talking about TV stars and the "experts" they invite on their shows.

The question is interesting to me in that there's a boy who put on a girl's costume, and people could be making any of three assumptions about him when he grows up:

1. That he'll want to dress as a woman when he grows up

2. That he'll be a woman when he grows up

3. That he'll like to suck cock when he grows up

People are saying that #3 isn't true while ignoring #1 and #2, when it's the one of those three assumptions the furthest from what Boo actually did. If people know nothing about these topics and are blank slates, then it's weird that they would make a link between two unrelated acts that way.

I just think it's interesting is all. I'm not on the phone with GLAAD trying to get them to organize a Today Show boycott.

I totally agree, the media coverage of this stuff is lame and shallow.

I was expressing my frustration with those who always chime in, "But what about me? I was born with a girl's body and dressed up like a little boy when I was 6 and then I started dating boys in high school and thought I was straight but then when I was 30 I realized I was actually a gay man. Why isn't anybody talking about ME??"

Our individual stories are interesting for countless reasons, but insisting on a political identity based on your subniche of a subniche is, I think, counterproductive.

I think the reason they kept mentioning sexuality and “gay” was because the headline for the mom’s blog post was “My Son Is Gay” - if anyone bothered to actually read it. But the media should have done their part and clarified that on air, instead of continuing to discuss what was the mother’s error.

I have nothing against this mom's blog post, and it seems like she was responding to many of the people who would end up talking about this with her on TV.

It's like, why did they even call up experts to be on TV with her if they aren't able to make these basic distinctions anyway?

I don't really know why we should be upset about this. Truth is that most kids who occasionally don't conform to gender norms are straight, and of those who are LGBT, most are LGB, not T.

I think the last message we should be sending is that a male child dressing as a female character for Halloween means he's transsexual or transgender. That validates artificial gender restrictions, potentially hurting the vast majority of gender-nonconforming kids who are not trans-anything, especially effeminate gay boys.

A trans girl is a girl. She doesn't just want to dress like one.

Nope, I'm not transgender.

I'm gay.

I'm so gay, I want to live 24/7/365 as a woman.

Why? Having sex with gay men is not enough. Now I want to trick/deceive straight men and have sex with them. And I'm willing to cut off my penis to do it. That mean I'm also crazy.

So see? It's sexual orientation. I did this for sex. [scare-quotes]Gender Identity[/scare-quotes] is a lie, a distraction. It's really sexual orientation.

I want what I can't have (straight men), so I'm depraved enough to mutilate my body to do it.

Transgender folks don't exist. We're all gay. (Transmen just plain don't exist.)

If the only message you've ever received in life is only girls marry boys, only girls "like" boys, and there are only girlfriend/boyfriend pairings AND you're a gay boy, then you might identify with girls. Not as a girl, but with girls--at least until you learn what gay is and that it's okay to be gay.

You may not be able to tell the difference between a gay person and a trans person if you're only looking at one particular behavior. There are overlaps between gay drag queens and trans women, and butch lesbians and trans men.

All this insistence that we're totally separate does not ring true or even make sense to those people who are in the overlap. Gay youth can have gender identity issues and not be transsexual.

Also, I think if it's okay to be gay then it's okay to speculate that a kids going to turn out to be gay. It should not be controversial or earth shattering to think "I think my kid might grow up to be gay." If they turn out to be wrong, who cares?

Justus Eisfeld Justus Eisfeld | November 9, 2010 10:06 AM

Actually, from what I understand from the oldest support group for parents of gender non-conforming children in the Netherlands is that in their experiences most gender non-conforming kids do not actually grow up to be transgender. Apparently the majority grows up to be gay or lesbian, and a minority grows up to be heterosexual and happy with their birth-assigned gender. I do not know how many of the kids grow up to be trans *and* gay like myself, but I assume that some do. :-)
So actually the 'conflation' of sexuality and gender is an existing reality.
That being said, I do believe that the gender identity side of the story does not get the attention it deserves, and I do believe that most homophobes are more concerned about the (perceived) transgression of gender norms than what people actually do in bed (and most of them don't seem to have enough fantasy to even imagine what we might be doing in bed anyway).

Which was my point Justus. Gender Identity and what it actually entails is massively misunderstood by people in the queer community and certainly among most "professionals" encountering these children. And it's a key piece, no matter how some queer peeps want to just smear over it and say it isn't 'productive' (which I understand within a political activist context but makes me feel way more distanced from those who dismiss its import to those actually living it).

There are overlaps in everything! Steven would somehow overlap white males (there are those that might suggest I would too) so does that means we have to STFU and follow the white male line? I'm Jewish which has profoundly impacted my life and, especially my family which died for being it... does that mean there's no differences between myself and orthodox gay-hatin' Jews that I can't illuminate? Folks, the world is one big Venn diagram, but that doesn't mean the unique concerns of the subparts aren't making profound impacts in those lives... impacts which parts of those Venn diagrams need to understand.

" People simply do not get the difference between gay and trans. That's why trans people who get all high and mighty about how they aren't a part of the GLBT community and shouldn't be lumped together really need to get over that. The people who hate gays don't know and don't care that we're different. When they open the camps, saying you're trans is not going to save your ass".

Oh they get it. People understand just fine the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. the ignorance is just a ploy to allow them to llive in an "dillusional state".

As far as the Trans who get all high and mighty. They're abosutely right. LGB has nothing to do with T. But for some reason we are all in this together so lets make the most of it.

"You may not be able to tell the difference between a gay person and a trans person if you're only looking at one particular behavior. There are overlaps between gay drag queens and trans women, and butch lesbians and trans men".

Can you tell the difference between a race car driver and a bus driver bc there is overlapping behavior there as well.