A couple months ago an item appeared on Dr. Phil McGraw's website where he told a mother to take away girl toys from her son because they're "confusing" him. The Advocate interviewed McGraw about that advice:
You know, it's interesting to me that somebody would even consider that in that light. If you understand that your sexual orientation is a hard-wired genetic DNA reality and not a learned lifestyle, then what toys you play with is not going to determine whether you're straight or gay, you're not going to take a child that is hard-wired to be gay and give him G.I. Joe and so he becomes straight, and you're not going to give a kid a Barbie and so he becomes gay. What I said to the parents at the time, you don't like the toys he's playing with, take them away from him and give him some different toys. You're the parent, be a parent. If you think that your kid's playing too many video games, get rid of the video games. If you think they're playing too many sports, then, you know, don't let them do that. But it has nothing to do with programming their sexuality.
So your suggestion that she take the toys away had more to do with her discomfort with him playing with those toys?
Well, I think it had to do with her discomfort and what she thought was confusing to him. Maybe you can help me here. Do gay boy children play with girl toys?
He says (1) she was uncomfortable because her son was being "confused" by girl toys, and (2) sexuality is hard-wired so it won't be affected by toys. And now, (3) gender is a social construct and there are no such thing as girl toys or boy toys:
No, I don't think that's true. I think that people would hope, though, that parents would be comfortable enough with the child's choice of toys and that -- like you said -- that wouldn't have an effect on their sexual orientation.
Well, that's a parenting issue. That's not a gay or straight issue, that's a parenting issue. And parents have the right to choose what toys they want to expose their children to. Like for example, I'm not a hunter. I've never had a cross word with a deer, so what am I going to go track one down and shoot it for?
What do you think about gender identity disorder? Maybe we're talking about a child who, maybe, is born as a boy but is starting to identify possibly as a girl?
I don't think that he would be drawn to those toys because of his genetic encoding. I mean, we identify things socially as being male or female. There's nothing inherently female about a Barbie. It's like eating breakfast. There aren't breakfast foods. We just decided that we're going to eat cereal in the morning instead of a cheeseburger. That's not because some foods are breakfast foods. We just decide that and we assign that to different things, and I think we have to be cautious about doing that.
The crux of the problem here is that McGraw doesn't seem to know that some people use the word "confused" to mean "queer." He also doesn't seem to know that a lot of people link gendered toys with both sexuality and future gender identity and expression.
Can he really be that dense? Perhaps.
Gender does exist and it's not 100% social convention but a mix of wiring and learned behavior. It'd nice to think of McGraw as a second wave feminist, but it's not really consistent with his the normally very gendered advice he dispenses to heterosexual married couples.
So the other possibility is that he just can't admit he was wrong.
He goes on to say that parents shouldn't try to change the sexuality of their kids because "you're now telling a child that has their own mind to be somebody they're not," but gender apparently doesn't fall into the same category. It's true that there's behavior to try to change in kids and behavior to encourage and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but when a parent explains their objection to a behavior only in terms of their personal discomfort then it's something the child shouldn't have to accommodate.
What that all has to do with deer hunting and cheeseburgers is anyone's guess.