Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Calling Boys "Girlie" Does and Means

image of "Maximo Oliveros" (a fictional character in an amazing Filipino movie linked to below) is from here
Revised on 25 March 2011 and revised significantly again on 29 March:

Years ago I wrote a piece, autobiographical, called "The Trauma of the Gendered Child". You can read that *here*. I wrote it before I knew being intergender was something I could say about myself. Since writing it, I've realised that my experience of childhood was not uncommon. Many children, female, male, and intersex, live our lives not feeling like we belong to the gender we are assigned to and forced to become, under penalty of rejection, scorn, and violence.

I'm aware of three movies which deal explicitly with issues of boys who behave in ways that make most het men uncomfortable (and, for different reasons, some gay men too). Those movies are The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Breakfast With Scot, and Ma Vie En Rose. Each of these excellent movies deals with different issues related to being an non-masculinist boy. (Two of those links go to sites where the movies may be watched in full.) If you watch them, please pay attention to and compare the political, economic, regional, cultural, and social realities influencing the decisions of adults in accepting or not accepting their "feminine" boys.)

I believe there is emotional, psychological, and political trauma done to boys who are called "girlie" by their misogynistic-homophobic fathers (or, well, mothers, or other parent-figures). Socially, there is usually a knee-jerk misogynist, anti-girl reaction to this happening. What typically happens in liberal to progressive families and communities is that boys are told "you're not girlie" or "that's not girlie" or are otherwise encouraged to shore up their self-concept as a boy in some ways--including by believing that boys can do anything, no matter the gendered associations.

The misogyny beneath this approach, which I find myself caught in, is to not tackle, head on, the violence to girls of using the term "girlie". It shames boys, yes. But it shames girls too. It communicates to girls and boys that they are of less value, are worth-less, if they are like girls, as determined by misogynistic homophobes. It should surprise no one that most girls identify as girls--they don't have any choice. And the trouble with patriarchal, woman-hating gender tyranny and terrorism is that if girls are like girls--if girls are "girlie"--they too are not valued. There's no way to be a girl in a patriarchal society and be valued, socially, as much as boys and men are valued, if the boys and men are pro-patriarchal, misogynistic, and masculinist.

We live in tricky times, re: gender. If male children grow up being "feminine" we now have doctors and other "experts" telling us that they must be transsexual. Or gay. Or that there's something wrong with them that needs to be medically "fixed". There are far too many children being told there's something "not normal" about being girlie. But being feminine--as defined by patriarchs (and in the U.S. racist patriarchs)--is part of what is normal for boys and some girls too. It is normal even while it is a largely both a mandatory and manufactured concept in the minds of men. Some boys and girls are not feminine, are not masculine, and are not transsexual. And many transsexuals who transition M2F are also not "feminine" and don't desire to be, either. People, trans or not, simply are who they are: human, fine, healthy--except for the society that tells them they are not healthy or fine, or human. And to label children anything other than "normal" (re: gender and sexuality) for being "who they are" is a form of sexual violence, in the opinion of this blogger.

The point of the earlier essay was that labeling and enforcing a gender hierarchy in which "boylie" boys are valued and girls--whether like girls or boys--are not, is sexually traumatic, abusive, and sets children up to act out that violence against themselves and other children. Also against their mothers, often. Boys learn to hit to be masculine, for example, and can and do hit their mothers, especially if they've seen daddy or other men do it. Girls learn to be silent and self-deprecating, and too often self-abusive in other ways too.

I believe that any man who teaches his sons (or daughters) that they are not okay if they are "feminine" or "girlie" ought to be found guilty of psychological child sexual abuse. And any men who devalue their daughters because they are girls ought to be found guilty of the same thing. Because these actions by men do irreparable harm to children. And of course any het man who bullies his family, who is a terrorist or tyrant, who is a rapist and batterer of his female spouse, should never be allowed to be around children or women at all.

I think a healthy response to witnessing a child being told they are too feminine or too much like a girl is to note that there's nothing at all wrong with being "girlie".  That is essentially the message all children need to get, with confidence and social assurance: that there's nothing wrong with being who they are, intrinsically, even while we know that gendering children is social and political, designed to replicate male supremacy and female subordination, and that children absorb social messages about gender as it applies to them.

I hope children can grow up knowing that that girls being "boyie" and boys being "girlie" (or any other combo) doesn't make them transsexual any more than it makes them lesbian or gay. Being transsexual makes them transsexual. Being lesbian makes them lesbian. Being gay makes them gay. Those are complex social-psychological teenage to adult realities that, along with the labels heterosexual or bisexual, are not appropriate to put on pre-pubescent children, in my opinion. It's not that I think pre-pubescent children can't know who they are attracted to and don't learn how to be misogynistic and heterosexist. It's that coming out as a lesbian, as bi, or as gay, is a social experience, not a private intra-psychic one. It requires negotiating social, cultural, political spaces, not just private mental, psychological, emotional spaces. And to label small children as "gay" or "lesbian" or "het" is to layer onto them adult social/cultural ways of being that simply ought not be applied to young children, in my view. To reinforce ideas that being a feminine boy means he's going to be gay, or a non-feminine girl is already a lesbian is to participate in hetero/sexist stereotyping.

When adults proclaim "their" children to be heterosexual, for example, they are projecting or simply reinforcing gross heterosexism. To do so because their son likes sports and their daughter doesn't, is sexist nonsense. This, to me, is a form of psychic sexual violence against children as it leads children to feel bad about themselves if they end up not being heterosexual as homophobic patriarchs violently define and politically defend the term and it being "natural" among children.

And in my experience queer and non-queer communities are increasingly confused about this, to the detriment of queer and non-queer children. Because as soon as young children are labeled anything other than "normal", their understandings of themselves changes and begins to absorb self-concepts and negative feelings they see being attached to those terms. When adults, some of us realise that being "normal" is far from desirable. But I don't believe children are capable of forming strong self-concepts and confident senses of self if they are labeled or feel "abnormal". I personally would rather not be normal; but at age six or even at age sixteen, I wasn't entirely capable of genuinely wishing to be abnormal as a healthy rejection of the status quo.

Being transsexual isn't abnormal either. But, unlike being lesbian, bi, and gay, only a very few children are transsexual--although this will be socially, medically, and culturally determined. I witnessed the harm to teens and young adults who suffered the malpractice, most systematically through the 1990s in the U.S., of them being labeled as ADD and ADHD children. There is currently a social trend among some "specialised" mental health care workers and medical professionals, who are effectively pro-misogynistic and pro-heteropatriarchal, of labeling children both as non-transsexual when they are, or as transsexual when they're not. I've seen this over the decades done by het, bi, lesbian, and gay adults too--of deciding who their children are based on insufficient evidence, or biases from the dominant culture or alternative cultures parents live in.

I'd argue that sexual and gendered identities and conditions are so culturally relative that they can likely only be known and determined in later childhood or adulthood--and even then, as many of us know, such determinations shift with time across adulthood.

Being heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, intergender, or transsexual are largely social-cultural-political phenomena. We can note that being Two-Spirit, for example, isn't something any white medical professionals will likely determine anyone to be while they may determine some children, teens, and adults to be non-transsexual or transsexual. Does this mean no one is Two-Spirit? No. It means labels are ideological, cultural, and political. And for many decades, for centuries non-industrialised, Indigenist societies have had differing ways of acknowledging and honoring people who were not what white, English-speaking, Westerners call "straight" or "women" or "men". It is so easy for white, English-speaking Westerners to forget that "heterosexual" is not an acultural, ahistorical, or asocial reality. Not is being lesbian or gay. Nor is being "gendered"--whether non-transgender or transgender.

Each involves finding out what one's own experiences and feelings mean within the societies and cultures we grow up in. In some cases it means finding out about our cultural traditions that have been devalued or traditions that are being destroyed. Our understandings of ourselves--how we come to name ourselves--cannot be done outside of political, social, cultural realms, and young children are not really equipped to know all of that when so young.

Dominant Western society is heteropatriarchal, racist, and favors labeling children in ways that benefit adults, especially adults who profit by this labeling. To label pre-pubescent children in any way as being definitively sexual in one particular way is inhumane, even while it is required by heteropatriarchy: all children are presumed heterosexual until proven otherwise, for example. But, other than for political, cultural, and economic reasons, there's no need to label any young children, period. Children are "human"--and even that term has very culturally specific social and economic meaning.

In my opinion, children deserve to be encouraged to express themselves as they wish, in age-appropriate ways. This means protecting children from adult practices that are traumatic when imposed on or introduced into the lives of children in confusing and abusive ways.

If possible, keep all pornography away from children. And good luck with that. In my opinion, anyone who intentionally makes pornography or other graphic manifestations of racist, rapist society repeatedly available to children should be found guilty of child sexual abuse. I recognise that loving parents may need to show children adult images--not sexually graphic ones--to explain what is and is not appropriate for children to see. Given how pornographic many societies have become, one needn't go further than magazines like Maxim, Vogue, or Seventeen to find these images. Each contains plenty of examples of sexxxualised racism and misogyny. Children never "need" to see graphic, sexxxxually explicit pornography, for any reason, to become healthy adults. That children are so often made into sexxx-objects, disproportionately for white Western men, worldwide, ought to be beyond outrageous. It ought to be completely unacceptable, globally. But that means radically transforming all capitalist, patriarchal, and racist economic and social systems.

I've heard the details of the harm of girls being exposed to their fathers' pornography--written and depicted. Most women I know who have very painful sexual fantasies that are deeply troubling and shame-inducing to them were exposed to their fathers' pornography when young girls. That arranged exposure is also a form of psychological-sexual child abuse by the fathers. The girls I know who also grow up with deep conflict about their own sexuality and self-image are those exposed to normal racist misogynistic media, and those who are incested or molested by males in their families.

Het men, as a class of human beings, are dangerous to children because they are often enough predators and perpetrators of child sexual abuse and rape. They are dangerous to all children. And the denial about that is intense. This reality is displaced by het men onto gay men and lesbian women so that only the latter two groups of adults are stigmatised as "dangerous to children", including sexually.

Because of the sheer number of het-identified men, and also because they are not stigmatised as the most predatory population of adult "child molesters", "procurers", "traffickers", and slavers, this means het-identified and het-behaving men have infinitely more access to children than do gay men or lesbian women. I'm not saying any woman or man or transgender person is not capable of abusing children in many ways, including in overtly sexual ways. I'm saying that the population of adults who most perpetrate overtly psychological and gross sexual abuse against children is het men.

Het men who abuse their children emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually are usually not held accountable at all. That tells you a lot about het male supremacy, entitlements, privileges, and power over women and children.

Het men have way too much corrupt and abusive power in society. And the forms of power they have and exercise allows them to do whatever they want to do including anything that is abusive and irresponsible. This includes beating up their spouses, beating their children, raping their spouses, incesting their children, procuring and pimping girls and women, homophobically assaulting children and other men and women, and otherwise terrorising and degrading anyone around them who they can assault without being held accountable by the larger society.

What I hope is that from now on, when I hear of a boy being called "girlie" my response is to cheer, celebrate, and say "congratulations"!!! "Let's throw a girlie-boy party!" And let's not invite anyone who is likely to shame any child who isn't behaving in misogynistically, patriarchally (politically) correct ways.

What complicates this particular matter of gender and children is that toys and so many other products are manufactured in racist capitalist patriarchal societies, and are marketed to children with the understanding that being a girl means being submissive, and being a boy means being active and dominant. Most of what is marketed to girls is sold to ensure girls are submissive and subordinate to boys and men specifically. I think that the "girlie" and "boylie" things that C.R.A.P. manufactures are likely to be harmful to children in the context of living in a society in which male dominance and female submissiveness is normalised, naturalised, and sexxxualised.

As I discuss a bit in the essay linked to atop this post, I didn't neatly fit into any gendered category when growing up. I could play with dolls with a female cousin. I could also play chess with a male relative. In what sense is playing with a doll or playing chess "gendered"? Boys play with dolls, of course, but tend to be sold dolls that are soldiers or superheroes of some kind. It's difficult to know who one is when media and parents tell you there's only one choice.

It took me over forty years of living to come into my own identity as intergender, in part because the term and concept wasn't presented to me as a child, a teenager, or a young adult. We tend to call ourselves terms that are socially real. If a child is not traditionally gendered or sexed, they will likely be especially vulnerable to the terms adults around them use to describe and define them. I choose a term that is hopefully respectful of women and girls, that doesn't allow me, as a male person, to impose my self-naming over and against women and girls, and that honors women and girls as specific groups of people oppressed by men and boys in patriarchal societies from day one onward--as long as those people are perceived to be female by men.

I hope that children, teens, and adults are offered terms that don't make medical interventions necessary. This isn't to make medical intervention "wrong". It is to make it possible to understand our lives as ones which are more collectively politically shaped than individually medically fixed.

I want to thank all the women, and the few men, over the decades, who have refused to raise their children in oppressively gendered ways. Goddess bless you. But let's not forget that it will take collective, sustained, organised activism aimed at the radical transformation of the whole of these societies to ensure that those parents' good work keeps children emotionally, psychologically, politically, and spiritually healthy.

Boys who are identified by adults or peers as "feminine" are wonderful just as they are. They don't need harmful, misogynistic labels or Western patriarchal medical interventions to be wonderful. Spread the word.

1 comment:


I'll never forget witnessing a father harshly telling a little boy aged approx. 5 years old (I assume he was the boy's father) that he shouldn't cry. The boy was crying because he had accidentally dropped his toy on the floor and it was damaged. The boy was very upset, which was natural - but the adult male was only concerned with not having a son (sic) who supposedly acts like a girl!

I've seen little boys aged 3-5 years old shamed by their fathers because they showed interest in a toy which is supposedly 'for girls only!' Boys and girls aged younger than five commonly express an interest in objects which adults believe are 'gendered' but children of this age group are not interested in whether or not the item is 'appropriate' to their sex - rather they are expressing an awareness and interest in their surroundings.

If we believe that certain behaviours/actions/interests are either 'feminine or masculine' then clearly women who identify as lesbian are not lesbian but men in disguise!