I don’t even know what to say about this:
This clip, from The View, is about 6 minutes long. The conversation topic this time is transgendered children. Whoopi Goldberg kicks off the conversation by quoting some statistic that a larger percentage of boys are now receiving toy kitchens to play with – which, I agree with Whoopi, is a good thing. Melina Kanakaredes, the guest host, reinforces Whoopi’s position, and states that she would allow her male children (if she had any) to wear dresses and play with dolls if they chose to, and she would allow the female children she does have to play with toys that are stereotypically “male.” (Side note: I rather dig this woman, because she states diplomatically that she doesn’t like guns, so she’d rather none of her children play with them.)
After some standard debate, Barbara Walters calls Sherri Shepard out – she has been shaking her head and looking grim during the conversation. Shepard then lays out her position: unequivocally, she would not allow her son to wear dresses, play with dolls, or participate in any type of behavior in the home (or outside of it) that could be considered anything other than stereotypically male. She insists that as a parent, she has the right and responsibility to define clear gender roles for her children, and she expects that anyone coming into contact with her children (including teachers) will respect the lines she draws.
Barbara makes a few attempts to dissuade her. She says things like, “Sometimes these are indicators that these children are transgendered. Being transgender is not a choice.” Sherri, though, isn’t budging: “If you want to wear a dress, when you are 18 and out of the house, you can wear a dress!” She makes it clear that she will not tolerate transgender behavior in her home.
So what bothers you more? I can’t decide: is it the phobic attitude? The complete lack of understanding for gender identity? The idea that any one person has the right to decide who another person should be? The overwhelming attitude that as a parent, she is right Right RIGHT all the time?
Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity will already understand that I have a pretty strong interest in gender and self-identification. You’ll probably also know that I don’t support the idea of socially acceptable gender roles and stereotypes. So Sherri’s response, of course, bothers me on that level – I seriously don’t see anything wrong with a 5-year-old boy playing dress up and wanting to put on the princess gown.
Something else, though, that I don’t support is the idea of parents attempting to control every aspect of their children’s lives.
Something I think all parents, regardless of age, would do well to remember: that cute little baby you had, the one that cried and cooed and made your heart melt, will eventually grow up to be an individual with his or her own ideas, opinions, and beliefs. His or her own identity. His or her own dreams, goals, and values. I’m not sure it’s really fair for parents to want things for their children, other than maybe good health and happiness. But to attempt to determine what defines happiness for someone else is a dangerous game – my definition of happiness is quite different, I’m sure, from my best friend or my ex-husband.
I understand there’s a larger sense of responsibility in parenting; I want Jacob to be happy and healthy, safe and well-liked. I aim to teach him to be respectful of all people, courteous and considerate. Aside from that, I can’t really do much about what he will eventually be. I mean, I could end up with Alex Keaton! But really, what can I do? I can’t tell him to view social and political issues the way I do simply because he’s my son. I can only do for him what my parents did for me: disguise my own prejudices so that he is free to form his own opinions.
I think there are some other, larger issues at hand here, too, aside from parenting. One of the issues is racial: it’s been fairly openly acknowledged in the queer community that the African-American community is less accepting of non-traditional gender identification and sexuality. (Note: although the African-American community is not the only one to hold more homophobic viewpoints, I’m specifying them because Sherri Shepard is African-American.) There appears to be a stronger standard for gender within the African-American community, with gay black men taking the brunt of the negativity. I wonder how much the gender stereotypes reinforced in the black community have to do with Shepard’s behavior?
But I think probably the biggest issue is the need that most people seem to have to identify “what” a person is – it’s like there’s an invisible checklist when we look at an individual, and we mentally start ticking off boxes: Race, Gender, Sexuality. And of course it goes beyond that, to less visually identifiable characteristics, like politics, faith, diet, etc. But I think race, gender and sexuality are the biggest boxes, the ones that we first seek to identify. And I don’t think it’s always a conscious effort – it’s just something that we, as humans in this culture, have been conditioned to do. And when we’re unable to fit someone neatly into one of two or three or four specific categories, we, as people, tend to be very uncomfortable. So we don’t like seeing the boy dressed up as a girl, because that makes it more difficult for us to check off that box that corresponds with “male” – because “men” don’t do that, right? Perhaps if we were less anxious to identify the “whats” associated with a person, we might be better able to understand the “who” and the “why” within them.