When girls wear tuxes and boys wear heels

genderThe Western world has been divided into male/female for many years.  This division is slowly dissolving, and not surprisingly it is our young people who are pushing this crusade.

There’s a recent article in the New York Times called Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School? It’s not a terrible article, although it does make unfounded assumptions and statements and provides unchallenged statements that are ignorant and insulting.

The article starts poorly here:

“Rules” + “teenager” = “challenges.”

While there is a certain segment of the population that probably laughs appreciatively at this question, while nodding their head, it’s a fallacy that teenagers and rules don’t get along – in fact, teenagers and rules tend to get along famously if teenagers feel they have ownership and partnership in creating and implementing the rules.

We move on to a generalized statement of the situation:

In recent years, a growing number of teenagers have been dressing to articulate — or confound — gender identity and sexual orientation. Certainly they have been confounding school officials, whose responses have ranged from indifference to applause to bans.

I am delighted to see this profound acknowledgment in a print institution like the Times.  This evolving understanding and acceptance of gender is a dramatic contribution by the up-and-coming generation in the way of the evolving understanding and acceptance of inter-race relations was over the past decades.

Take a look at Genderfork, for example.  It’s a blog with pictures, videos, quotes, and profiles of people who identify as queer – or rather as non-traditional in regards to gender or sexual orientation. Our evolving world is continually more open and accepting of androgyny and playing with gender.

But back to our Times article.

For bonus points, who can point out what is so terribly wrong with this paragraph:

And safety is a critical concern. In February 2008, Lawrence King, an eighth-grader from Oxnard, Calif., who occasionally wore high-heeled boots and makeup, was shot to death in class by another student.

Apparently many administrators hide behind safety concerns when they require students to wear gender-specific clothing.  This is a bunch of malarkey.  If there are safety concerns afoot, the people whose behavior needs to change are the individuals who are causing harm, not the ones who are being harmed.

Why is this backwards approach even still a question?

If a person is beat-up because they like the color green, telling them to change their favorite color will not address the underlying issue of violence.  Instead, we need to educate and provide therapy for the person who believes it is appropriate to perpetrate violence against the green-color-lovers among us.

And this comes down to school culture, which is ultimately what determines whether the student body accepts their peers or harms them.  This culture set by the administration, more often than not.  The Times article ends with this anecdote:

SOME guidance counselors say that while safety concerns can not be dismissed, high school administrators shouldn’t presume that such students will be targeted by peers.

Jeff Grace, faculty adviser for a gay-straight alliance club at high school in Columbus, Ohio, said he has seen student perceptions change over the last decade.

One student, Mr. Grace recounted, born male and named Jack, has long, straight hair and prefers to be referred to with a female pronoun. Jack is careful not to violate the dress code. She favors tops that are tapered but not revealing, flats, lip gloss.

“One day I heard a student say, ‘Man, there was a girl in the guy’s restroom, standing up using the urinal! What’s up with that?’ ” Mr. Grace recalled.

Bathrooms can be dangerous for transgender students. But the other student replied off-handedly, “That wasn’t a girl. That’s just Jack.”

And ultimately, acknowledging each individual simply as themselves is exactly what we need to do – and hopefully exactly what our children will continue to teach us how to do.

(I am choosing to ignore this fallacy, which apparently the Times chooses to continue to propagate: “the latest styles that signify a gang affiliation, a sexual act or drug use.”  But in the event that you’re asked, most teenagers have nothing to do with styles that signify sexual acts.  It’s a ridiculous concept and needs to be pitched along with other urban legends.)

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.