Coercively assigning sex roles

Sex Role BoxesI was coercively assigned a sex role at birth. As soon as medical personnel saw that I didn’t have a penis, the process of putting me and keeping me in a very narrowly-defined box began. From then on I was coercively stopped from doing or being things associated with boys and coerced into doing and being things associated with girls. I fought many bitter, painful battles over years of being forced into that box. A handful of those battles I won; most I lost, because the full power of adults was brought to bear to keep me in my proper sex role.

It’s intensely frustrating that in the intervening years experiences like this have continued for girls and boys. But worse, rather than meaningful progress toward simply allowing children to live their lives outside of any box, there is now a very powerful movement that claims that forcing children into the other restrictive sex role box is the solution. The problem, these people claim, is not that the person was coercively assigned a sex role at all, it’s that they were coercively assigned the incorrect sex role, and that (of course!) can be fixed by adopting the other sex role.

It should be obvious on the face that this is a completely false solution that could only have been created by people who don’t have the best interests of children in mind. Rather than finding ways of accepting and nurturing children who don’t conform to sex roles, society has significantly increased the sex role pressure.

A girl who simply wants to play football, build robots, and wear jeans and t-shirts will still be under constant pressure to adopt the proper sex role attire and behaviors for females. That’s bad enough, but in addition to that, she will be derided and bullied by other children for being “gay” (regardless of her actual sexual orientation) and pressured by adults to consider herself a “transgendered” person who needs drugs, intensive psychotherapy, and other medical intervention to fit her into the other socially-approved sex role.

No sooner have we made very small incremental progress against homophobic bullying than adults — in the service of their own fears and cowardice — find another way to coerce these children into boxes. And in ways that do even more long term damage.

It’s obvious that those children need us to advocate for them. Sex roles are not only anachronistic, but uniquely harmful to individuals and society and we must find ways to stop adults from forcing children into them.

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7 comments
  1. ‘Transing’ children is certainly child abuse, and I’m appalled that so many who consider themselves radical are not opposing this practice. This essentialising of gender functions to set up kids deemed ‘trans’ on a precarious life path involving the distressing inability to deal with accurate social recognition of one’s sex, and possible longterm intake of poisonous hormones, if not serious surgery as well. And, as you so accurately point out, it also sets up a greater number of children, those who don’t have the ‘trans’ identity thrust upon them, to be harmed by the belief in sex-role stereotypes – stereotypes for children which have markedly increased over the last few decades. It is profoundly anti-female.

    Thank you for pointing out that gender – the socially-enforced sex roles – *is* coercive. In fact, that which is individually desired or felt, while not being socially enforced, is not in fact *gender*.

  2. survivorthriver said:

    As a preschool teacher with 100+ satisfied customers over 8 years, there was one 3 year old Korean adoptee who refused to speak, but he would don dress up clothes and I’d play records while the children “did their work” or had open free time. I would play Tchaikovsky and this tiny silent boy would nobly lift his chin, and then his arms and dance in front of the mirror for the entire LP (the old days, but I kept record player a long time as I had a lot of vinyl). This beautiful dancer was ridiculed by his parents when they picked him up if he was wearing a skirt. They demanded that I prevent him from wearing dress up clothes (ie skirts) which he preferred. I begged them, I told them how happy he was to dress up and dance, and I literally went out on a line and asked them please, could he dress up only while at school? They relented, as long as he was dressed in his civilian boy clothes when they came to pick him up. I also begged them to consider dance for him, as they’d provided for his two older also-adopted Korean born sisters.

    Over the years this boy did play soccer and was a pretty happy kid, and I never saw him in public in female clothes. But, my daughter was a grade or two above and she reported that he was out and gay, a very happy and out, lovely young man. And, he danced in the local ballet company.

    The thought of “transing” this young spirit grieves me. And, these were “liberal” parents….but they thought that the 3-5 year old age was some sort of testing ground for gender roles and that parents should helpl a child fit into the right one. And, these were educated people. It is just so dang hard to be a parent. But, I think they relented enough so that their son had outlets for his true spirit, it wasn’t stamped out.

    This boy didn’t want the hair and makeup thing, it was really just wearing costumes and dancing, expressing his body through dance. And, yes, he became a very lovely gay young man.

    I’ve been talking to “civilians” who know nothing of the trans issues, and most people take a long learning curve to understand why there isn’t instant SNAP obedience to “what the boy thinks in his head is his sex”….and, there is something so knee-jerk liberal about standing up for LGBTQ that questioning some of the current faux trans logic takes a while to get through to them.

    Keep up the good work revealing the coercing of rigid, binary sex roles on behalf of all of us.

  3. Thank you for continuing the discussion, liberationislife. This is an excellent point: “In fact, that which is individually desired or felt, while not being socially enforced, is not in fact *gender*.” Exactly, they’re mutually exclusive. You can’t “freely choose” something that is socially/culturally coerced. Since gender *is* socially/culturally coerced, it can’t be freely chosen. Conversely, simply desiring or feeling something that doesn’t fit into a socially-approved box couldn’t, by definition, be related to “gender” (e.g., “gender identity”).

    We have to just keep saying these things over and over until the light bulb goes on for more and more people. The other side has done such an excellent job of propagandizing and butchering words and meanings, we have our work cut out for us.

  4. That’s a great story, survivorthriver, thank you for sharing that. It’s such a good illustration of the difference between the natural unselfconsciousness of children and the fears adults have. And of course, adults have learned those fears over their own lifetimes of experiencing what happens when people step out of boundaries, color outside the lines, stand out in the crowd, etc. (We have so many terms, metaphors, and analogies for this experience, it’s obviously a source of great tension and drama for humans.)

    I’m so glad you found a way to talk to those parents, to reach them. That is exactly what we have to do, but it’s hard to push against the entire cultural training we all get. I know that one step has to be compassion for the parents; their fears are based in reality. My mother’s fears for me were based in knowing exactly what was coming down the road, headed directly at me, and she was naturally afraid for me and wanted to protect me. And she was right in that way. But in the face of that, rather than get the kid back in the lines, we have to find other ways of cultivating the strength and resilience in children who are different so they can continue to be something other than the scripted actors of pre-approved roles.

    What you said here is especially important for us to think about:
    “And, these were “liberal” parents….but they thought that the 3-5 year old age was some sort of testing ground for gender roles and that parents should helpl a child fit into the right one. And, these were educated people. […] I’ve been talking to “civilians” who know nothing of the trans issues, and most people take a long learning curve to understand why there isn’t instant SNAP obedience to “what the boy thinks in his head is his sex”….and, there is something so knee-jerk liberal about standing up for LGBTQ that questioning some of the current faux trans logic takes a while to get through to them.”

    The liberal enterprise to accept everything and anything people claim to be “choosing” is yet again falling the hardest on girls and women. The boy in the news lately is “choosing” a sex role stereotype foisted on him by adults. In some ways, that sex role stereotype is his to play with as long as it feels good. And that is exactly what liberals are responding to: Why can’t this child just do what feels good? We know that’s a completely false question, but it’s very hard to get that across in a simple sound bite. As you say, it’s a very long learning curve to really get that that is a false question.

    And finally, you said this, which really sums up why we have to keep working on this issue:
    “The thought of “transing” this young spirit grieves me.”

    Exactly.

  5. survivorthriver said:

    “rather than get the kid back in the lines, we have to find other ways of cultivating the strength and resilience in children who are different so they can continue to be something other than the scripted actors”

    That’s it in a nutshell.

    The Korean boy and our family lived in a very liberal community, a rich rural suburb off a metropolitan city. I mean, this is the bastion of liberal values.

    Not many South Koreans adopt out their boys, mostly the adoptees allowed to go to the U.S. are girls. Right, I mean, any of you know differently? As a third child of this adoptive family, they did not receive the boy until after he wasa two years old. I always wondered if they had gaydar and even then thought him non-agressive or something? Anyway, he came so late in his life that to have further traumatized him by denying him his costumes seemed cruel.

    That was what I finally had the parents language about their son, that he was very creative and costumes are an accepted part of some parts of our life like drama and dance….and, this is a close knit community so he had a lot of parents support and the community sports and its a very artsy fartsy community annd very very liberal. A lot of lesbians btw with families now!

    Anyway, I had one other example, a girl.

    This wild child was evaluated and later drugged for ADD. But, inmy preschool she was bold, physical and impulsive. She had a genius for loving physical activity and exploration. She loved story time, and did play dolls with other girls, but she was restless. She was described as “hyperactive” when she justs did not have one whit of interest in quiet activities. And, she was rebellious and did not care for her physical appearance. She loved tousled and dirty hair, loved rolling on grass, crawling through under-cover of shrubbery….and she didn’t perform submission very well for her parents. She ultimately made it through the school system, and was drugged for whatever personality diagnosis they made up about her.

    i wonder what the mood drugs did to this girl? i wonder how they dumbed her down. She’s quite a flamboyant teen dresser, not feminine, bold and diffferent.

    I believe that the trans of children question is nestled under a superordinate evil – Big Pharma. They are drugging the bat shit out of our kids! Trans is only the latest and most profitable way for profit for drugging our kids for “diagnoses” in the new DSM-V.

    Transing, thanks to Big Pharma nad Frankendokters is the profit goal of sold-out psychiatry’s night mare wet dream now unleashed on the class of persons – children – overall.

    Mood drugs for children is child abuse in some if not all cases. All kinds of psychiatric abuse and institutionalized child abuse should be eliminated.

    This girl wasa gender non-conformant, and they drugged her for being boisterous and rebellious. I think it was a gender function that got her drugged up.

  6. Sarah said:

    This is heart-breaking. Years ago, teaching children in Thailand, one bright but over-anxious little boy was always being taken out of class by his (high achieving, very Westernised, professional) parents. They were taking him to psychiatrists to have him ‘evaluated’ for transgenderism. I asked what made them suspect he might be in the ‘wrong’ gender.

    Apparently in playschool he had been lifting up the girls’ skirts to look at their knickers.

    Which somehow suggested to them he might be ‘really’ a girl.

    He was five.

  7. Yolanda Miller said:

    Well, I’m commenting two years late on this, but I thought my experience might be valuable at least.

    I’m pretty young, so my only experience with feminism and trans-ness has been through the internet and through Tumblr.

    Now, Tumblr can be great at times, it’s full of people against racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.

    But it’s also… well, I’m sure the majority of users are young girls. Being young girls, they’re of course experimenting with sexuality, gender roles, etc.

    Part of experimenting with sexuality when you’re a young female, at the same time restricted and fetishized, is by treating others as you’ve been treated. So there are a lot of the ever-famous homoerotic fanfics, written by women and for women, which push the restrictive roles and fetishization that have been put on women onto gay male characters.

    A lot of these girls see nothing wrong with this. They accept their forced roles as sex objects, “bottoms,” etc etc etc in society, and will write one or more gay male this way, that they might identify with.

    Because the stereotype of one gay partner being a masculine “top” and the other being a feminine “bottom” is so heavily accepted on Tumblr, I think that in their feminism they allow this too… They say you shouldn’t have gender roles forced on you, but you can choose them if you wish. Just as if in the “ideal” fanfic, a bottom might choose to be “feminine,” etc.

    This confused me for a long time. With their brand of feminism, I was told that including trans people was the most important thing, you should always respect someone’s desire to be referred to as “he” or “she…”

    But trying to treat trans women the same way you treat all females is dangerous. They do have privileges. Their bodies aren’t restricted by the government after they transition into being “female-bodied,” for one. No uterus, no chance of rape that results in pregnancy, no denied abortion.

    I understand that trans women can be beaten and killed if they don’t “pass,” or if someone knows they’re trans, because of they way society is. But women, period, are beaten and killed at an alarming rate too.

    There’s the difference. Let’s be honest, women are in more danger than any minority group. Women are mocked even when they accept their gender roles. They’re screwed no matter what. Trans women aren’t being hurt because they’re trans, it’s because of a hatred of women or anything feminine, or of males who refuse to accept their roles in rejecting that femininity.

    And let’s not forget trans men. I believe females should have a right to get rid of their reproductive organs, breasts, all that stuff, because females are treated so horribly, restricted, and fetishized so heavily. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get rid of that. Sure, it’s erasure, and it’s a pressure to erase something you were born with in order to feel safe. But some people are damaged by society to the point that this might be the best action for them.

    With trans women, it’s different. I see so many trans women talking shit about people born female, how lucky they are and how much they hate them for it… just… are you kidding me? /Lucky?/

    And then when they transition… it’s like a mockery. It really is appropriation, because it’s heavily sexualized. And Trans women don’t grow up with the terror that females grow up with.

    I can see that a person born male might have an internalized hatred for their body and for males, see them as threatening or terrible, and be damaged to the point that removing/replacing their genitals, becoming more female-looking, would be the only therapy for them, and the only way they could be happy after being so damaged. But I still think they should do it with GREAT RESPECT towards the female people who have had to live it, had to grow up with the things forced on them, the heavy sexualization of their bodies even from a young age, the fear and the oppression. They should recognize that and they should talk about it.

    I think it’s just as okay for females to wear dresses if they enjoy it as it is for males to if they enjoy it, and the same goes for lingerie. I feel the same about males, females, and dressing in a way that’s incredibly masculine. And for people who want to switch around, even from one extreme to the other? That’s fine to.

    I only take issue with the gender binary. I take issue with people saying they were born in the wrong body.

    In fact, I take issue with trans people who make “trans” narrow enough only to refer to males who want to be female sexed or gendered, and females who want to me male sexed or gendered. Because trans should refer to anyone who doesn’t care about the gender binary, whether they sometimes dress according to it or not. Trans should be interchangeable with queer, at least with regards to gender, I think. But then, heteronormativity and the gender binary go hand in hand, don’t they?

    In other words, I do think that feminism should support trans people, but it shouldn’t accept gender binaries OR tactless, insensitive appropriation.

    In some ways, it pisses me off when a trans woman wants to be called “she,” even when not having lived through the horror that women do. “She” is something you earn, after being restricted and treated so unfairly by a society. It’s not something you just get to pick up.

    But again, if that trans woman did it with great respect, made very clear that she recognized the fact that, being born and growing up male, there were so many things she didn’t have to suffer through…. I would have no problem with calling her she.

    And a trans man? Sure, I find it sad that someone would want to throw out their womanness, even though I UNDERSTAND.

    I saw myself as a trans man for a long time. I’ve told people I was a man just because I felt safer that way.

    But I never felt right, just refusing to acknowledge what I’ve gone through as someone who grows up female.

    I UNDERSTAND wanting people to think you’re male and wanting to live life as a male because you feel safer that way, because people treat you better that way. I’ve been there. I can’t blame anyone for that, even if they never once, after transitioning, mentioning femaleness again. I understand that it comes from fear and a desperate want, to be treated equally.

    Transmen do have more privileges than female people. If they pass in public, they aren’t harassed. If they can’t have children, there aren’t laws on their bodies concerning pregnancy. Yes, they get shit because of the gender binary, but they aren’t hated any more for their trans-ness than females are for existing.

    It’s similar to how gay males can pass as straight males and get so many more privileges, but people of color can’t just decide to appear white. Some trans women, because of their height or build, can appear male if the situation calls, and have that privilege. Some trans men, if they pass easily, can do the same. Most females simply can’t.

    Honestly, I think the best way to approach this would be to encourage people to refer to all people as just… “they.” Not “he” or “she.” It’s just a way of categorizing people. At the same time, if you’re female and you’ve grown up with and lived through the horrors, “she” still feels like a badge of honor. It’s a really complicated situation. Maybe it would be best to respect people, when they want to change their pronouns, as long as they have a deep respect and understanding for what it means to be born female? Or maybe feminists should educated people on this, and it wouldn’t be such a problem anymore….

    I think that if the gender binary wasn’t a thing, if people weren’t forced into “he” and “she” and all the oppression became a thing of the past… their might be some people who still held to the past notions of “she,” for their own identity, not in a way that made them oppressed, but… in that, with the oppression being so far behind them, it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.

    But my question is, even if that were to happen, even thousands of years in the future, how the FUCK could someone be okay with appropriating someone from people as oppressed as women?

    I feel like today there are people born males that just don’t care. They subscribe to the gender binary and ignore how it hurts women/females/etc. I don’t think that males who dress or act in a stereotypically “feminine” way should be harrassed, OBVIOUSLY, but I’m also not sure that they have a right to call themselves she or woman, no matter the circumstances. As much as I truly want to be accepting. “They/theirs/them?” Yes. I’d be fine with that. And at the same time, it doesn’t bother me near as much with trans men, because I know the shit they go through being born female, and even though, in a way, it’s erasure, it’s not BLATANT appropriation. Would I be happier if they wished to be called “they,” etc? Yes, but it’s not my place to take away something that makes them feel safe. In a way, they’re subscribing to the gender binary just in order to feel/be safer, and in a way that in itself IS harmful to the rest of us, but… I guess I would be a hypocrite if I was angry about that.

    I do plan to get top surgery. I do plan to get “sterilized.” I don’t know if I want to get EVERYTHING down there removed, because while sometimes I want to, even then it’s mostly just because of paranoia.

    I feel like, just to get by in a hostile world, I might try to pass completely as male. I don’t want to. It would break my heart. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I did that, because I don’t see myself as a man. I see myself as a person who was born female, and as a person who has gone through the hell that females go through, and as a person who… whether I appeared more stereotypically feminine or masculine or androgynous… I wouldn’t care, as long as I looked good. That doesn’t factor in. I want to be called “they,” in my heart, because I don’t want gendered pronouns to be forced on anyone. At the same time, sometimes I want to be called “she,” just because I want to represent the fact that all females aren’t the same, don’t look the same don’t act the same, and don’t fit into a box.

    And just so you know, none of this has anything to do with my sexuality, because I’m attracted to anyone I think is cute, regardless of their sex.

    But if I were true to myself and if I were brave, even though I still would get top surgery because I hate being looked at by straight men like a fucking piece of meat, I might keep my reproductive organs if I weren’t so in fear of the possibilities of what could happen, with females having their reproductive rights attacked with abortion bans and the like. And I wouldn’t try to pass as a man all the time, I’d just present myself however I wanted and wear whatever I wanted, whether I dressed in a way that was stereotypically “masculine” or “feminine.”

    I know, deep down, in a perfect world without such heavy oppression and sexualization of women, I’d have no problem with my breasts, my ovaries or my vagina. I’d have no problem being called “she,” even though I don’t think it’s anyone’s business whether I’m able to bear children or not, just because males and females have different needs, having different bodies, and that’s okay. I know that my view of myself is warped, but I honestly don’t think it will change after what I’ve been through. Not in this world and not in my lifetime. I don’t think the world will ever be accepting of me enough for me to be comfortable with who I am and what I am. Not without heavy medication. And once you have to be heavily medicated for your mental state, really, what’s the point?

    But then… who knows? I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, experimenting with a wide range of female characters and how I see them, and I’m hoping it might be therapy for me in a way. Because I know it’s not that I don’t want to be a woman, I just don’t want to be degraded and treated as a sex object, or as someone who’s stupid or weak or different in a bad way, or “other,” or abnormal. It’s not that I don’t want what I KNOW I can do as a human who just happens to be female, the valuable perspective I can show as a woman, and that I shouldn’t appreciate myself. It just seems like there’s only one way I can escape what everyone else is pushing onto me and telling me I should be. And it’s a terrible thing they’re pushing onto me. It’s nothing that female people were “meant” to be.

    Sometimes I think that in the long run, maybe people would let go of the gender binary and oppression of women if trans women were recognized, and they actually had to witness what women go through. And if trans men were recognized, they would still be born female but would probably be respected more because of how they represent themselves. But it would be a terrible way to get there, oppression only being recognized by what someone born male has been through, and worth recognized only because someone born female was presenting as a man.

    I hope some of this makes sense and it isn’t too long/terribly written to read. I’m aware that I might be wrong about some things. I hope I don’t sound like I’m crazy or paranoid. It’s just that I’ve been through a lot.

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