I read this article, It’s Ok to Be Neither by Melissa Bollow Tempel, yesterday and was surprised by how much I was affected by it.
Growing up, I’d never classed myself as a child with ‘gender variance’, but by the definition provided by Ms Tempel, that’s exactly what I was. I had short hair for years. I wore trousers, sweatshirts and grungy t-shirts with men’s shirts over the top (what? it was the 90’s!). Like Allie, the little girl mentioned in the article, I often received gifts that I could never wear because they were too girly.
When I was younger, the only ‘girl’s’ toys that I liked were animal ones, Sylvanian Families and My Little Pony (but not the pink ones), never dolls. Well, alright, one Barbie, (or possibly Cindy?) doll; she had all her hair cut off, and I wasn’t really bothered when the dog chewed her head. I always wanted to be like my brother and make cool things with Technics Lego, and was always subsequently annoyed that I wasn’t as good at it as he was.
I remember the embarrassing moment on the second day of secondary school when I had to stand up and say “errr, no. I’m a girl, actually” when we were doing an introduction exercise in drama class, and the person who introduced me said “This is Ellie and HE likes…”.
But the thing is, apart from not being recognised as a girl on more than a few occasions, I never felt different, (well, not for liking boy’s things anyway, but that’s another story). I was a girl who didn’t like pink, but I was still a girl.
These days we all seem to have so much marketing, advertising and pop culture thrown at us that reinforces gender roles, that children who don’t conform to these ideas are facing as many, or even more problems than I did when I was growing up. You just have to walk into any large toy shop and you’ll be confronted by a massive display of pink things ‘for girls’ and a massive display of guns, cars and soldiers ‘for boys’.
And that’s why I feel that breaking down gender stereotypes at a young age is an important step, as Ms Melissa states in her article. Encouraging a school environment where everyone feels comfortable to express themselves surely can’t be a bad thing. Nor can recognising when gender issues are causing problems for a student and addressing them.
However, I’m not sure that labelling children with ‘gender variance’ is particularly helpful in this case. It makes it sound like a condition, not just a person expressing who they are. I wonder whether the label here reinforces the stereotype – to be ‘variant’ suggests that you are deviating from the norm, when really, what is normal?
The truth is we all have a feminine side and we all have a masculine side – how much we choose to express each side of ourselves at any one time is entirely up to personal choice and what feels right.