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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Gender Identity -- A Complicated Issue For Open Minds


Can you remember when we couldn't have a conversation in mixed company about something as racy as sex? I do. Decades ago if you brought up anything about the issue in school or in other public places, you were viewed as a heather or a pervert. Now, television commercials during prime time want me to extend my short penis or take Cialis so that I can have sex on the spot, anywhere and anytime.

I'm not sure I think all of this hubbub is good. However, to say today's youth are more open about sex and vastly more informed about it than baby boomers were when they were young is an understatement. It behooves us, no matter our age, to attempt to understand a controversial issue. Older people especially tend to pull up the blinders and resist new and confusing information.
Did you ever consider that “sex” and “gender” are two different things? Can I have your attention for just a few minutes as you read what follows?

It's simply amazing how much you learn about an issue when you research the literature. Especially when something is foreign to your experience, you hold a certain amount of prejudgment before searching for facts. This emotional bias can easily color the truth. It is imperative to suspend judgment until a thorough investigation of the matter is complete.

Today, I would like to examine gender issues. The opposing views about gender identity seem to be causing a major upheaval in America. To be honest, many have little idea of just what gender entails. They assume a simple term has a simple definition. In truth, the complication requires a lot of study.

When we meet a person for the first time, we automatically employ our brains in a search for gender cues. In our natural curiosity, we do this to identify the new contact. Without conscious thought, we scan their physical appearance, their dress, and their mannerisms. We then categorize the person as male or female, which leads to other judgments of their existence. The dangers of judging by first glance are well-documented.

Judgment of gender is not that simple. Experts who work with gender issues tell us there are two myths. These are …
  • First, gender is binary, offering only two options,
  • Second, gender and sex are the same thing.
Summed up, the myth goes like this: Every person is either male or female, and the distinction is based on that person's anatomy.

(“The Gender Spectrum.” Teaching Tolerance, Number 44. Summer 2013.)

“In the parlance of gender development, sex exists between your legs—it’s your biology, your chromosomes, your anatomy. Gender exists between your ears—it’s how you feel about yourself. Kids develop a sense of gender identity by age two or three,” says Diane Ehrensaft, author of Gender Born, Gender Made. Ehrensaft is a psychologist, gender specialist, author, and director of the Mental Health Child and Adolescent Gender Center, UCSF

Both birth sex and gender identity match for most kids – the cisgender. Yet, in some cases, children’s gender identity differs from their biology. Some kids know their gender identities and birth sexes don’t match almost as soon as they begin to talk. For others, their sense of gender exists somewhere between male and female, at various points along what is known as the gender spectrum.

Ehrensaft says, “My best teachers are the brave and creative children I have met who transgress and transcend the social gender constraints we have all been ingrained with and can show us the path to true acceptance, beyond a binary world of pink and blue and boys and girls.” She would have you understand the following: 
Gender Diversity: Words You Should Know

Assigned Gender
The gender a baby is given upon birth, usually based on the child’s birth sex.
Gender Identity
How we feel about our gender in our hearts and minds.
Gender Expression/Gender Presentation
How we show our gender to the world through external choices (e.g. dress, behavior, hairstyle).
Describes a person whose birth sex and gender identity align.
Birth Sex/Biological Sex
A specific set of genetic, chemical and anatomical characteristics that we are either born with or that develop as we mature.
Binary Gender
The faulty concept that there are only two genders: male and female.
A broad descriptor many people use to indicate a person does not identify as either male or female.
Describes anyone whose gender identity and birth sex do not align. The word should be used as, “transgender,” not “transgendered.” For example, “My brother Sam is transgender. His birth name was Samantha.”
Preferred Personal Pronouns
In addition to the traditional pronouns (he/him, she/her, they), some people prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as ne, ve, ze/zie and xe. If you don’t know a student’s preferred personal pronoun, it’s always best to ask.

Ehrensaft reports that some children will outgrow being gender nonconforming, but some won't. There are a number of children who insist that everyone has it wrong—they are the opposite gender from the one assigned to them at birth. She believes we must allow children to establish their own affirmed gender, not the one we assigned.

Diane Ehrensaft says there is a “true gender self.” She explains ...

“The true gender self is the sense of ourselves from deep inside about the gender that feels right and that feels like it fits us best. It may be influenced but not dictated by the gender listed on our birth certificate. It is how we know ourselves, and the very first kernel of that may be there from birth. There is also the false gender self—that’s the gender face we put on to the world, usually because we feel that’s what they expect from us. In the best of all possible worlds for our children, the true gender self will prevail over the false gender self, and if doesn’t, we may have a very unhappy child.”

(Diane Ehrensaft. “An interview with Diane Ehrensaft, author of Gender Born, Gender Made.” The Experiment. January 11, 2012.) 


A Lesson To Be Learned

Of course, the very idea of a gender-nonconforming child may be startling or challenging to your personal, cultural, or religious beliefs. Still, if a child is telling you in words and in actions that he or she is a nonconformist, you must understand that “right” and “wrong” is not the issue and that gender identification is not simply “male” or “female.” Ignoring the special needs of these children can cause irreparable harm.

I have heard kind, well-intentioned Christians defy any variance from traditional sexual identity. In their total devotion to principles, the see any variance as being “unclean” and an “abomination.” They choose to disavow any research to the contrary, and many even disown family members who struggle with their sexual identify.

Just as many people in the past have struggled to understand the need for racial equality, a great number of people now are grossly uninformed and, frankly, ignorant to the needs of those in the wide scope of gender diversity. Gender discrimination and sexual discrimination may share some common ground, but in most respects gender and sex issues require a distinct, separate understanding. They are not synonymous and not easily comprehended.

A suspension of prejudice is necessary for a person to give an honest evaluation of gender. The refusal to do so in a stand of close-minded, blind judgment based on simple belief is senseless negativity. Study the issue closely while considering that the truth of identity will eventually lead to inevitable outcomes. At one time, we knew very little about diversity, but now we understand that everyone else isn't like us. We can learn; we can adjust; we can tolerate; and, most importantly, we can understand.
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