27 May 2011

Baby Storm and Gender-Variance

Earlier this evening I overheard a replay of a local talk radio show (FM 107). This afternoon, the two hosts discussed (at length) the choices being made by the parents of Storm. Storm is four month-old baby whose sex is not being announced, so that cultural gender norms affect Storm as little as possible.

The show's hosts, Colleen and Reuvers, made arguments that I found incredibly frustrating and fallacious for so many (SO MANY) reasons. So I listened to them again, took notes, composed myself, and emailed them. Here's what I sent:

Dear Colleen and Reuvers,

Your discussion of the baby Storm yesterday was inappropriate and problematic. Gender-variance is misunderstood by many people; I'm going to clarify some information and point out what makes your argument so frustrating.

When You Talk About Gender-Variant People:
1. A baby's genitalia is not a matter of gender; it's a matter of sex. In short, sex is between your legs, and gender is between your ears. Gender is mental, it's an identity, not a physical characteristic. No one, not even Storm's parents, will know Storm's gender for years. Storm may or may not be gender-variant. The info being withheld is Storm's sex.

2. Refer to trans people using pronouns of their preferred gender, when they've specified them (if they haven't specified, ask!). It may have been a slip-up, Colleen, but you, particularly as a media source, referring to Chaz Bono as 'her' is incredibly, infuriatingly disrespectful to him and to other trans people. Your pronoun usage deserves an apology.

3. Reuvers, you were contrasting Storm's parents' choices with your opinion and said, "you need structure and you need a foundation in order to become a decent person." You have suggested that gender-variant children who live outside of traditional gendered structures will not grow up to be decent people. That is dehumanizing, and not okay.

The Science of Gender and Sex:
4. While science acknowledges male and female sexes, science does not support a male-female sexual binary. Intersexed people exist. Chromosomes don't always line up with hormones and bodies like we might expect them to. Not all XX bodies appear female and not all XY bodies appear male. There are people who are XXY, or XXXY. It's not black and white, and the gray areas are more common than we realize.

5. Almost everyone has testosterone and estrogen in their body. What creates distinctive secondary (the ones caused by hormones) sexual characteristics that we associate with men and women is different levels of these hormones.

6. Not all children fit neatly into gender categories, but even when they do fit, kids still get harassed. Suggesting that the best solution is to not allow the child to express themselves in a way that might trigger harassment is blaming the victim. Blame the bullies, instead.

7. Gender-variant people who weren't allowed to express their preferred gender as children often talk about their childhoods as troubled. A parent trying to have their child conform to traditional gender roles might be protecting their kid in the long-run, but they might be hurting their kid, too.

8. Enjoying and celebrating gender is wonderful, Colleen; you're right. But not at the cost of alienating people who don't fit into one of two gender categories.

9. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm not out to erase 'men' and 'women' as gender boxes. What I want to erase is the binary. I need other boxes to choose from. I need a box that fits me, and boxes that fit my friends.

You may fit into the gender binary just fine, and your genders might align with your bodies, but not all of your listeners can say the same.

Thanks for your time.


ps. The following article is a good starting point for basic information, and cites many others.

I tried to be as polite and productive as possible. We'll wait and see if there's any sort of response...

In terms of tonight, hearing this show did cause me to have a nice conversation with my dad about some gender stuff. So there's something, right?