Sunday, November 21, 2010

Elizabeth Meyer, Ph.D - Punished for crossing gender lines

One of the ideals I hope to promote on this site is gender fluidity - the idea that since gender is mostly a socio-cultural construct, we all have the option of how we manifest our core gender identity - the inner sense of our gender as an element of our self.

With that ideal in mind, yesterday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

[Photo from San Francisco DOR 2000]The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgendered — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.

[Photo from San Francisco DOR 2001]We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.

Elizabeth Meyer, Ph.D., who blogs at the Gender and Schooling page for Psychology Today, has posted a nice piece on this topic - especially as it relates to children crossing gender boundaries as part of their maturation process.

What are the costs for straying from the script of pink or blue?

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A day set aside to recognize and honor the lives lost to transphobia. Transphobia happens in many ways and impacts many folks in addition to transgender people. Recently a 1st grade girl was bullied for having a Star Wars water bottle, and a kindergarten boy was mocked for choosing to dress as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween. The impacts of forcing children to live in narrowly defined boxes of pink and blue have negative long-term consequences. This post will discuss some recent examples as well as some interesting educational interventions to help challenge limiting gender stereotypes.

Punished for gender non-conformity

Youth whose gender identity or expression varies from the norms of masculinity for boys and femininity for girls are often subject to bullying, harassment, exclusion and violence in schools and society at large. The media have covered several recent suicides due to anti-gay bullying, but as noted in an earlier post, this is often related to gendered bias, not just homophobia. Some examples of this gendered bias include the two stories mentioned earlier with the girl who likes Star Wars and the boy who dressed as Daphne from Scooby-Doo. There was also a recent case of a girl who was beat up for having a "boy's" name: Randi. Ironically, this incident happened after a Christian Fellowship meeting. Additionally, a male football player was sanctioned by his coach for wearing pink cleats in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness month. When allowed to return to play, he kicked for 3 extra points -- the last of which tied the game and allow his team to win in overtime.

If these relatively small social transgressions evoked such strong reactions, imagine what happens when a young child persistently pursues activities and chooses clothing usually associated with another gender. This behaviour usually results in extreme violence. The body count for Transphobic motivated murders is too high - for a full list of the individuals being remembered today, visit "remembering our dead". The stats for the frequency and severity of forms of gendered harassment (sexual harassment, homophobic harassment and Transphobic harassment) in schools are also unacceptably high as reported by GLSEN, Egale (Canada), Stonewall (UK)], The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights just to name a few.

Educational Solutions

Fortunately, there are some very smart and committed educators and activists out there creating educational resources and youth support groups to help address this problem. I was recently invited to deliever a keynote speech at a conference in Belgium on LGBT issues in education and the gendered nature of this bias was a central theme at this event. While I was there, I learned about two organizations: Gender In de Blender (Belgium) and Gendered Intelligence (UK) that have done some really important work in this area. Another UK-based resource is the No Outsiders Project. This multi-year research project resulted in some very important data on the impacts of gender bias and homophobia in schools and they have compiled some useful teaching resources here. Finally, one of my favourite resources is a film by Groundspark called: Straitlaced: How Gender's got us All Tied up:

a fantastic documentary that highlights youth voices about how gender roles have limited and impacted their lives.

So, today, in honor of the TDOR, I invite you to read more about these research findings and explore these educational resources on transphobia and gendered bias to educate yourselves as parents, educators, and concerned adults who want to take a stand against all forms of bias and violence.

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