Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do Pink Nails Make a Boy Gay?

This J. Crew advertisement has created a furor among certain crowds who think it is wrong for a mother to paint her paint her son's nails pink - or for a clothing company to use that image in their ads.

As you might guess if you have been reading here for any length of time, I think this is silly - pink nail polish does not make a boy turn gay. But that isn't how the wacky social conservatives see it. Erica Brown, of the conservative Media Research Center Network, asserts that this advertisement "features blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children."

Uh, yeah, sure, you betcha. And then there was this:
Dr. Keith Ablow, a conservative psychiatrist said, "These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race."
Ablow bills himself as American's Psychologist - although his TV show only lasted a season. He is a regular commentator on Fox News and has co-authored a book with Glenn Beck. Here is a little more of his perspective from his Fox News column:

Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known

The gender fluidity he thinks is so toxic is a good thing - rigid sex and gender roles are stifling and repressive. The majority of children have no question about who they are and will identify their gender identity with their genitals. But there are also many kids who do not fit neatly into traditional gender norms - girls who are tomboys and boys who are more effeminate. Ablow would force these kids into roles and behaviors that do not fit their felt sense of self.

But Ablow was not content simply to be annoying, he goes on to be ignorant:
Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts? Why not make race the next frontier? What would be so wrong with people deciding to tattoo themselves dark brown and claim African-American heritage? Why not bleach the skin of others so they can playact as Caucasians?
Let's start with the false conflation of sex (biological) and gender (social and cultural construct) - this has been worked out extensively over the last 50 years. Choosing one's gender role does not make one transsexual or even transgendered. There is only a very small percentage of the population who feels uncomfortable with their birth sex - and the best estimates suggest that this number has been pretty static over the last century.

And contrary to what Ablow implies here, no one is born (to my knowledge) feeling as though they were born in the wrong racial body - but at least 5-10 people out of 1,000 feel that they were born in a body that does not match their sex identity and desired gender role. My guess is that NONE of these trans men or women see it as a choice, no more so than LGB people see their sexuality as a choice.

My guess is that every one of us knows someone who would self-identify as LGBTIQ - they are family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and people we meet as we go about our daily lives - and we often to not know that they have an alternate gender or sexual identity - they are simply members of our community - a diverse and wonderful community.

Dr. Tyger Latham, a clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC, who specializes in men's issues, trauma, and LGBT concerns, has written about the controversy at Psychology Today in his Therapy Matters blog. He was asked to comment on this issue by WUSA in Washington DC, and here was his view:
Dr. Tyger Latham, a psychologist with D.C.'s Dupont Therapy, said, "I can tell you un-equivocally that there is no connection, scientific or otherwise between painting your toe nails and your sexual identity."
At his Psychology Today column, he elaborated:

Painting your toenails does not make you gay.

Last night as I was preparing to leave my office, I received a call from Ken Molestina, an investigative reporter for the local CBS-news affiliate, asking me if I had any thoughts about the recent controversy sparked by a J. Crew advertisement. If you've been following the news this week, you probably know what I'm referring to, as the image of a mother and her son has gone viral on the internet.

For those who have not already seen it, the ad (pictured above) features Jenna Lyons, a designer for the preppy clothing company posing with her 5-year-old son Beckett. I almost missed it the first time, but if you look carefully you can see that Beckett's toenails are painted pink. Underneath the photo reads the caption, "Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon."

The image has outraged some social conservatives who claim that this kind of behavior torments children and confuses them about their sexual identity. Erica Brown, a writer for the conservative Media Research Center Network, wrote that the ads such as J. Crew "features blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children."

Many people - myself included - don't see anything wrong with the ad. Personally, my first reaction was, "Isn't that a sweet photo of a boy and his mother sharing a moment together," followed by, "Huh, that boy's toenails are painted pink... that's kind of different." I'm guessing my nonchalant reaction is exactly the reason so many conservative pundits are so upset about the image, as it suggests there is nothing wrong with a child expressing himself in a gender non-conforming manner.

Gender identity comes from inside, not from something that you paint on your toenails. Nowhere in the scientific research is there any evidence that I am aware of that a child who engages in non-conventional gender activities - like a girl playing with toy soldiers or a boy playing with Barbies - predicts their eventual sexual orientation. It's just not the case. Research on gender development has shown that many children have gender preferences in the way they play, however, there is also a broad range of children who do not fit nicely into neat gender categories. True, some boys who play with Barbies will "turn out gay," but many, if not most, will grow up to be straight.

As for Beckett, the little boy in the ad, we're just going to have to wait and see if he grows up to be straight or gay. Should it be the latter, I can guarantee you that it will not be a result of his mom painting his toenails pink. Regardless of his sexual orientation, I bet Beckett will tell you when he grows up that he felt pretty fortunate to have a mom who accepted him as he was. And, isn't that after all what is most important?

~ See the Ken Molestina interview here.

No comments: