Go Parenting! Now, go farther.

I recently read the article Could Your Child Be Gay? by Stephanie Dolgoff on Parenting magazine’s website. It made my heart sing…and sink.

Dolgoff—and therefore Parenting magazine, as mainstream a parenting rag as there ever was—showed concern for the wellbeing and outcome of pink and/or proto-gay boys. The piece went farther than I’ve ever seen this magazine go into complex and painful territory, including an interview with Matthew Shepard’s mother and a conversation about bullying-related child suicide. This willingness to have a conversation about some of the scariest stuff parents may ever face makes a tremendous difference for boys like my son Sam.

Along with my praise for Dolgoff and Parenting, I have to point out where the article falls short.

Dolgoff assumes that  four-year-olds  cannot read the social cues that tell children what boys and girls are “supposed” to do. Studies show that children as young as two are aware of gender roles (research that can be confirmed anecdotally in the Petri dish of any preschool).

It’s also unfortunate Dolgoff believes that because a child is gender-nonconforming, he or she will be gay. This assumption does a disservice to the gender-noncomforming kids who will be straight, as well as to the gender-normative children who will be gay.  Frankly, assuming anything about a child, from his sexuality to his profession to the religion he will abide as an adult, is unhelpful to everyone.

Finally, Dolgoff’s assertion that “No matter how much he continues to like fuchsia as he gets older, there’s a good chance his survival instinct will tell him it’s not worth getting his butt kicked at school,” is the kind of statement that reinforces the culture of bullying pink boys.  I just don’t think she would make that comment about a child going to school in a wheelchair, or a black child going to an all-white school.  We need to start talking about these conflicts using different language, language that doesn’t blame the victims–or force them to choose between their identity and their personal safety.

But big picture, I am pleased as punch to hear Parenting magazine ask its readers to consider whether their child is gay. The more we as a society have this conversation, however imperfect, the closer we are to accepting what was once utterly unacceptable.

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Comments

  1. Bedford Hope says

    Thanks for reading this for me! I share your concerns. It is amazing to me that people who are paid to write for publications seem to just pull random stuff out of their ass on this subject. And I have also gotten pissed at the ‘presumption of beating’ for non-conformity.

  2. Melissa says

    Thanks for posting this as I never read Parenting. I hate that it seems accepted that because a boy is feminine that at some point it will simply be beaten out of him. I cant tell you how many times when someone might realize my girl is actually male that the comment ” oh well kids can be cruel and this wont last ” is uttered as it is expected and perfectly ok. And why is gender expression always related to sexuality and at a young age? Why is it that people just assume that ponytails and dresses will automatically ” make ” a male gay?Yet no one every seems to question a girl thats a tomboy. Could it be boys dont explore the femme side simply because it is drilled into them from a young age that anything feminine is bad?

    I am glad that at least this could start a dialogue and that gender variance seems to be slightly more acceptable than in the past but we have so far to go. Till then I will cherish my little ponytailed, dress wearing pink and prissy lil girl or boy or whatever she or he wants to be today. I hate that others see my child as a ” problem ” when I see her/him as a wonderful gift!

  3. WA says

    Why do people persist in confusing gender expression with sexual orientation? As you say, “This assumption does a disservice to the gender-noncomforming kids who will be straight, as well as to the gender-normative children who will be gay.” My appearance does not determine who I sleep with, and certainly a child’s appearance does not predict who that child will eventually sleep with. I guess gender and sex are such loaded and frightening subjects for people that they don’t think clearly and thus fail to make the most basic of distinctions, and if adults are confused, how can children fail to be? We owe them to distinguish, not conflate. We owe them the Light of clarity.

  4. momofsparkleboy says

    I think its very important to keep the knowledge out there that childhood gender nonconformity especially in boys IS very much associated with a gay outcome. There are enough people out there (gay men, trans-kids advocates) who either out of shame or agenda are trying to deny this correlation and keep this out of the public mind. I don’t see any problem whatsoever with parents assuming their sparkly boys are probably going to be gay and advocating for them based on this assumption.

    • shoffman says

      The one longitudinal study that looked at outcomes for pink boys (Richard Greene’s work, published in the 1987 book The Sissy Boy Syndrome) found that about 75% of them do grow up to be gay. So yes, it’s a likely outcome. But it’s not helpful to assume it’s the outcome, in part for that 25%, and in part because we need to let our kids tell us who they are when they are ready.

      Another factor is that plenty of gay men were not feminine as boys. Catherine Tuerk, who founded the program for gender nonconforming kids at Children’s National Medical Center in DC, says that only about 1/3 of gay men were strongly feminine as children, 1/3 were strongly masculine, and 1/3 were in between. So if we assume that feminine boys are going to be gay, we’re also probably assuming that masculine boys are not–and that’s doing a disservice to those gender-typical boys who will grow up to be gay. My message is simply that, as parents, we need to be open to–and accepting of–however our little guys present their gender expression and sexuality, today and ultimately.

      You’re right about our role as advocates for our sons. We can support them as they are, and also support who they might be–for example, by being members of organizations like PFLAG, donating to organizations like GLSEN, and talking to our kids about why it’s important that we do so. When we send an overall message that we support different forms of gender expression and sexuality, and that diversity is a positive thing in our view, we leave room for our sons to find their place in the world and know that we will love them, wherever they land.

  5. Mark Daniels says

    Actually, if you think about it, it would be more likely that if one was gay, naturally wired that way, that one might present themselves and be attracted to the hyper masculine look. Afterall, if you are attracted to that look, then it’s more conceivable that you’d mimic that. That makes sense to me.

    Which is why I suppose that there’s so much confusion when a football hero comes out, or the high school prom queen announces her sexual preference identification.

    In that same vein, it is commonly known that the vast majority of cross dressers are in fact straight, especially among the male population. I suspect that’s because of their intense love of women, perhaps idolizing women, and wishing to mimic them to obtain the same level of adoration at least on a subconscious level. It could also be that they do wish to have the freedom of expression that women have, and trying to have to always keep up the level of masculine masking is frustrating to them. Yes, in my opinion, they are already leaning pink to have that desire to express even for that reason.

    But again, as has been pointed out so many times before, the issue is NOT the gender blurring, it is the bullying that is never acceptable for any reason much less this one. This only gives bullies another excuse to go about their own horrendous behavior, which if they looked harder would find another reason to do that to you. So it just makes it easier for them.

    Well done, with yours and other people’s efforts, to get this stopped and the attitudes changed.

    • shoffman says

      Mark, I try not to think about WHY people are the way they are–we may never know why one person is gay and another straight, why one person has very feminine gender expression and another very masculine and still another androgynous. We just are who we are. And as you’re noticing, gender expression and sexuality are separate things that sometimes correlate in expected ways and sometimes don’t.

      The bottom line is as you describe it: it’s not okay to demean other people because of who they are. What we need to tackle is not the attributes that make people different from each other, but the element of our culture that says it’s okay to attack people for their differences.

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