It’s Not “Gender Confusion”

When talking about Trans issues, despite having no knowledge of Trans issues, many evangelical activists like to use the term “Gender Confusion” (or “Gender Confused”). It’s time this was confronted. When people like my favourite evangelical Dr. Michael Brown use this term, it feels like nails on a chalkboard to me. Now, for the record, the reason he is my favourite evangelical is because he is so adamantly outspoken about LGBTQ+ issues, even having written several books on us, but has so little knowledge it’s actually comical. As laughable as his work may be, however, he wields a certain amount of influence, and so do his colleagues. People need to know that Trans identity is not a matter of confusion.

Terms that minimize the validity of LGBTQ+ identities always tend to stem from the same premise – “It’s wrong because God.” The term “Gender Confusion” is inextricably linked to the idea that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Indeed, “man and woman he created them” is right there in the Bible, and it makes sense that a believing Christian would take that to mean we are all born as one or the other. The obvious problem with this is that people are trying to pin down God’s plan … a plan that is supposed to be unknowable.

So how are we to know what God’s plan is? While it’s true that Genesis lays out the plan for procreation, how do you make sense of people who are born infertile, or those who are intersex? Did God make mistakes with those people? You wouldn’t say so, would you? You would say that they were born that way on purpose, a part of God’s plan, the reason for which we cannot know; and the reason you would say that is because you can’t deny physical evidence … but it’s easy to deny what you can’t see. Gender identity is invisible, and when it enters the discussion, God’s plan is no longer a mystery. All of a sudden, the plan is known, God doesn’t make mistakes, and Trans people are merely “confused.”

Does this not look like faulty logic to you? Is it not the height of arrogance to claim a faith in an unknowable God, and have the convenience of changing the narrative to claim to know exactly what he wants when it suits you? Is this not exactly what we mean when we talk about religion being used to justify hatred or dislike? Gender variance is unseen, it has an element of mystery, and instead of trying learn about it, how cowardly it is to grab your holy book and impose your own biases upon it.

It would be troubling indeed if Trans identity was a product of confusion. To come out and live openly despite the dangers of doing so, to struggle through the rift between social ideals and self, to live in constant fear, to fight for proper healthcare … all due to confusion? We don’t attribute women’s issues to confusion when many women face similar struggles, so why do it with gender identity? Granted, the doctrine of original sin allows for such confusion, attributing it to our fallen nature, but once again we have the application of personal bias to reach a desired conclusion.

Take a moment to consider these questions. Could Trans identity be part of God’s plan? What if the struggles faced by Trans people are due to human social bias, a bias that God did not ordain? All Christian denominations teach that humans are flawed and fallen, what if our dislike of difference is the flaw? Maybe Trans identity isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is the use of the Bible to justify condemnation. Maybe … just maybe … you’re wrong.

At the end of the day, we are here, we are very real, and many people are going to have to learn to deal with that. Trans identity is broad, it is many things to many people, and if you are not willing to ask questions and accept that diversity is a wonderful thing, I feel sorry for you. You may be confused, but we are not. Trans identity is not “Gender Confusion.” Ask and learn, or bask in your own ignorance. Either way, we know who we are.

 

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Pick Your Battles

When I began writing as Outspoken Ally, I was a new advocate. Like many new advocates, I was eager to loudly proclaim the message of equality and speak out against bigotry at every opportunity. I wrote about it, and I did it. Every chance I got, I did it, and what I found over time was that I was wasting a lot of unnecessary energy. Many people are up for the discussion in some form or another, but some either don’t get it or don’t want to. You have to pick your battles, because some just aren’t worth having.

Yesterday, I was speaking with an acquaintance who I have known since High School. The conversation was fine, until he unexpectedly launched into a string of very hurtful insults toward gay men; his comments littered with the word “faggot.” It took every bit of strength I had, but I immediately decided to let it go. Why? Because I would have voiced my discomfort with what he said, and then been dragged into a long, drawn out shouting match that would have left me exhausted, angry, and stressed; having made zero progress. Sometimes a hateful person is just a hateful person, and clashing with them isn’t worth the energy.

Let me assure you that I am still wholly committed to this work. What has happened over the past couple of years is that I have calmed down a little bit. My anger with inequality and those who uphold it, though still there, has given way to a more measured approach. Rather than fight every battle, I prefer to fight those battles that are worth fighting. I can argue with a person who just doesn’t care, and wind up feeling like I wasted precious time, or I can sit down with a person who wants to have the debate, and walk away with a sense of validation. If my opponent is unswayed but was receptive, it was worth the time.

A case in point is Dr. Michael Brown. I find Dr. Brown misinformed to say the least, and have written about him before. In my latest post (Trans Rights In 2016), I said that he decries Trans people as freaks, perverts, and liars. It is true that on his radio show he calls them broken and unnatural, frames the public washroom debate as an opportunity for dangerous men to gain legal access to young women, and blames people like me for perpetuating the “lie” that your gender can be different from your physical sex. Although not using the words “freaks, perverts, and liars,” his message is exactly that, and he took offence to my saying so. It is unlikely that I or anybody else will sway Dr. Brown … but engaging with him IS worth it. As wrong and misleading as I feel he is, he is still capable of intelligent debate. He is a smart man who believes he is doing good, and with people like him, the argument is almost always worth having. That’s why I then encouraged you all to voice your opposition to his misinformation on his Facebook page. (Taking my entire message into account, however – my numerous blog posts speaking out against vitriolic attacks, cursing at those we disagree with, and threats of violence – anybody who reads me regularly knows that I endorse civil opposition only)

If you feel the need to take every opportunity to fight, go for it. As long as you approach it with civility, you have my support. What I am encouraging you to consider here, is to save your energy for fights that are worth having. Before engaging, ask yourself one question. Is it worth my time and energy to confront this person? If you’re anything like me, you might find it less stressful, and more effective for your advocacy, to pick your battles.

Today We Remember

Today, November 20, finds us observing Transgender Day Of Remembrance once again. This is a day to honour and remember those we have lost due to fear – fear of people who don’t fit archaic understandings of gender, fear of what Transgender people are percieved to be by an ignorant culture. This is a day to think about the thousands of Trans people killed, the thousands who have taken their own lives, the thousands who are still on the streets, kicked out by families whose “unconditional love” has conditions. Today, we are reminded to ensure that those lives were not lost in vain, and that the lives living homeless deserve better. Today, we strengthen our resolve to keep fighting.

Trans people are beautiful, they are unique, and there is wonderful diversity within the Trans community. Gender variance is fascinating, and “Trans” … a prefix denoting movement, fluidity … is a wonderful representation of that diversity. This is not understood by many, of course, and it’s true that the people we remember today were/are mostly people whose gender identity is either opposite their physical sex, or who don’t fit the male/female gender binary at all. But Trans people come in many forms, and today we and our allies remember.

I encourage all of you today to go to your favourite search engines and look for their stories. Look for the stories of Trans people we have lost. Read about them, about how they lived, how they struggled, and why they died. Read about those still with us, about the heart-wrenching stories of teens kicked out of their homes for no reason other than being someone their parents cannot accept. Think about what can be done to change the hearts and minds of those responsible for this hatred, about how we can make this world a better place.

Today we remember, and we are reminded that hatred must not go unchecked any longer. Let this day of remembrance act as a call for love.

 

Gender Distinction Is Not Necessary. It Never Was

The new-to-me experience of living as an out Genderqueer person leads to many questions. I have an inquisitive nature, so I can never be content with accepting things as they are. On the contrary, I must explore, study, and analyze, in my best attempt to figure out why they are. One hypothetical I wrestle with is what my gender identity would look like if gender distinction didn’t exist. When I came out to my parents, my mother asked why we needed gendered labels at all. “Why define ourselves in that way? Why can’t you just be Josh?” Indeed, if gender distinction didn’t exist … if we weren’t defined by cultural ideals of male and female … if society didn’t insist on the gender binary, and these standards that determine “masculinity” and “femininity,” in all of their sub-cultural contexts, were rejected en masse … if the binary itself was rejected en masse … I could just be Josh. But that’s not the world we live in. The reality is that my identity as Genderqueer means something because gender distinction means something. My mother’s query raises an interesting thought. Gender distinction is one of the ways in which humans organize, it carries with it many complexities, behavioural expectations, and power dynamics. It influences nearly every facet of social and private life. It cannot be said that gender distinction is not important to our history … but was it necessary, and is it necessary for our future?

Everyday I hear comments that attribute certain behavioural standards to people based on what they have between their legs, the all-too-common mistaken assumption that sex and gender are the same thing. To be fair, those making the comments don’t generally realize that they are promoting unnecessary division. “I’m not as fond of being around women, because they are so dramatic.” “I told my brother, you’d better not let that son of yours play princess, ’cause that ain’t right.” “I don’t make my lunch for work, that’s a woman’s job. I have my wife do that. I’m old fashioned that way.” “Yeah, my wife and I both work full time, and when I get home I deserve a hot meal and a beer. She works too, but cooking, taking care of the kids, and making sure I’m happy is her job as a woman.” “He’s not a man, his wife makes more than he does.” Every one of these things has been said in front of me in the past few months, and every time I’m stunned at how unbelievably blind these people are to what they’re actually saying; not to mention the blatant misogyny.

If women are dramatic, how are we to view the ‘old boys clubs,’ where men get together to drink, assert their importance, and gossip? Who determined dresses are for women, and why? What really is the harm in a boy playing princess … and I mean what’s the real harm? Is it a woman’s job to make your lunch, or are you just too lazy and selfish to do it yourself? Why do you think you deserve more down time than she does? She makes more money … so what? If none of these comments could be made because it was understood that people are too complex to be defined by gender, what do you think would happen? Would the sky fall?

Is gender distinction necessary? No, I don’t believe for a second that it is. The truth, and I think most people understand this, is that male-female distinction has been a tremendous tool in the context of power. What I’m saying is viewed as dangerous, because as men lose privilege and women gain it, there at least remains a distinction that can be leveraged in what the despicable MRA’s see as a fight for supremacy. If that distinction were to disappear, it would be ‘game over.’ All of a sudden we would just be people. Each with our own talents, skills, and abilities, each qualified to fill positions doing what we do best. No male dominance, no wage gap, no power struggle between the sexes, no binary, no gender discussion. And we would find, despite what some people might think, that the world would operate just as well as it does now … arguably better, without so many of our current problems. We would still have problems, humans always will, but minus those dependent upon gender distinction, the number would drop dramatically.

There are those who identify with what we are told it means to be either male or female. There are some who identify with one, and a little bit with the other. There are some who identify as both. There are some who identify as neither. Sex is a separate issue, and what effect hormones have (ie: estrogen vs testosterone) varies too much from person to person to be used in an argument for biologically-driven behavioural groupings. Gender distinction is ingrained into our thinking, our interactions, our very way of life. It is both overt and subtle, but it is NOT necessary

 

The Gendered Message In Big Box Toy Stores

With the holiday season once again upon us, big box stores are filling up with the familiar faces of spazzed-out shoppers rushing to finish buying gifts for their lists of friends and loved ones. It’s a time of stress and rabid consumerism, but also of family, merriment, and celebration. I like this time of year. I always feel warm and fuzzy throughout the month of December. I like putting the lights up on the eaves of the house, coming home after a long day to a beautiful tree in the living room, and sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate after two hours of shovelling the driveway. I like joining my family, putting our differences aside, and enjoying one another’s company. Yes, I like this time of year, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have issues with it. You see, the holiday season is a time when we promote togetherness. The spoken message is charity, love, and unity. Why is it, then, that we blindly accept the message of difference, division, and gendered expectations sent to our children by the big box toy stores?

Now, I am aware that opinions like the one I’m about give are not appreciated this time of year. I’m used to being confronted by people who just hate it when somebody kills the mood with the truth, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway. I value our future too much to remain silent on the subject of what I consider to be a borderline abusive message being sent to our children. I understand that you may have never questioned the expectations placed on gender because it has always just been “the way it is;” but the truth is that genitalia does not dictate behaviour, no matter what some psychologists may claim. The ideas we have about what it means to be male and female are so demonstrably … well … stupid … yet big box toy stores continue to push them. The cultural landscape is changing and gender lines are starting to blur, but this won’t happen the way it should if we don’t all work together for it.

I’m really getting tired of walking into toy stores to be immediately assaulted with distinctly gendered separations. Big box toy stores, at least the ones I’m familiar with, are great places to go if you want to see where the ideas of difference and discrimination begin. As soon as your 3-year-old walks into the toy store with you, they learn that boys and girls are supposed to like different things, different colours, and different types of play. Science toys, trucks, cars, things that are blue, etc are in the “boys” section. Easy-bake ovens, toy brooms and vacuums, things that are bright pink, etc are in the “girls” section. Even Lego drank the cool-aid, adding to their traditional “boy” lego kits with the new pink, light grey, and totally lame “girl” lego.

What are we telling our kids?! Why is it that anybody you ask will say they believe in equality, but will have no problem walking into a big box toy store and just accepting the harmful message it sends? Boys are supposed to be tough, rugged, like machines, science, math, blue, black, and dark colours. They’re supposed to enjoy getting dirty, preferring outdoor toys, and let’s not forget action figures (heaven forbid they should be called “dolls”). Girls are supposed to be dainty, fragile, like cooking, cleaning, hair products, make-up, pink, and other light colours. They’re supposed to enjoy being inside doing domestic things and taking care of children, preferring kitchen sets, and lets not forget dolls (heaven forbid they should be called “action figures”). The toy store sends this message loud and clear, and takes it even further by separating the boys and girls sections at opposite ends, often kept apart by a baby section in the middle. The message to kids is not only that boys and girls are different, but that their interests are incompatible. In other words, it’s all set up to make the little girl in the G.I. Joe aisle feel out-of-place, and the little boy in the Barbie aisle feel the same way. The little boy who likes dolls is seen as abnormal, effeminate, weak. The little girl who likes G.I. Joe is called a “tomboy.” This isn’t harmless. If your child is being led to believe that everything they are drawn to is abnormal, what do you think is going to happen? Do you think they’ll just grow out of it and carry on? If you do, you should know that a mountain of recent evidence disagrees with you.

This message isn’t exclusive to in-store marketing. For as long as I can remember, it’s also been widely distributed in the form of a ‘wish book,’ printed and sent out by a big box store that shall remain nameless. The wish book was a big part of my holidays as a child. I never saw anything inherently wrong with it, but how many parents have sat down at the table with their children and said things like “oh, you don’t want the Barbie, Frederick, look at these nice yellow trucks,” or “oh Jane, that’s a boys toy. How about this princess kitchen set?” I’m not suggesting here that parents have a sinister intent to promote these divisive ideals to their children, but as the world changes and moves toward acceptance, perhaps we should be thinking about it. The companies marketing and selling these toys are certainly not innocent. They know exactly what they’re doing, and shame on them for keeping our heads in the chaotic and divisive status quo.

Many girls, of course, love princesses, Barbie, and pink everything. Many boys love trucks, space craft lego kits, and G.I. Joe. The point is that every child should be allowed to freely engage in their personal interests, free from criticism or ridicule. Why create division, when it would be just as easy to bring the toys together and market them without gender suggestion? The strategy wouldn’t have to identify any specific agenda, just drop the “for boys” and “for girls” stuff. Lead by example, eventually people will follow. Our children learn from everything they see, everything they experience, everything they hear. How many more generations do we want to give this message to? The divisive ideas that breed hate often appear benign and innocent, but they start very early in our childhood.

Whatever you celebrate this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, etc – let’s give our kids gifts that appeal to them personally. Not because of their gender, but because of who they are as people.

“Boys Will Be Boys”

Preschool – Sam and Jeff are playing in a sandbox, when a little girl walks into the yard. The two boys approach her. Jeff leans in to give her a kiss. She turns away. Sam grabs her so that Jeff can give her a kiss, and they laugh as she runs away screaming … boys will be boys. Middle School -Some friends are hanging out at the local playground. Sam, Jeff, and Mike are tossing a football around. Jeff screws up his throw, and the ball drops like a brick in front of him. Sam and Mike taunt him. “You throw like a girl” … boys will be boys. High School – It’s his senior year, and Jeff is heading out to a movie with his girlfriend. His father, who has never talked to his son about respect or a woman’s right to her own body, meets him at the door. Handing him a condom, he smiles and says “have a good time, son” … boys will be boys. Marriage – Jeff gets married to the woman of his dreams. About a year into the relationship, he is growing irritated over the lack of sex in their relationship, the fact that she doesn’t clean as often as she used to, and her constant failure to live up to the standard of what he was taught a wife should be. Rather than evaluate how he might become a more attentive and loving spouse, or realize that his wife is a person rather than a possession, he resorts to beating and raping her into submission … boys will be … wait a minute. How did this happen?

From preschool through to adulthood, we are told that “boys will be boys.” This one simple phrase is used to explain away behaviours that, rather than being inherent like the phrase would have us believe, are learned. They are learned through our experiences, interactions, and relationships. Although not representative of every man subjected to these ideas, the fictional character of Jeff is all too real. The experience in preschool taught him that girls are weak and can be objectified for his amusement. The taunting over his botched throw in Middle School taught him that girls are not to be taken seriously, and are terrible at sports. The deplorable example set by his father re-enforced all of that, and taught him to assume that, as a man, he is entitled to have sex with any woman he takes out (her choice doesn’t even enter into the equation … she should want it). When it came to marriage, Jeff looked for a wife who embodied the qualities that he was taught he deserved. Pretty, obedient, submissive, a good cook, domestically inclined, and wholly dedicated to him. When those expectations weren’t met, he dealt with it in a way that he assumed was appropriate. If women are weak sexualized objects who are not to be taken seriously, and less valuable than men overall, then how else would he “keep her in line?” Given what he was taught about women, beating and rape seemed to him appropriate discipline and acceptable marital relations. The misogynistic, sexist, and egocentric ideals ingrained within him led to a worldview completely out of touch with reality. Like it or not, gender roles are no longer what they were in the 1950’s. We still cling to tradition though, don’t we? Boys will be boys, after all.

Rape culture is gaining in popularity, and with that overall abuse against women is on the rise. Modern Feminism is under attack by both men and women who subscribe to patriarchal ideals while claiming that the patriarchy doesn’t exist. The patriarchy, however, is a historical fact. One has only to open any history book to see that, and “boys will be boys” is the greatest method by which it stays alive.

Forget “boys will be boys.” Boys are not inherently anything in particular, and neither are girls. We are taught, depending on our physical sex, what is expected of us. Our gendered behaviours are learned. Boys will be what they are taught to be. If the phrase “boys will be boys” is to remain in use, I do hope that it someday looks something like this: Jeff and his wife, Mary, went out to dinner. While at the restaurant, they had a deep discussion in which ideas flowed and Jeff was reminded of the qualities that he loved most about Mary. Intelligent, independent, strong, caring, and beautiful. Having been taught that women are human beings with equal value and dignity, Jeff’s union with Mary was an exemplary model of love, respect, and commitment. She made him feel whole … boys will be boys.

Misogyny, Today, Is Not A Complex Issue

Ever since the shooting rampage at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) on May 23, 2014, I have not been able to log on to social media without being confronted with the issue of misogyny. The shooter, as by now we are all aware, was motivated by his anger over women not finding him attractive. His multiple blog posts and YouTube videos revealed that he was lonely and, by the end, furious that women would not sleep with him. In his ramblings over why women should find him desirable, he described himself with words like “magnificent,” clearly indicating a sense of inherent superiority that he felt was inexplicably going unnoticed. The problem, however … the real problem … was that this man sexually objectified women, and felt entitled to them. His misogyny manifested as sexual objectification, and what drove him further was that other men were able to acquire those objects while he was not. With a final decision to “make them pay,” he went on a furious rampage; killing 6 and wounding 13 before also taking his own life.

Misogyny simply defined is a ‘hatred of women,’ but it’s so much more than that. Misogyny is the view that women are inferior, that their place is ‘in the kitchen,’ that they should not hold positions of authority (ie: Police officers), and that they are obligated to be subservient to men due to their place as the “weaker sex.” Misogyny comes from patriarchal teachings that place roles and value judgments on gender. Misogyny is the deplorable result of misinformation and misunderstanding, and it has caused a very complex and historically endless string of problems … but I believe that the issue of misogyny, today, is actually quite simple.

Issues related to this problem are more than any of us can possibly know, since the underlying ideals of male dominance are woven into the fabric of our cultural discourse. These issues are complex, but as we discuss them, people are dying at the hands of disenfranchised men who feel that they have been denied what they are owed. The discussion that we ought to be having right now is not about what misogyny has done, but about what we can do to rid ourselves of it; and that is NOT a complex problem.

The issue of misogyny, today, is really very easy, and it all boils down to just one word … education. Issues like rape culture, honour killing, domestic abuse, lack of pay equity, workplace and public sexual harassment, even the beer induced ramblings about nagging wives and female drivers in so-called “man caves” across the country, can all be done away with through education. We’re not going to convince the average misogynistic idiot that he’s got it wrong, but we can do our best to counteract what he’s teaching his children with a real-world education in school. We can make sure that kids are confronted with the reality that women and men are not so different. We can make sure they are taught that women are human beings, and not objects or possessions to be fought over and controlled. We can teach young boys that what a woman is wearing is relevant to her right to self-expression only, and not an invitation to violate her. We can teach all children that their value is not determined by their sex or gender, that they are human first, and that it’s okay to have preferences and desires that are outside of what society says is “normal.” This won’t change everybody, and it won’t remove the problem entirely … but it will make a dramatic difference. In the areas where this kind of education IS being done, it’s already making a dramatic difference.

Now, if you’re already thinking #Notallmen, just calm down. Nobody said “all men,” and discussions about misogyny don’t even imply “all men.” The problem is “some men.” “Some men” abuse,” “some men” rape, “some men” stand by and do nothing, “some men” think it’s funny, and “some men” don’t think there is even a problem to discuss. As long as the problem of misogyny exists because of “some men,” we must educate ALL MEN. This is not a difficult concept.

The problems misogyny has caused are complex … but the problem of misogyny is simple. The world changes as we change. We change as our understandings change. Our understandings change as we learn. We call this education. We can’t fix the world overnight, but we can remove misogyny from our future.