Lori Duron is the author of the book and blog Raising My Rainbow, chronicling her family's life with a son more comfortable playing with Barbies than with Batman: or in Duron's words, gender creative. He loves everything pink. He enjoys dressing up in princess costumes. He revels in tea parties.
While I was attending San Francisco State University's grad program, we discussed at length how gender is socially constructed, meaning, how much did our sociocultural environs influence what we liked, how we spent our time, and how such factors influenced our self-conceptions as male or female. By the way, if you ever want to go to the perfect place to test your ideas of what's straight, gay, bi, transgendered, pan-sexual, or androgynous, plug San Fran into your GPS because every shade and permutation of gender identity and sexuality were in that city - and often sitting next to me in one of my classes.
By the time I graduated, I almost believed that most everything about us is dominated by nurture versus nature. We were by-products of our rearing, which meant we could 'fix' inherent disparities by raising our kids in gender-neutral or gender creative ways.
Living in the Bay Area, I got to hang with lots of different types of families, each testing their theories onto their offspring with earnest, zeal, and more than their fair share of self-righteousness. One family I knew refused to allow anything blue or pink in their house and refused to have any corporate sponsored 'tools for gender subjugation' (i.e. Disney, Barbie, etc) into their children's hands. One of my former gender studies' professors had a household of boys with tons of gender neutral toys (blocks, puzzles) and a fair share of 'girlie' stuff (dolls, playhouses) but weren't allowed any GI Joes or play weapons like swords or guns.
Know what those boys used to build with their Legos when their parents left the room? Swords and guns. Know what the other family's kids did when they came to my house with the Disney costumes and baby dolls? Made a beeline for them like junkies to a crack den.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if you go to either extreme, either subscribing exclusively to gender roles or admonishing them altogether, we run the risk of leaving vast areas of our internal landscape unexplored. I myself was a 'tomboy', refusing to wear dresses or play with the other girls because I thought playing house was the most boring activity in the world. Why would you'd want to pretend to vacuum and clean the kitchen when you could play with a train set or peg someone in dodge ball? I remember signing up for shop class in eighth grade and my parents having to petition the school when they said a girl couldn't enroll. I was the only girl in that class and I got a taste of architectural drawing, woodworking, and photography. Why those subjects were identified as male pursuits, I have no idea, and while I still can't draw a straight line with a ruler to save my life and have no interest in whittling a tree, I'm thrilled I had parents who fought for me to have those opportunities.
That said, let's be brutally honest for a sec - it's still more socially acceptable for a female to pursue socially constructed male pursuits than it is for a male to enter more female-dominated arenas. In the case of Lori Duron's son, C.J., they have a boy who is not just looking to play with a doll, he wants to look like a Barbie. Most parents wouldn't be as accepting and open as the Duron's; there's a reason why the suicide attempt rate amongst transgendered youth is a high 41% (according to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, released in October 2010). Ironically, if I see a man in drag, it doesn't bother me in the least, but when I see pictures of C.J., - or when I saw the film on the same topic called La Vie en Rose, I felt unnerved, unsettled - like something was fundamentally not right. And I'm the same parent who constantly talks with my own daughters about the meta-messages our media sends to them about what is feminine or masculine, what constitute self worth through the physical, emotional, and intellectual. Yet, when I see that happy little boy in lipstick dancing around in a tutu, it feels inherently, well, off, in some way.
Guess what though...that's my problem - and I shouldn't place that on any child. I'm working on it - and in the process of that work I have to ask the next logical question: why am I uncomfortable with the masculine commingling with the feminine and not the other way around? The unfortunate answer is that such people and actions challenge what I have been constructed to believe is the inherently dominant 'correct' order of nature - and the feminization of a subject somehow weakens or degrades its essence or power. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathe admitting this about myself. How can I - a self-proclaimed feminist - state that seeing a boy dress as a girl skeeves me out more than it should?
I am admitting it because the more we bring to light the ugliest, non-politically-correct aspects of ourselves and our beliefs, the likelier we are to question their etiology and change ourselves and our communities. Growing up in South Florida was actually a fairly segregated existence mid-20th century...I used to feel the same uneasy queasiness about interracial couples as I do about boys like C.J. I remember someone asking me as a young teen how I take my coffee and I said, "light and sweet" and my dad saying "hopefully like your men, too." Btw, that kind of joke wasn't unusual where I grew up, where the Jews always voted for the Democrats but called black people "schvartzes" (not a kind word for African-Americans in Yiddish). The point is, the more I admitted and realized my prejudice and from where it derived, the quicker the bias dissipated. Now interracial anything is a non-issue for me. Perhaps, hopefully, sooner than later, gender creative identity will be too.