Why shouldn’t we let boys wear skirts to school?

Last night, I read an article by Glosswitch, published on the New Statesman website. The article mused about why we should let all boys wear skirts to school. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, I’m sure you’ll already know my response would be “why not?”. As the article already points out, a number of schools in the UK have already unified their uniform policies and, so far, it hasn’t caused any deaths, economic crashes or biblical apocalypses.

The article doesn’t have any comments section (just as well) – but I can imagine the response if it did. If you discount the attention-seeking brain-farts of the ultra-conservative trolls, the majority would be supportive. Parents today are getting wise to the ways in which their children are being rigidly gendered – particularly by marketing departments keen to reduce the number of “hand me downs” eating into their profit margins – and the success of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is testament to how this practice is in decline. I can, however, see some valid concerns being raised.

What if my son doesn’t want to wear a skirt to school?

There always seems to be some confusion between a “right” and a “rule”. Your son may have the right to wear a skirt to school if they want to, but nobody’s forcing them to. It’s an additional freedom – it’s yours whether you want to make use of it or not.

What if it makes them go… well… you know…?

And so what if it does? They’re still your children. You might not like the idea now, but you may find you react differently if they do. They’re just clothes at the end of the day – what you wear on the outside has no effect on what’s on the inside, but if they do have some symptoms of gender dysphoria, I reckon it’s better for their long-term health if they express it rather than repress it.

Won’t they get bullied?

I don’t know any parent who would disagree that bullying is part of a larger, unrelated problem. Bullies will target anyone different to them, whether that difference is visible or not, but we have to remember that we’re talking about primary school children here. Children are far less prejudiced at that age and look to their elders for guidance – that’s where the school’s culture has a lot of influence. If they see another boy turn up to school in a skirt, they may think it’s a bit extraordinary but, if they see no negative reaction from their teacher, it’s likely they will accept it. They will take this acceptance with them.Parental attitude also has a lot of influence too, and it’s important that parents work with the school to ensure any kind of bullying does not go unpunished.

Schools are there to help give our children the fundamental knowledge they’ll need to get on in life. When they grow up and enter the workplace, they will be required to work with others regardless of such arbitrary characteristics; most companies take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and harassment, so it helps our children in the long-term if such social skills are instilled in them at an early age (Glosswitch’s article refers to this as “the indoctrination of non-indoctrination”).

Are people “objects”?

Another day, another YouTube video, another scroll-down to the comments section and yet another question I’m left asking.

The video I was watching told the story of a young couple, both of whom are transgender – not that you’d know that unless you knew them personally or had watched the video.

I scrolled down to the comments section, and there were at least a couple of people asking:

“So what are they?”

Not who, but what! Did this make them gay, straight, pansexual…?

It got me to question why some people feel the need to label other people as if they were objects. I came to think of it this way:

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This is commonly known as a Vinyl Record. It is a disc made of polyvinyl chloride with an etched spiral groove from which analogue sound can be reproduced.

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This can also be described as a vinyl record as it has the same characteristics as the one above. The grooves look identical to the casual observer but there is a major difference between the two – one plays a recording of Scoundrel Days by a-ha, the other Legion by Mark Shreeve. We can verify this by listening to the original master copies of each recording and comparing them to the signal etched in the grooves.

They are objects. They also have labels telling you what they are, so you can easily tell at a glance whether you are about to listen to a-ha or Mark Shreeve. Vinyl records are static and not sentient – the a-ha record will always play the same music every time, as will the Mark Shreeve record. Vinyl records come in all shapes, sizes and colours but, as long as they are made of polyvinyl chloride and have an analogue signal etched into a spiral groove, they will always be Vinyl records.

These are humans. Unlike Vinyl records, they are sentient and not static in that their behaviour is not so accurately predictable. Talk to either of them about a subject, and talk to them about the same subject a month later, and you may find that their two answers differ. Their sentience gives them what’s called a personality, and this personality will be significantly different when compared to other humans.

They can be divided into sub-groups called male and female based on their respective biology, but in terms of personality, the distinction is not so clear. Ryan and Jasmine have biological differences, but there will be areas of their personalities that they share with the other.

But all that is a rather long-winded explanation.

Unlike Vinyl records, human beings are not produced to serve a single, predictable function. They are not cut to spec, nor are they mass-produced – no two humans are entirely identical, ergo they are not objects and cannot be labelled as such.

So, to answer the question of what they are, just so you can give them the appropriate label, there is only one answer:

Humans.

Gender Variance and Bullying: A Quick Response

Picture courtesy of Queens University in Kingston Ontario
Picture courtesy of Queens University, Kingston Ontario

I’m just going to write a very quick post here, again based on videos I’ve watched and comments I’ve read.

It appears some people believe that, if a child shows signs of gender variance, it is the parents responsibility to force their child into conformity. By allowing their child’s variance to continue, they are setting their child up to a life of social exclusion, bullying and maybe even physical assault. In doing so, they are failing to protect their child from potential danger.

If that’s the way you feel, I believe you have your priorities the wrong way round. That is tantamount to admitting that is is not acceptable to raise a gender-variant child, but it is acceptable to raise a sociopath with little-to-no empathy, who believes it is okay to police other people’s appearance and behaviour with physical and psychological abuse. If that’s what you teach your children, then you are setting them up on a path that may lead to criminal behaviour.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I am all in favour of gender-neutral bathrooms under certain conditions, but never mentioned what those conditions were. Well, they tie in with what I mentioned above. A lot of my opinions are echoed in this video:

There is a perfectly-rational reason why some women are concerned for their safety in such bathrooms, and so my main condition is something of a root-cause analysis: we stop teaching men and boys all this macho, patriarchal bullshit. You do not need to be highly-intelligent to know that it is wrong to assault women just because you are bigger and stronger than them. Being born a man does not give you this right!

 

Transgender Children: They exist. Get over it.

I don’t know why, but whenever I view or read something online, I feel the desire to scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the comments. I’d been watching another TEDx video, one about a parent coming to terms with the unexpected revelation that their middle child, assigned male at birth, wanted to be a girl, and wondered what the public’s reaction would be towards it.

I’ve watched a number of these TEDx presentations, and they’ve all been pretty progressive on the topic of gender, validated by presenters who were speaking from experience rather than opinion. For the most part, the comments posted were positive or at least supportive, but there’s always the odd few that post a negative reaction. Whether they’re speaking from the heart or just engaging in trolling remains to be seen, but there were common threads running throughout.

They weren’t speaking from experience

Unless you’re the parent of a transgender child, comments are superficial at best. The same applies to me too as neither of my children are transgender as far as I’m aware, so I can’t speak from experience either. The difference is that I will happily listen to and learn from other people’s experiences rather than jump in and add my 2p worth of bigotry.

They believe it is their business to determine how another person raises their child

Again, the same applies to me too – it’s none of my business either – but if you’re willing to give unsolicited parenting advice to complete strangers, you should be willing to accept advice from them in return; given that neither parent would act on the other’s advice, it’s just a complete waste of bandwidth. Besides, all children are unique and a parenting style that works for one child would not necessarily work with another.

They won’t leave the Bible out of this

There’s always the one über-Flanders type who dusts off their Bible and starts quoting cherry-picked verses out of context as a means to accuse parents of raising an ‘abomination’. Speaking as someone who has done his fair share of Bible study, I’d like to point out that Jesus had no real interest in the so-called “holy people”, preferring to reach out to those marginalized by society: tax collectors, lepers, women and so on. Based on that information, if Jesus came back tomorrow, would he be more likely to (a) visit a conservative church and give them all the thumbs up for enforcing conformity to Old Testament laws, or (b) visit a transgender child and tell them that, despite the teasing and bullying they receive, they are very much loved?

They’re ignorant of history (but they’ll try to prove otherwise)

“You never heard about Transgenderism until recently, which must make it a relatively new thing. There are no examples throughout history, so it must be some kind of modern (mental illness/liberal lunacy/Satanic work)*”

I always find this kind of talk rather amusing since it ignores the very meaning of recorded history. A lack of historical evidence supporting Transgenderism does not implicitly mean that it didn’t exist in previous centuries – gender dysphoria was neither as widely-reported as it is in this internet age, nor as widely-understood. It’s equally plausible that those who did experience gender dysphoria back then suffered in silence.

*Delete as applicable


Let’s say, for example, that one of these YouTube pundits finds themselves in the same room as a transgender child. What is the worst that’s going to happen to them? The risks are exactly the same whether the child is trans- or cis-gender: you may be subjected to a conversation about Pokémon or One Direction. Why? Because children are children. End of.

Ultimately, such comments are prejudiced, plain and simple; and there is no excuse for prejudice. My nan was quite conservative in many ways, but quite liberal in others. As a religious person, she was always conscious of the parable of the Good Samaritan and what it says about holding prejudices. When you’re in a life-or-death situation and somebody is standing in the middle, you’re not going to refuse their help on something as trivial as their sex, gender, race, religion or nationality.

Before you can man up, you’ve got to calm down

rikki-tedxwarwick4I guess now I’ve opened my mind to something new, I find myself needing to write yet another gender-related post. Just like the last one, I’ve gone through several drafts and re-writes before actually settling on something. The last draft theorised about whether the gender binary was actually obsolete and unimportant, until I watched this TEDx talk by Rikki Arundel about how gender is important. Watching it reinforced some of the points I was making, but also showed me how I was writing from a personal perspective. I’m still learning about gender identities and gender politics, yet Rikki actually lives it. On my website, I’ve sounded out theories and adopted points of view based on what I knew at the time of writing, but I’m always willing to listen to and learn from other people’s experiences.

Although, on paper, our headlines would appear to be at odds with each other, I was actually approaching my post from a different angle so the two were complementary: gender is important emotionally, but it shouldn’t be important socially.

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Nobody calls me “chicken”

Coupled with a post I read on Paging Dr. Nerdlove about defining modern masculinity, the video highlighted just how little flexibility the male sex has in terms of their gender identity and expression and how aggressively it’s policed. Rikki demonstrated this by showing that, in terms of clothing, Women can buy their clothes from Burton’s (a UK Menswear store) and very few would even notice. If a man shopped next door at Dorothy Perkins, he’s putting himself at risk of hatred, humiliation and even violence for breaking the unwritten “rules” of masculinity. Male culture is beset with bullying and fear as a means of policing conformity; fear is also used to maintain the masculine trait of fearlessness – just think of the effects words like “wuss”, “chicken” and “pansy” have.

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Your wife’s going to kill you, but look on the bright side: at least Needles doesn’t think you’re a chicken.

We’re afraid of appearing afraid, so we overcompensate by ramping up the “bravery” (I use inverted commas as this so-called bravery likely involves reckless stupidity) and putting ourselves at far greater risk just to prove a point.These “brave” men are really just so insecure and fragile in their identity, they cannot stand up for themselves against even mild peer pressure.

 

When I opined about the unimportance of gender, I overlooked something important. When you’re locked into a culture where gender is so aggressively policed and you’re not strong enough to give it the finger, your gender expression is a means of survival. I can’t begin to understand what trans people have to go through just to feel comfortable with themselves, something cis people take for granted, but with the personal, social and political turmoil they’d have to face, I can understand why some would become so emotionally attached and protective of the gender identity they’ve worked so hard for.

But despite our emotional attachment to gender, the social attachment should be minuscule at most. This week, I have to do a compliance course for my new employer, and the handbook I was given in advance had a whole section on conduct and discrimination. It was likely the most thorough anti-discrimination policy I’ve ever read. To put it simply, if I openly discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, sex, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression… I stand a very good chance of getting sacked. This is coming from a major, global organisation. It’s not a radical policy either – every organisation I’ve worked for, whether it be local, national or global, has had a pretty strict anti-discrimination policy. This is why I feel gender should not be important socially – at work, we are required to collaborate and cooperate with each other, so one’s gender is of less importance than one’s skills, abilities, personality and behaviour.

If that’s how we’re expected to behave inside work, what’s so different about behaving that way outside work? What’s so difficult about respecting one’s individuality, or just simply leaving them alone?

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I feel Dr. Nerdlove is correct when they say that some men need to calm down, work on their insecurities and become stronger in a more constructive way though being less quick to anger. While I’m not exactly a prime example of manliness on the outside, I am probably stronger in myself than some of the more “alpha” males. I’m not frightened of or threatened by people who are different to me – at worst, I’m respectfully curious. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me – an opinion is not a fact, and is more reflective of the person making it than it is of me. Most importantly, words are just words. Call me whatever you like – even seemingly insulting names like “lady boy” or “batty man” – just please excuse me if I completely ignore you.

That’s my brand of strength and bravery: brave enough to break the norm, and strong enough to handle the criticism that follows.