Gender is complicated, but we like to pretend it’s not. From the moment we’re born, society ascribes to us pink or light blue, these toys or those toys, this type of clothing or that type based on a single binary: male or female. Anyone who doesn’t fit the mold is subject to all manner of assumptions — sexual orientation being the most common among them. These constructs are not only unhelpful — they can be dangerously oppressive to anyone who doesn’t absolutely conform.
Despite the stifling constraints, gender-policing is all around us — kids as young as six can explain how a certain toy is for girls — or boys. This isn’t because kids are born knowing about gender, but because we reinforce these notions from the moment they come into the world and chastise those who attempt to break free. In a piece for Salon, Sarah Hoffman describes her experiences as the mother of a boy who doesn’t conform to society’s gender expectations:
Who’s confused? My son knows exactly what he likes. When Sam was 4 and his male peers trick-or-treated as Batman and Spiderman and gorillas, Sam was a princess. At 5, he was a queen, regal and proud and full of the royal prowess that Disney offers all little girls. He liked feather boas and lip gloss and dancing. Did he think he was a girl? Nope. Was he confused about being a boy? Nope. Did he need to be taught what boys are supposed to like? Nope — how boys are supposed to behave was abundantly clear from the trains and trucks we bought him before we realized he was a pink boy, the behavior of all the boys he knew, the messages on TV, and the judgments of all the Random Moms. He just liked what he liked, the way other kids did — only his likes were different.
[…] So what, exactly, is wrong with a boy who likes Barbie? America, talk to me. I’m all ears. And if you can’t think of an un-muddled answer, then think about this: Everywhere — on playgrounds and in homes across America, in Disney movies and on national television, on high school and college campuses — pink boys are the brunt of jokes, made to feel inferior, mocked until they take their own lives. Feminine boys are among the last people it’s OK for our culture to hate. Indeed, one of the most popular arguments against letting boys express their feminine sides is that people will make fun of them. Which makes me wonder: should we hide who we are because people are mean? Or should we — parents, teachers, bystanders, infotainment talk-show hosts â€” stand up and say it’s not acceptable to make fun of people who are different?
I urge you to read her entire essay if you haven’t come across it yet. It’s been two years since Hoffman shared her experiences and we haven’t made a whole lot of progress for people with gender identities and expressions that don’t match up to social expectation but Mel Reiff Hill and Jay Mays are hoping to change that with The Gender Book, a colorful primer about gender and its many variants.
The 90-page, full-color hardcover book is meant to be a resource that unpacks our views on gender and imparts some of the basics of gender theory, along with anecdotes from over 200 people they’ve interviewed about their experiences with gender identity.
More specifically, The Gender Book covers gender generalizations, the difference between gender and sex, gender behavior in kids, gender through history, gender across cultures, gender identity, gender expression, gender perceptions, the gender binary versus the gender spectrum, the transgender umbrella, masculine women, androgynous people, feminine men, male-to-female transition, female-to-male transition, cross-dressing, drag kings and queens, intersex, genderqueers, transexual concerns, how to be a better ally, a glossary and other resources.
It is the creators’ hope that this book will become a resource for all kinds of people, helping them understand the gender variances in their loved ones, students, employees, patients and more.
To view some of its most popular pages online, go here. You might have to wait a moment for the slide show and individual pages thumbnails to load. It’s worth it. It’s so worth it, you should buy it in hard-copy. I don’t say this about a lot of things, but this book is important. Fortunately for all of us, for the month of December, The Gender Book is available for pre-sale for $30.00 through its campaign on Indiegogo.
Get it. Get it for yourself, for your friends, for schools and libraries in your area.
Let’s change the narrative.