Monday, November 22, 2010

Attack of The Gender Norms..or...A New Hope?

What is it about gender expression that frightens us so? Just this October we had the story of the little boy who wore a Daphne(from Scooby Doo) costume to school and all the furor that invoked. He was just a little boy in a Halloween costume yet,  it was treated as if it were an indicator of the boys gender identity and sexual orientation. We had so much to say about a simple costume choice by a preschooler. And here we are again discussing whats appropriate for boys and whats appropriate for girls as if those lines must never be crossed. Are we really in a new millennium? Because this conversation feels like 30 years ago.

This time a young girl by the name of Katie Goldman, a first grader and avid Star Wars fan in the Chicago area was being teased at school by the boys in her class because she loves Star Wars and carries a Star Wars backpack and water bottle to school about it. Her mother, heartbroken to see her daughters spirit broken by the need to fit in, encouraged her daughter to stick with what she loves and tried to help her deal with the realities of being different. Then, like nerdyapplebottom, the mother of the boy in the Daphne costume, and all great stay at home blogger/parents...*cough*...Carrie Goldman took it to the net in her blog, Portrait of an Adoption.

O.k...I admit that she had me hooked by being a Star Wars fan. Being a rabid fan myself, its always an automatic win for me. However, her love of Star Wars wasn't the only thing that Katie had come to realise was different about her. At first grade she had also come to the realisation that not all kids wore glasses or were adopted. That's alot to absorb when the biggest event of your day is usually discovering what your mom packed in your lunch..or arguing with the kids on the playground about which Star Wars character is the coolest.

But I'll let her mom tell the story in her own words:

At summer's end, Katie and I went to Target to pick out her backpack, lunchbox and water bottle for the new school year. After great deliberation, she chose a Star Wars water bottle to match her Star Wars backpack.

Katie loves Star Wars, and she was very excited about her new items. For the first few months of school, she proudly filled her water bottle herself and helped me pack her lunch each morning.

But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, "My Star Wars water bottle is too small. It doesn't hold enough water. Can I take a different one?" She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, "I'll bring this."

I was perplexed. "Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your Star Wars one. I think it is actually smaller."

"It's fine, I'll just take it," she insisted.

I kept pushing the issue, because it didn't make sense to me. Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.

She wailed, "The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle. They say it's only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I'll just bring a pink water bottle."
Katie's mom describes that her heart sank and pushed a little harder to get at what might be behind her daughters sudden need to ditch her love for Star Wars:

"Katie, it is okay to be different. Not all girls need to drink out of pink water bottles," I told her.

"I don't want to be too different," Katie lamented. "I'm already different. Nobody else in my class wears glasses or a patch, and nobody else was adopted. Now I'm even more different, because of my Star Wars water bottle."

I hugged her hard and felt my heart sink. Such a tender young age, and already she is embarrassed about the water bottle that brought her so much excitement and joy a few months ago.

Is this how it starts? Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?
Yes, it is how it starts...but I hope she never loses the courage to be what makes her unique. I hope my own children never lose that spark that makes them special.

I admit that I understanding her moms heartbreak. I was bullied relentlessly and cruelly as a kid...not simple name calling but the chained to a tree while others looked on and laughed kind of bullied. Its a subject that is s hot button for me. When my husband and I adopted out two children, the fact that they may suffer the cruel mistreatment of others was a major thing to think about. My son has some physical development issues that affect the way that he looks and speaks. He is also adopted and has two dads. Bullying was a very real possibility for Daniel. And so it has been. Not so much for having two dads or for being adopted...but mostly for the Daniels health issues and the scarring he had received from the many surgeries he has had to endure. That has hurt my heart the the day when he was five and standing in front of the bathroom mirror staring at his scars because the kids at school had said something mean. He asked me  "Dad...when are the doctors going to take this off?" It broke my heart and was the toughest thing in the world to try and explain to him at the age of five. Fortunately, Daniel is a tough kid and a true survivor.

I don't know what it is about humans that needs to put every one in a box in order to feel safe in the world...and in fact...once boxed, we find ever smaller and more precise boxes to put ourselves in. Then we start weeding out the boxes we don't like/understand. For me this issue hits home because of the loss of my friend Carina..who was transgendered and transitioning from male to female. It blows my mind how much discomfort people feel about much violence and utter dehumanization the transgendered community suffers astounds and sickens me. What is it about the blurring of the lines between male and female that arouses in us such fear? When people approach that grey line in which it is no longer possible to distinguish the masculine from the feminine we treat them as if they are no longer relatable to us and on many longer human. All for merely feeling like a gender they were not born into. It's mind boggling.

When a boy innocently wears a female costume he is automatically accused of being gay. A little girl loves Star Wars and she is shunned. These are the first hints these kids receive that if you don't fit the mold ...we will cast you out. Each generation passes it to the next and none of us stop to ask ourselves why until something comes up that gives us a reason to.

I like to think of is like this...I imagine what I define as "myself" being slowly stripped away. At what point do I stop being me? You can take away my love of Star Wars and I will still be me. You can take away my home, my name, and my family and I will still have a "me". You can take away my memories and I will still wake up in the morning with a sense of a self. And finally...if you believe in any kind of can take away my body and with it my sense of gender, sexuality, etc..and I believe I will still have a sense of myself as an individual being. A blank essence. If all those things can be taken from me and I still find a "me"...than what am I?...I haven't answered that yet.

None of what we fight over...or define ourselves over matters in the greatest scheme of things because none of them is really what we are at our core. We are poured into the circumstances of our lives like water taking the shape of the glass it is poured into and we let that shape define who we are. Then we get so afraid of those who's glass may be a different shape even though we are the same water.

Wearing one costume will not make a little boy into a girl. Loving Star Wars will not make Katie any less of a girl...and furthermore, changing a body from one gender to another will not eradicate the person inside it....maybe its time we got over it and started accepting ourselves and others as we let ourselves be fully human, with all the messiness and grey areas...and all the amazing potential that will never fit in our neat little boxes.

I fully congratulate Katie on having the good taste and sensibility to love Star Wars. She will be in good company. Additionally, due to her mom's blogging, I know that ton's of support has flooded in to Katie from other fans and even a few official Star Wars personalities. All of which has given Katie absolute delight and encouraged her to wear her passion as a badge of honor. Her mom relays Katie's happy ending...

Wow! Katie is overjoyed by the comments coming in!!! My sweet first grade daughter has been sitting with me at the computer, reading aloud all the wonderful, supportive notes from readers, and her face is shining. Each night after dinner, we are going to sit together, and she is going to read several comments to me and her daddy. We are going to print the comments out and make a book for her to read whenever she feels the need. Today she wore a Star Wars shirt to school and said to me, "Tell the people about it!!!!" This is really restoring her self confidence. She did a jaunty little pirouette in her Star Wars shirt before school.

And all is as it should be.

Until next time dear readers....


  1. Thanks for these great thoughts... I am a science-fiction fan too and gay... and I just loooove your collection (I am totally amazed every time I see it behind you in one of your videos.) :D To me the science-fiction community was always totally welcoming and hugely accepting. The same as the LGBT community. Maybe it has something to do with subcultures, dunno. But I am sure, we are regarding the world through a more open-minded spectacles. :) I really think this girl will develop a more wide perspective to look at the world - same as you son. He seems to be a great young man. Wish you all the Best! Greetings from Germany. (And good night - it is 1 a.m. here, enough browsing, crawling into bed now.)

  2. The Force is strong with this one.
    "Be like Water...[formless, powerful, flexible]"- Bruce Lee

  3. It makes me so sad that people don't realize we are all special and that part of us that makes us different should be celebrated. Those who try to make us fit another mold are the ones who lack definition and can only stand out by making others feel less than them.

    My advice to Katie is learn from Yoda. Enter your own swamp tree and realize if you succumb to bullying you become your own Darth Vader.

    When our spirit stops shining and we no longer fight we become a little less Human. So let your true colors shine. :)

  4. It's really sad that this young girl has to put up with such horrible bullying over such a trivial matter. I hope she outshines them all. On another note, I am a big sci-fi and fantasy fan. Although the fans themselves are very accepting of the gay community and/or gay people themselves, I don't find the sci-fi or fantasy literature or media to be so accepting. I've yet to find a gay or lesbian superhero (outside of the handful offered up and then killed by X-men) or book character. The genres are very heterosexist. Just damsels in distress. Heck, it's hard to find a strong, real female character.

  5. I felt so sad hearing about this poor sweet girl. I'm a massive Star Wars fan, and it broke my heart to see her being bullied because she loves the greatest Sci-Fi franchise in the world. But now i'm giggling and I feel so happy knowing that she's starting feeling better about herself! I keep thinking of that Jet song (Even though i'm not really a fan) Shine On.

  6. Bryan, this year when y mother INEVITABLY asks us all to say what we're thankful for, I am going to say Youtube. This is in no small part to it's introducing me to the depfox family. I hope you are feeling a little better. Please say Happy Thanksgiving to your family and to quote something i saw on Yutube......"What a wonderful Prince".

  7. AW...thanks robert *hugs*