Not in my house!

Attitudes like Sherri Shepherd’s are why there are still so many queer & trans youth out on the streets. At least attitudes like hers in kind, if not in degree. She tried to make some kind of point about how she wouldn’t just go off at her son if he wanted to wear a dress… but you know, if you have a serious problem and even a moral opposition to some part of your child that they can’t change about themselves? And you say that there’s no place for that in your house? It’s only a hop, skip and a jump before they have no place in your house. Seriously… how many more generations before good parenting means letting kids grow up, whether they’re trans or not, straight or not, while expressing their gender however they want to?

I found the clip via Feministing, where there’s some trans 101 going on in the comments as usual, along with people tsking at Barbara Walters for assuming that a child might be trans. That’s funny, I watched the video and it seemed to me like she spent more than half the time saying that it’s quite possible the child isn’t trans–which is quite true. When you take a step back, it starts to look really obvious which is the possibility that nobody wants to deal with or think about, isn’t it? Also, the question came up: is it all right to forbid your son from wearing a dress for his own safety? It’s not a bad question. But I think it needs to be asked with the understanding that for a whole lot of trans people, it’s far more than an issue of whether people are going to make fun of you or beat you up. And asked with the goal in mind that regardless of who a kid grows up to be, we ought to be working towards a home and school environment where kids are protected from persecution based on gender expression.


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29 comments for “Not in my house!

  1. December 15, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Yeah, I read (and commented) on that thread. It seems like every single thread about trans issues has to have the obligatory “I found them faintly ridiculous and sad” crap, and the obligatory “gender is just a social construction and I don’t understand when someone says ‘I loved lipstick as a kid, now I need surgury'” crap, you know, the kind you get from someone who does not actually *know* any trans people.

    It gets really frustrating.

  2. December 15, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    I notice one thing that didn’t get mentioned in the discussion of the boy putting the princess dress on at school, is what the reaction of the other kids in his class had been.

    It’s one thing to ask about “is it okay to stop them, for their own safety?” but, if his peers were accepting of it, then really, the only way (as was pointed out in the clip) that the kids are going to come to see it as “not okay” is if teacher steps in and says, “no, boys can’t wear dresses”. And in fact, the same goes for “your mother says you can’t wear dresses”. That’s how gender normative behaviour starts to be instilled into children, and becomes the basis for abuses later in life.

    By allowing children to explore other gender roles through make-believe and imaginative play, as suggested in the clip, surely we allow them to learn how illusory the gender binary actually is, and give them a much better chance to be themselves rather than having to conform to that binary. For those who are transgendered, by allowing them to do so in what is a public space (for them, since they are among their peers) it is more likely to be accepted as normal to do so, instead of the hideous secrecy and atmosphere of shame in which so many people who are transgender must currently start to explore their identity. For those who are imaginative, as I said, it might just break down the barrier between the genders and enable them to at least start life seeing one another as human beings, instead of “boy” or “girl”.

    And of course, for those children for whom it is just imaginary play

  3. December 15, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    oops, error in my editing my thoughts together, there. The last line of my last comment is just a remnant of an earlier formation of my thought.

  4. evil fizz
    December 15, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Sherri Shepherd is seeming like a farce these days. She can’t say whether the earth is flat or round or admit that there were humans before Christianity.

    I just can’t believe she still has a platform.

  5. December 15, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    My first thought was: Thank goodness my mother was more open-minded than that. I wonder how many viewers were thinking the same thing, whether they’re versed in trans issues or not…

  6. kate
    December 16, 2007 at 12:19 am

    surely we allow them to learn how illusory the gender binary actually is, and give them a much better chance to be themselves rather than having to conform to that binary.

    I agree.

    Evil, as for Shephard, don’t these shows always like to pit the extremes together as much as possible to ‘represent’ and create conflict?

  7. AAnon
    December 16, 2007 at 1:00 am

    I hate watching these types of shows, but I was actually really encouraged by this exchange — all four of the other women completely rejected Sherri’s comments. Immediately and explicitly. While the content of what she was saying was awful, obviously, I wonder if it’s even more valuable for people to see a 4 against 1 than if it were five just mentioning it, agreeing, and moving on?

    I mean, I was surprised they were even talking about this stuff — do shows like this (not that I know what the others might be, I guess, but I assume there are more) normally get this deep into “controversial” issues? Either way, good for the other four!

  8. RacyT
    December 16, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Sherri is an arse. She clearly backtracked and had to admit that her initial reaction was stupid. But this doesn’t surprise me. My sister, who is generally progressive, has a bizarre fear that my niece might turn out gay. To the point of asking if she thinks Harry Potter is handsome b/c she is terrified (for no good reason) that she might like Hermione. It drives me up the wall. I don’t know why otherwise reasonable parents worry over non-issues… but I guess I’m not really “normal.” Poor kids, dammit.

  9. mk
    December 16, 2007 at 4:14 am

    Yeah, the Babs tsking was what kept me out of the comments discussion. Cause when I first saw the video (a while before Feministing linked it- I found it through QueerToday) I was actually really heartened that Babs, the oldest woman on the show, was the one who tied the discussion into the issue of trans youth.

    I would also be really interested in hearing how other kids react to boys putting on dresses (and vice versa, whatever that would be… girls playing with trucks? How trite) in schools. I remember a section of Forever Barbie that really stuck out for me was a test group of children where a little girl totally freaked out when someone else put Barbie in the front seat of her convertible–because women don’t drive. Clearly that came from her parents, and she passed it right along to the other kids. And at a certain age, I feel like it must be the same for “X is for girls, Y is for boys”–kids don’t come up with that shit on their own.

  10. December 16, 2007 at 6:57 am

    BTW I loved Whoopi Goldberg’s analysis: “Of course we buy dolls for boys, we just don’t call them dolls, we call them action figures…Action Man is just the same as Barbie.”

    That last sentence could be such a cool slogan for campaigning against gender discrimination and stereotyping!

  11. December 16, 2007 at 9:04 am

    I thought Whoopie Goldberg also made a very good–and humorous–point about boys playing with dolls. Of course boys play with dolls; they just call them “action figures” or, as my funny five-year-old nephew puts it, “figurines”.

    It is really interesting to see people forced to confront the fact that what they view as immutable truths about the universe–boys don’t wear dresses, christianity has been around forever, marriage between one man and one woman is always the foundation of society–are nothing more than cramped arbitrary conventions of the here and now.

  12. December 16, 2007 at 11:24 am

    AAnon wrote:

    While the content of what she was saying was awful, obviously, I wonder if it’s even more valuable for people to see a 4 against 1 than if it were five just mentioning it, agreeing, and moving on?

    I don’t think so. I mean, I think it’s valuable to see wrong/bad/mean ideas resisted/opposed and I think it’s good to see these ideas in the minority rather than given equal time as though ‘their side’ deserves equal time. But I don’t think it’s more valuable to see one person in a minority opinion have their ideas squashed by four others in the majority opinion. I mean, how many times have we seen that when the minority opinion is the right one? It’s not valuable for people to see and think that majority is best or that might makes right.

    I think Shepherd’s viewpoint is coming more from the perspective of a parent who doesn’t see fashion as an expression of identity. To her, telling her boy he can only wear pants is the same as telling him he can only wear matching socks or that he MUST wear underwear. She doesn’t see it as squelching his identity; she sees it as temporarily restricting his behavior. Many of us see it as an unreasonable infringement on his development. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a rejection of the kid’s identity. It really just depends on the particular parent and parenting style.

    I was allowed to choose my own clothes as a child and I think that helped shape my independence, my creativity, and my intelligence. I plan to let my kids do the same. My sister has a clothing conflict with her son who is 8. She wants him to wear preppy clothes and he prefers emo and badboy clothes. She knows she’s shaping his identity by trying to push him towards preppy, but she’s also respectful of his wishes. I think they reach a happy medium, he certainly has much more style freedom than many of my friends did when I was growing up. I remember one of my close friends in high school wasn’t allowed to wear makeup except for Halloween and then she wasn’t allowed to wear red lipstick or red nail polish because, in her own words, ‘that’s the color whores wear.’

  13. evil fizz
    December 16, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Evil, as for Shephard, don’t these shows always like to pit the extremes together as much as possible to ‘represent’ and create conflict?

    Sort of, I guess. (It’s not like The View is Hardball or the O’Reilly Factor.) I understand the desire to not present a monolithic view, but it doesn’t work when your conservative panelists are self-parodying. If anything, having Shepherd on there is worse than having everyone be liberal. It’s like the liberals versus the absolute moron (who happens to be a conservative black woman). I am relieved that they’ve got Whoopi Goldberg on there, because otherwise it would feel more racist than it already does some of the time.

    I have to say though, after that threadjack, that I am really pleased that Barbara brought up the topic at all and that everyone else had a pretty sensible conversation about it. Whoopi is awesome.

  14. holly r.
    December 16, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Whoopi is a hero of mine. But, what I want to know is:

    why is Shepard even on this show? I understand that it is considered best to present opposing viewpoints, but her viesw are so extreme. Shepard just makes more of a mockery of the show, than it already is. if I were Shepard’s employer for just about anything, I’d have to fire her. she’s just such a moron.

  15. December 16, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    as read these types of posts more and more, i am reminded of similar incidents in my own childhood; incidents during which gender roles and appropriate gendered behaviors were made extremely clear to me, by my parents and friends.

    i remember when g.i. joe was released. it was 1964. my mother forbade me to have one. “it’s a doll!”, she said, and “boys aren’t supposed to play with dolls.”

    i remember a few years later, my dad brought home a huge box of extra fabrics from his shop, and my friend, my younger sister, and i played “dress up”. after my mother found out, she sternly told me that “dress up” was not appropriate play for boys. my friend was subsequently provided “boy lessons” as he was not very well versed in “appropriate play” like throwing and catching a ball. he asked that i not tell the other boys in school about his “tutoring”.

  16. December 16, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    i also couldn’t bring myself to comment at feministing…i was surprised (pleasantly) at the way barbara handled the question…

    it made me really sad, as a mother, to listen to shepherd talk about what her son will not do in her house…if our children can’t express themselves and grow into who they are in our unconditional love and acceptance, then what do they have? i think holly’s right, this is why we have trans and homosexual children on the street…but that means we are somehow failing our children…home is supposed to be where you are loved and accepted no matter what…parents are supposed to love their children for whoever they are, whether we agree w/ whatever they are becoming…

    thanks again, holly!

  17. December 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    one thing that slipped my mind…

    this woman wants to extend her control to school. she wants to force the providers and teachers to control imaginative play. the only thing i see this accomplishing is now she is demanding that these providers and teachers spread her narrow view on unsuspecting children…children whose parents have no problem w/ normal play. now, she is asking for her son to be singled out publicly, segregated, and alienated in front of his peers, blowing away another environment where children are supposed to feel secure…ugh!

  18. wiggles
    December 16, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Call me crazy but, as an opposing crank, I liked Hasselbeck much better than Shepherd. Yes, Hasselbeck was a FOX-News-talking-point-regurgitating sheep, but I would guess that when pressed she would at least acknowledge that the earth is round. Hasselbeck has also said some surprisingly liberal (for her) things regarding homosexuality, though I’m not sure if that was an accident of context or what.

  19. December 16, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Regarding what other kids would say: I let my son wear dresses of his own choosing to school in kindergarten. The teacher called and asked me to dress him “properly” for school. I asked if the other kids were bugging him. No, the problem was that the other boys were bugging their parents to let them wear dresses too!!

    As I watched this annoying exchange (why can’t they stop interrupting each other?), I kept thinking of The Color Purple in which it was a big liberating step for the women to make some pants to wear. If we can wear pants now, why can’t guys wear dresses? I abhor a double standard regardless who it favours.

  20. Shayne
    December 16, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    To answer why a transperson is the way they are is as easy to answer as why is anybody the way they are. What makes you feel who and what you are, and why are you that way? The answers are varied and complicated as the reasons why a transperson is the way they are.

    That alone is a really useless question.

  21. Karna
    December 16, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    is as easy to answer as why is anybody the way they are. What makes you feel who and what you are, and why are you that way? The answers are varied and complicated as the reasons why a transperson is the way they are.

    That alone is a really useless question.

  22. Karna
    December 16, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    okay, I don’t know what happened, but there was supposed to be more, this specifically-asking questions about why you are who you are is increadibly important, for everyone. it shouldn’t be a moral issue, but understanding only comes from asking questions.

  23. December 17, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Isn’t she the same one who said that “nothing came before jesus”?

  24. December 17, 2007 at 4:08 am

    I wore unisex clothing until I hit my teens, and my Barbies were bungee-jumping divorced moms, and business-owning amputees (doll legs snap easily when you drop them a few storeis with a plastic bag “parachute”) who ran for political office, and won. Not kidding.

    When I have kids, I won’t limit them in terms of gender expression.

  25. Tom
    December 17, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    There are more than 1,000 homeless gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in New York City, according to the Empire State Coalition.

    http://www.buffalonews.com/nationalworld/state/story/230157.html

  26. December 17, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    My 5 year old cousin would rather put on a dress and make up then anything else in the world. His grandmother is always making him keep his hair short and yells at him when he puts on dresses and likes to ask him if he’s a boy. It breaks my heart that they wont just let him wear a freaking dress while playing dress us with his older sister.

    I knew a family whose son liked to wear dresses and make up, so the agreement was he could wear whatever he wanted to at home and when they went out as a family, but to school he had to dress like a boy. They lived in the deep south though, and I really believe this was more for his safety then anything else. I liked their way of handling it.

  27. Becca
    December 17, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Reminds me just enough of a comment overheard today at a nearby lunch table…

    One guy: “Would you rather have a daughter who is a total slut and has like tons of diseases, or a son who was gay?”
    All guys: The slut, so my kid’s not gay!!!

    Seriously? Some people at my college disappoint me to no end… and I fear what kind of parents they will grow up to be.

  28. exholt
    December 19, 2007 at 2:54 am

    Argh….don’t have much to say….except that many parents are actually lying when they tell their child(ren) that their love for them is “unconditional”. This video just underscores that.

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