Gender, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation

Related imageRelated imageRelated imageThere are many ways that homophobia and heterosexism permeate the world of young children. If we examine the cycle of socialization it is evident that no one is born with a set of preconceived notions or prejudice attitudes towards any one group (Harro, 2010). All of this is learned through the next two phases of our social development which Harro explains are called the first socialization and the institutional/cultural socialization (2010). Through the first socialization, we learn what is acceptable behavior, attitudes, and thoughts about ourselves and other groups. In this phase, there are learned attitudes that could lead to misinformed thoughts (stereotypes) and even different “isms” like racism, genderism, homophobia, ageism, etc. Sometimes the messages that children learn at home whether overt or covert are then reinforced by other institutional/cultural experiences and interconnections. This is the phase that Harro explains as Institutional/Cultural socialization where children are then given additional messages about isms, stereotypes, or prejudice attitudes about diverse groups and cultures.

In the case of Bradley and Jonah, two boys who had begun to identify their genders as the opposite of the one they were born with, the professional therapy and family intervention they received consisted of two different approaches. Bradley was sort of given an intervention which consisted of more of a reform. Bradley’s parents and therapist sought to change his behavior and this type of approach involved taking Bradley’s ability to choose his own identity and in turn take away things that he preferred to play with or wear which were dolls and dresses (Speigel, 2008). Although in the end both the therapist and the parents felt better about how Bradley’s social development was headed, Bradley’s mother stated that she knew he was not as happy, he developed an obsession with pink and repeatedly ask to not be around things that color because he loved the color and all the feminine ideals that were associated with it.  She also noted that he had emotional fits and it was hard for him to transition into boy clothes and boy toys. Bradley did not want to go to school anymore. Although she feels that he has now begun to play more with boys and do boy things, she fears he is leading a double life and behaves one way in school and another at home (Speigel, 2008). To me, it seems as though they had committed a disservice to Bradley by limiting and reforming his personal identity. In the case of Jonah, Jonah’s family and therapist allowed Jonah to develop his identity on his own, uninterrupted by their own perceptions of sexual orientation, and so, in the end, Jonah was a lot happier as a child and chose to be a girl instead of the gender he was born with. According to Derman-Sparks & Edwards (2010), institutionalized and individual prejudice and discrimination exist against gay, lesbian, and transgender people and families. I wonder if Bradley’s parents had grown and developed in a more accepting environment regarding sexual identity as children, would they have thought that Bradley needed fixing?

I believe that like any other “ism” children should be taught anti-bias approaches to homophobia. Creating an environment that exposes children to the gay, lesbian, and transgender cultures through books, posters, dolls, and toys so that children are presented with the many opportunities to explore this cultural group and their own identities (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). The more that children are comfortable with different family structures including gay parents (two moms or two dads) the more that children will develop into accepting adults in a society which could be less homophobic.

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