Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt spoke on public radio about the recent court ruling that granted an injunction to keep the federal guidance to schools on transgender students—the controversial “bathroom law”—from going into effect. He describes how the 1972 Title VII and Title IX provisions referring to “sex” were, in his opinion, wrongly applied to gender, which he described as an “internal sense of identity that feasibly could change, day-to-day, week-to-week....”
Sadly, this Attorney General and large portions of the American population simply do not understand gender identity and transgender students. No transgender student merely decides to be male one day and female the next. The feeling of being masculine or feminine is developed in the brain of a developing baby in the last few months of pregnancy and generally becomes recognized by the child between ages 4 and 6. While most children develop a gender identity that matches their sexual anatomy, a small number do not. And the experience of living in a world where society calls you a boy when you feel you are a girl, or vice versa, is very traumatic and no less a handicap to normal life than obvious physical handicaps.
Besides confusing gender with sexuality, there is also little recognition of the wide variation in masculinity/femininity among the “normal” range of students. And it is biological.
I taught in high schools for ten years (in Kentucky, Indiana and overseas) before becoming a professor. At one school, the principal handed out lists of students we would advise in our home rooms.
The coach was sitting next to me and said: “Oh, good! I got Francis. I can straighten him out.”
Francis was a boy with effeminate mannerisms. He was quiet, gentle and kind. He did not play ball with the boys. And I knew exactly what the coach meant by “straighten him out.”
Fortunately, my home room list contained the names of two boys who were the coach’s favorites. They were slap-on-the-back, sports-are-everything, super-masculine “jocks” [a term I never want to use, but in this case, every reader knows exactly what I mean].
“Boy, I wish I had them in my home room,” lamented the coach.
I pounced: “Wanna trade?”
The coach hesitated; “You’ll straighten out Francis?”
“Sure!” I replied.
So we switched these home room students. And all three students lived happily the rest of the year. Did I lie? My view of “straightening out” Francis was to give him the freedom to be himself: a kind, gentle boy with mannerisms that were more characteristic of a girl. I saved him from the constant harassment he would have endured under a coach trying every day to pressure him to “man up.” Old theories that effeminacy is due to an overbearing female head-of-family or other learning experience have been disproved. It is not learned. And it is not a choice.
I do find it strange that the very coach who was repulsed by an effeminate boy actually celebrated his girl’s team when they won by aggressive on-the-court action, throwing their elbows with testosterone-driven masculinity. Why was my colleague not concerned with “straightening out” his tomboy girls to become more feminine?
Natural variation due to hormones has always been with us. Fat produces estrogens and the adrenal glands produce testosterone in both males and females. Heavy boys generally have smoother skin and higher voices. Thin women who go through menopause often grow a mustache.
With most Americans having just watched the Olympics, now is a good time to recognize and celebrate, not ignore, our natural variation in masculinity and femininity.
Most of today’s youngsters understand. They have no problem accepting this natural variation. They accept their classmates where chromosomes, anatomy, hormones and brain development do not all match. Now if only the older folks—including attorneys general—could show the same understanding and compassion.