Gender Matters

29 Mar

My second cousin is pregnant and recently learned the gender birth of her unborn second child. Here’s what she posted on Facebook:

OK for those of you that have not yet figured out what my changed profile pic means… It is a PINK square!! Think Pink and most of you should be able to figure it out now LOL.

My issue with this perpetuation of the gender binary system is not the act itself. Of course the gender binary system is inherently flawed, because it presumes and reinforces the lie that gender is a “this or that” construct, rather than a fluid, socially constructed category that contains “this,” “that,” and everything in between. And yet I cannot blame her, nor should I. We’re all socialized under the same system, and the invisibility of the transgender community is omnipresent. We’re taught since birth that we are either boys or girls, not both nor neither. Indeed, many children (like my cousin’s unborn child) are genderized even before birth, as mothers and fathers pick names, design rooms, buy clothing, and tout Facebook statuses asking friends to “Think PINK.” One would be hard-pressed to find a “Congratulations” card at Duane Reade saying, “Congratulations on your new gender-queer child!”

All that said, while my cousin’s enthusiasm and poor grammar may be notable, her attitude is not. She is excited, proud, and – based on the score of comments on her post – completely average in her thinking. Many of the comments correctly “figured out” that her child will be a girl. These attitudes are also not surprising. What was shocking, however, were two other comments to her post: “It’s a girl!! Or a gay boy!!” and “wow. coming out on facebook. I guess that’s normal nowadays…”.

These displays of homophobia bewildered and saddened me. The first comment (#9 of 23) sticks out as mirroring much of what we’ve seen on this site: the subordination of gay men as being the opposite of “real men” in their presumed femininity. Not only does this assume a monolithic gay culture (feminine, flamboyant, “flaming”), but it covertly reinforces our expectations for non-gay men to conform to society’s masculinity protocol. The fact that the commenter is a man (I assume, based on his classic Judeo-Christian name) is also saddening. It’s this type of internalized gender roles and homophobia coming from men that is most damaging to masculinity.

The second comment (#16 of 23) actually confused me more than it saddened me. In her comment (again, I assume gender, based on the commenter’s classic British name), the commenter suggests that my cousin is disclosing her homosexuality by changing her profile picture to a solid pink square. For the life of me, I have absolutely no idea how these two are connected. This is the source of my confusion. The source of my sadness is that sexual orientation was mentioned as a joke, and that my cousin replied, “lol” – laugh out loud. Neither am I sure what she’s laughing at, but what seems apparent is that somehow in this fallacious equation, homosexually ends up being the butt of the joke.

Yet despite the 14 comments that came after #9, nobody called out the commenter for his homophobic comment. Neither did anyone comment on #16’s ambiguous reference to sexual orientation. As we see again and again, silence dominated this conversation. I include my own silence in this condemnation. Silence has the same effect as agreeing, because it allows the perpetuation of prejudice to continue.

And yet, I wonder: how might one effectively and sensitively “call out” this kind of behavior when the context is something so joyous – the pending birth of a new human being? To complicate matters more, how do you address it when your relationship to the person is blood? What must be taken into account when the medium is Facebook? And, to play devil’s advocate against my own doubts, does any of this actually matter? Is it me that’s the problem in this? – my own unwillingness to risk stressing my relationship with my cousin by ruining her happiness, staining my “polite, good boy” image by raising a brouhaha in this context, and causing myself undue stress by waging an online war of morality (which, in my experience, end up simply polarizing both parties)?

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