Posts Tagged gender

Padded Bras? Just Say No.

Last month Nadine Dorries had an abstinence bill passed which asks for all 13 -16 year old girls to be given additional sex education on how to ‘say no’. We’ve all been lying awake at night trying to figure out how we can teach only girls to say no to underage sex, when clearly sex involves girls AND boys. Surely Mrs Dorries isn’t suggesting that boys are just pistol-pocketed demons who seek only to de-flower our innocent, rosy-cheeked maidens – mute maidens, who have little or no ability to articulate the word ‘no’?  Can it be possible that in 2011, people are still encouraging the view that sexual desire is owned by men and that poor, sexless women are on a backwards treadmill, trying to avoid their lecherous and uncontrollable advances. That if only teenage girls would say ‘no’ to pressure to put out, learn to dress appropriately and make sure they’re home in their floral nightgowns by 9pm, those nasty boys wouldn’t be able to impregnate them.

Are we not feeding the monster by continuing to tell young women, worse still, telling young men, that this is the case? Shouldn’t we be trying to break these stereotypes down and show a little more respect for teenagers’ sexuality? Boys feel pressure to have sex too. They are continuously fed a media stream (and at times, blokey comments from Dads) which perpetuate the idea that they are the hunters and women are there to be gathered. Teenage boys have admitted that they lie about their conquests to prove their manhood. And under pressure to actually score that notch on their belt, many of them probably do pester girls to have sex before either of them are ready. But failing to address the issues that boys face and leaving the decisions in the girls’ court, simply applies double the pressure to young women and renders young men as nothing more than grunting neanderthals, incapable of responsibility.

Even worse, on Channel 5’s Vanessa show, Nadine Dorries uttered these clangers:

“If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse … if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

This is one of the most dangerous sentiments I have heard espoused by a person with a political platform. The idea that a child should take some responsibility for the sexual invasion of an adult is just plain vulgar. I feel for the victims of abuse out there who may still be battling with their inner child on this issue; people spend many years in therapy trying to come to terms with this fallacy. And what message does it give the abuser who happened to be listening in that day? A total denial of responsibility.

While ‘sexualisation’ and ‘padded bras’ are the words of the week after the Bailey Review was published, we are still not discussing the real issues. While I agree that padded bras (to enhance cleavage) for 11 year olds are an obscenity  and I wouldn’t want my child watching inappropriately sexual music videos, simply removing them from the shelves/television does not stop young people from, for example, finding misogynistic pornography on the internet. A group of 13 year old boys told me that while they had received no sex education at school, they knew everything they needed to about sex because they watched porn. This scares me. And to further prove that we need to alter our approach to dealing with young people’s sexuality, a study just published in the States shows that LGBT youth are far more likely to indulge in risky behaviour or consider suicide. No surprises there. By all means, let’s make adult images and products less accessible to children but let’s also do the other half of the job. We need to talk to them; discuss sexuality, respect for one’s self and others, the benefits of delaying sexual relationships, gender stereotypes and the fact that shops sell padded bras for girls, but not padded jocks for boys. Young people have critical, developing minds. Nadine Dorries wants to empower young women by teaching them to say no. Let’s empower our girls and boys with facts, relationship skills and the ability to say no, or yes, when they are ready.

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Ma Vie en Rose

Late night telly produced a gem recently: the incredible Belgian film, Ma Vie en Rose. It’s the poignant story of a little boy who announces his desire to be a girl and the emotional battles he and his family face as a result. After they are shunned by neighbours and the father loses his job, their initial bemused acceptance turns into anger and despair, much to the pain of 7 year old Ludovic who just wants to marry Jérome (who is, unfortunately, his Dad’s boss’s son – never a good scene). Ludovic tugs at your heart strings; the confusion and mistrust is visible in his eyes as he struggles to understand why his normally loving parents begin to unravel, snarling at him, being violent with each other and worst of all, cutting his long hair as swollen tears roll down his cheeks. He just wants to be a girl. He doesn’t want to be a boy who happens to like other boys, every part of his being wants to be a girl. After triumphantly coming to the conclusion that the additional ‘X’ chromosome accidentally fell to the floor during the Tic Tac Toe game his parents played to create him, he is even more delighted to wake up with a sore tummy, as he knows that sore tummy equals period, which equals being ‘a real lady now’. He is utterly beautiful and as you watch you are willing the parents, who you also feel for, to accept him and be on his side.

It is one of the best films I have seen in terms of transgender issues and would make an ideal film study at secondary school level as it achieves the key aim of the work DRM are doing; it invokes empathy. It doesn’t explain why Ludovic wants to be a girl and nor does the viewer care. We like him and we want him to be ok. If I pitch my workshops with young people accurately, they usually like me and want me to be ok. And when I challenge them even further, perhaps they start to understand that there are others like me, LGB or T, who they don’t understand, but they just might like or at least want to be ok. Children learn empathy at a young age, but if there is none floating around their homes, they harden up; there is no room for understanding or softness when none has been afforded you. However, if teachers and other significant adults can respect, care for and simultaneously push their students’ boundaries, empathy can develop in those who have been labelled ‘no hopers’ or symbolically placed in the ‘too hard basket’. I have seen the most vehemently homophobic student go from shouting abuse to claiming that nobody should have to hide themselves or change and that society needs to be more accepting. All in the space of an hour and all because he had some grease applied to the rusty cogs of empathy which resided within him.

It is too often seen that LGB people disassociate themselves from the transgender element of our community. They come lower in the pecking order, face far worse abuse and the last thing we want to do is have our starting-to-be-socially-accepted ‘gayness’ sullied by their even weirder behaviour. At least, this is what I understand the unspoken thoughts of transphobic homosexuals to be. This is a travesty. We can not expect to take our newly granted rights, our growing social acceptance and freedom to be ourselves, and shut the gate on people whose struggle for acceptance is often greater than ours. We’ve all floundered with identity and fitting in at some point; for transgender people, this is an even greater trial. We need to help and support each other, not turn our backs and scamper off with the emergency food package while others starve behind us.

Dealing with the transgender issue can be a prickly topic in schools. How do teachers talk about this when most of us don’t understand it ourselves? It’s like this: we don’t have to understand, we just have to tolerate each other’s differences. We have to make it clear that difference is fine, in fact it is interesting. We need to encourage students to think critically, to ask why such discrimination exists against people that above all, need understanding and respect. I have taken a transgender F to M rapper into a secondary school in London. A girls faith school in a very low socio-economic area with a wide cultural mix. Although we were more than a little nervous, the outcome could not have been better. He sat on the stage, told the girls his story, answered their questions with dignity and humour, then he rapped. Not my kind of music but the girls couldn’t contain themselves. Literally. After the performance, throngs of them rushed the stage trying to kiss his hands and face – I had to restrain some of them. This was music induced hysteria at its best, but it also provided me with one of the best and most unexpected moments of my career. These girls knew this person used to a be a woman and a lesbian, then became a man and was now heterosexual; a confusing notion for most, but they simply didn’t care. He was hot and he could sing. He was a person before he was a label.

So to those who struggle with the transgender thing; whether you’re straight or LGB, challenge yourselves a little on this topic. Watch Ma Vie en Rose and remember that the person you might disassociate yourself with, or make insensitive comments about to fit in with your mates, that person is just Ludovic, but grown up. Have some empathy.

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Let’s talk about sex

Today is International Day Against Homophobia. Perfect opportunity for a Big Question – why do some people hate us gayers? Why does my natural drive to create home and family with somebody of the same sex, rile some folk so much that they deny me the right to formalise my relationship through marriage, openly claim that me teaching their children will be harmful, and suggest there is some secret, perverted agenda behind my desire to live a life without discrimination. At first glance, we’d have to assume it’s to do with the kind of sex we have; this is what sets us aside by title and ‘lifestyle’ from our heterosexual friends. So let’s talk about sex…

What consenting adults of either gender do with their bodies is none of my business, nor anyone else’s. I have no more than a human curiosity about other people’s sex lives, however, some homophobes mention gay sex with such frequency that one has to question their underlying fascination. I’m more interested in how we relate to one another, than what we do to get off. But to stay on sex for a moment (I know it’s tough, hang in there), many LGBT people lead unadventurous, boring or even asexual lives together; many heterosexuals do the opposite. Above and beyond the biological implications of body parts, sexual behaviour is NOT defined by your orientation – most would agree that within a loving, respectful and consenting environment, people are free to explore whatever they like.

Homophobia is hardly about sexual behaviour at all. It’s about gender. Allow me to demonstrate.

What seems to offend homophobes most is that LGBT people are stepping outside of our gender roles; with our sexual activity, but mostly by our social behaviour. And there is directly proportional discrimination in response to the level of gender subversion. In fact, there is an unconscious ranking system at play.  Arguably, a glamorous lesbian couple are far more likely to be accepted (in fact ‘encouraged’ in many male minds…) than a butch lesbian couple. Why? They are both homosexual and should therefore suffer the same castigation. Effeminate men are more likely to be abused in the street, effeminate black men even more so; yes, race plays a part in the gender game, as does class.

I have asked young people to explain to me why I am ok and my gay brothers are not…we are both breaking the rules they impose, why the different punishments? ‘It’s what they do Miss, it’s disgusting’. And we all know what they’re getting at here. We’re talking about defying the natural order in the worst possible way. It is (drum roll please)…man taking the role of woman (feel free to take a break here to flinch and gasp…).

We are only just breaking free of a longstanding patriarchy, ladies and gentlemen, and the shackles, whilst looser and allowing movement, still weigh us down in the form of gender constructs. Historically, men have ruled and women have been submissive. While things are far more equal now (although the gender pay gap and the gender distribution of world leaders is still woeful), you need only to listen to young children playing to know that all things ‘girl’ are less than all things ‘boy’.  Girls hardly ever insult each other with ‘you’re such a boy’, whereas being called a girl is only one step higher than being called gay in the minds of young men. Anything feminine is to be shunned vociferously; ‘boys will be boys’ becomes ‘boys MUST be boys’.

A woman who challenges her gender role by being a lesbian, particularly a butch lesbian, usurps the position of man and might expect some reverberations from those who struggle with this concept (corrective rape in South Africa is an extreme example of these reverberations). And a man who might have feminine traits, hobbies or god forbid, takes the ‘role of a woman’ sexually, is the lowest of the low and provokes such anger in ‘real men’ that he can expect to face violence. This may not resonate with some of you, but ask yourself why we have such different reactions to gay men and lesbians? Isn’t the same norm being offended?

So here are the rules for those who missed the pamphlet in the post:

1.  Lesbians are mostly ok in public (if you look a bit manly though, watch out, you’re running the risk of watering down an insecure male’s masculinity and must be held accountable)
2. Feminine lesbians are ok to hold hands in public
3. Feminine lesbians are more-than-ok sexually

4. Gay men who look like Gareth Thomas (muscular & virile) are ok in public
5. Gay men are not ok to hold hands in public (unless they’re as big as Gareth Thomas or are indulging their perversion in a gay ghetto like Soho)
6. Gay men are never ok sexually (except, boys, secretly in your heads where you are confused, ashamed and angry at your perfectly normal curiosity)

I would wager a month’s salary on the latter confusion being what led to 17 year old Adam Ayres and three of his friends luring a gay man via a chat room to a park where they smashed his skull in with a baseball bat (http://bit.ly/ktW7A9). His lawyer claimed he wasn’t homophobic, he’d just been ‘trying to assert his masculinity’. This would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. I don’t hold people down and paint their nails to assert my femininity. We are letting our young people down in a serious way by not challenging society’s rather sad and unintelligent obsession with gender. Let our boys, girls, men and women be people first. Let them explore their natural talents and creativity without repercussion. And most importantly let them love who, and how, they want.

Quick disclaimer: Most of this is not subject matter for our school visits as role models. This is for you; our ‘mature’ reader.

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We are family

Not so long ago, ‘family friendly’ was a coded allusion to ‘gays not welcome’. Family was what straight people had and LGBT folk were left to the outer circles of these; sometimes invited to family events (sans partner of course), often not, and the isolation and hurt caused by this exclusion commonly created an unrepairable rift within families. Many older LGBT people never managed to heal the damage caused by this, and passed away without the love and support that families should provide, simply because they happened to be gay.

Fortunately, this is changing. Our families tend to be more accepting; after the initial wringing-of-hands-what-will-I-tell-your-grandfather, they work hard on trying to accept that we will not be following exactly in their footsteps (little do they know, we still take on their annoying traits, we just subject our same-sex partner to them instead) and some parents even force extended family to challenge their own prejudice by proudly dragging us and our partners to all family events and loudly announcing our presence whilst looking triumphantly around for praise/negativity/any reaction at all.

However, there is still a lingering, exclusionary ring around this concept of family. Pride events are still hailed in some parts of the western world as being ‘not family-friendly’. The images of scantily-clad people dancing to Kylie Minogue with pink poms-poms are what fill the minds of the decision makers on local councils; in my mind, these images are no more offensive than a typical H & M bikini advertisement on a bus stop. Unless…hang on…perhaps the offence relates to the pink dancers potentially being men and this of course, will throw little Benny’s concept of gender out the window, he will demand nail polish and tiaras and refuse to answer to any name but Delilah-Rose on the car ride home. Seeing people kiss or dance or wear the same amount of clothes they do on the beach, is NOT offensive, nor is it going to change the sexual orientation/gender identity of a child. Overt sexual behaviour isn’t appropriate for children, however any Pride march I’ve been to has been verging on sex-LESS; lesbian Mums, gay Dads, trans people with partners and children, drag queens slinking along the street (much to the delight of the kids), colourful floats, desperate-to-be-seen-but-slightly-uncomfortable politicians and supportive grandmothers complaining about sore feet. In fact, the least family friendly aspect of Pride is the cohort of religious extremists standing behind their police cordon preaching non-acceptance and hate.

LGBT people have children. We are family. We are Mums, Dads, Auntys, Uncles and Grandparents. How we perform these roles is dependent on our morals, our patience, our dedication and our responsibility, NOT on our gender or sexual identity. And to Senor Fernando Gómez (the Tourism alderman of Spanish Democratic Party of Blanes) who says “It is inconsistent to promote gay tourism along with family tourism and sporting events”, I’m sorry sir, but I have a family, I am an athlete and I am a pretty big fan of holidays. Now let’s get together and talk about inconsistency.

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‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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