Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gender identity

Unruly Ones,
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner covered a school board meeting earlier this week that I find sociologically fascinating. The school board is considering amending its anti-discrimination and harassment policies to include gender identity. The article is interesting in itself, and certainly the issue of anti-discrimination policies in schools is of sociological interest to me. But what I have found to be even MORE interesting is the ensuring online discussion!

Many of the posters do not seem to have read the article. The article clearly describes what gender is, and differentiates it from sexuality. Yet a plurality of the posts seem to confuse the two issues. As sociologists, we understand that sexuality is not the same as gender identity. Why do you think so many people misunderstand gender? Or maybe another question might be this: why do so many people fail to read a news article before expressing their opinion on its contents? Or do you think that people DID read the article, but missed the descriptions of the difference between sexuality and gender identity? Do lay persons find gender harder than sexuality to understand? In any case, it's an interesting discussion. Post your sociological responses to my questions on this blog by clicking on Comments, below.

Here is the article. The forum discussion follows:


  1. Several of the commentators that were confusing sexuality and gender identity were also the largest group of people that framed the concept of a "correct" gender and sexuality. Unsurprisingly, the correct alignment is to be the gender you were born as and only have sexual relations with the opposite gender.

    At that point, even if one has read the article, there is almost no need to differentiate. If you are transgendered, then no matter what your sexual orientation, you are damned. You're either a guy pretending to be a girl and having sex with other men, which is homosexuality, or a guy pretending to be a girl having sex with women, which is a sort of lesbian homosexuality issue.

    The concept of a "correct" sexuality is based upon a certain set of rules regarding gender. If the rules on gender are upset, then sexuality will have to be redefined. And there are plenty of reasons why many people are not ready to let that happen.

  2. America is believed to be the country with freedom and equal rights. As sociology students we know that it is not totally true; but as socialized citizens, many would get frustrated or angry if the social norm is challenged by facts. That is the reason I see why many comments on the news article are irrational.

    Gender is “done” in everyday life without being noticed. People misunderstand gender and confuse sexuality with gender because the society doesn’t give clear definitions for the two concepts during our daily life. When many think about sexualities, they most often think about sexual practices, and sexual practices are normally connected to the gender performances by socialized ideas. I think the reason for people fail to read the article before they express their strong opinions on its contents is because this article touches two sensitive topics: gender inequality and sexuality.

    The thing I found interesting is that the school board, as one institute that teaches the future of the society, has to make an amendment to include gender identity in the anti-discrimination and harassment policies, as if they have to make huge efforts to achieve something that should be done naturally – treating everyone equally.

  3. Since we started this discussion, there have been more very interesting posts to the FDNM discussion forum. At least two posters have called for Alaska to secede from the United States of America over the issue of the school board including gender identity in the non-discrimination and harassment clause. One poster seemed to believe that this issue was the last straw for him/her. Other pro-discrimination posters called for institutionalizing transgender children, locking them away for life in asylums, forcing them into psychiatric treatment, forcing them to conform, and refusing them entry into classroom. Several posters, claiming to be parents, said their children would shun transgender kids, refuse to associate with them by parental order. A handful said if the school board included gender identity in the policy, they would remove their children from schools and homeschool them.

    BAUS notes that many posters seem to confusing sexuality with gender. I agree that this is happening on the forum. BAUS further notes that those who are confused also are the ones who tend to frame gender and sexuality as being either "correct" or "incorrect." This is an excellent analysis, and one I had not noticed myself. Good call, BAUS.

    Ever--you bring up good points when you discuss the myth of American equality. And the fact that when an institution like public schools attempt to lead on issues of equality, a significant portion of the population dissents. You have identified a very interesting paradox of American society.

    Good discussion, eh!?

  4. I gather from the comments in response to this article that there is a general misunderstanding about gender vs. sexuality and an overriding prejudice, fear and ignorance of transgendered persons. Many in the forum fear that with the passage of the policy, there will be an influx of transgendered students having sexual relations with each other in schools (rogerx: "A school is a place of learning, and not a place of having sexual relations"). One poster explained that they would rather pull their children out of public schools and send them to a military academy than to have their children “exposed” to “this.” This person seems to misunderstand that even within a strict “conservative” institution, there is a possibility that there will be individuals who identify as a different gender from the one assigned at birth or that some will be homosexual, bisexual, transsexuals etc. But in such an institution, the environment is extremely hostile towards people who do not conform to the “normal” American ideals of heterosexuality and thus makes it difficult for someone to be open and comfortable with their gender identity or sexuality.

    Another blogger prescribed a “blanket” non-discrimination and harassment policy for all students no matter if they are “posers, geeks, Christians, blacks or whatever.” “Whatever” being gender identity. This person also fails to realize that specific groups are targeted for harassment and discrimination and with a “blanket” policy it would be like there was no policy at all. It’s very interesting that this person is recommending a policy that would include gender identity but would not directly address it/label it as so. It makes them extremely uncomfortable to recognize that there are people who identify as a different gender from what their anatomy dictates. This is a relatively new issue in Fairbanks where in the past it has been pushed aside and made invisible. It is an uncomfortable issue to many because they hold an inaccurate stereotype and fear about transgendered individuals on top of an already established prejudice and fear towards homosexuals. When the school board brought forth this issue, it challenged the belief that a “natural” and “normal” couple should consist of an anatomically defined man and woman.

    Another article I found called "'I'm a Girl' -- Understanding Transgender Children: Parents of Transgender 6-Year-Old Girl Support Her Choice."

  5. Wow.... These comments are in response to the school board approved to change its discrimination policy.