The New York Times Magazine ran a fascinating piece by Ruth Padawer last Sunday about gender-nonconforming children. It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because precious little research has been done about gender variance in kids thus far.

Padawer points out that our culture tolerates a far greater degree of gender nonconformity in girls than it does in boys:

“These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into ‘boy’ space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. ‘There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,’ says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. ‘When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?’ Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies.”

The author also notes something that we know all too well here at Truth Wins Out (and as I know personally from my “ex-gay therapy” sessions at the Bachmann clinic): misguided efforts to “change” a person’s gender identity, much like sexual orientation change efforts, rely heavily on forcing patients to conform with outdated gender stereotypes and eliminate gender-variant behaviors and expressions. I found it particularly troubling to read that Dr. Kenneth Zucker — who happens to be the editor of the journal that published Dr. Robert Spitzer’s infamous, and recently retracted, “ex-gay study” — is leading the defense of such “traditional interventions for gender nonconformity.” Padawer writes:

“[Zucker] urges parents to steer their children toward gender-typical toys, clothes and playmates and advises them to prohibit behaviors associated with the other sex. Zucker’s academic articles assert that while biology may predispose some children to gender nonconformity, other factors — like trauma and emotional disorders — often play a role. Other contributing causes he cites include overprotective mothers, emotionally absent fathers or mothers who are hostile toward men.”

A boy's dress from 1856Readers will learn about courageous parents like Susan and Rob, who love their son unconditionally and do their best to affirm him even as they struggle to understand why he sometimes likes to wear dresses and paint his fingernails. They’ll also read about gender non-conforming kids themselves, like this absolutely heartbreaking story about a boy named Nick:

Ellen R. and her 10-year-old son, Nick, live in a small New Jersey suburb. Nick sometimes spends hours a day drawing gowns for his 36 Barbies and designing them for himself or his dolls, using fabric, ribbon and rubber bands. For a while, Nick was able to keep his interest hidden. But one day in second grade, a friend stopped by unexpectedly and saw Barbies sprawled in the living room. The boy ran out of the house. In school the following day announced to the class, “Nick plays with dolls.”

“Everyone looked at me,” Nick told me. “I wanted to yell, but you’re not supposed to yell in school. So I said it wasn’t true. But no one believed me.” He was quiet for a while, concentrating on an uncooperative lock of a Barbie’s hair. “He was my friend. That was the worst part of it.”

In the two years since, Nick hasn’t had a single play date.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Head over to the New York Times‘ website to read Padawer’s informative piece in its entirety. You’ll be informed about the wide spectrum of gender identity and expression, encouraged by the progress that’s being made, angered at the way many gender-variant kids are treated, and challenged in at least a few of your preconceptions about gender. And in this blogger’s mind, that’s a very good thing.