It's Still Not Easy Being a Tomboy

I read Ruth Padawer's article about gender fluidity in children in the New York Times Magazine this past weekend, and I was struck by her lack of understanding of GLBT lives. She writes about "pink boys" (her label for boys who wear feminine dress) and attempts to understand how a group of supportive parents deal with the "middle space" their sons occupy. At first I thought of Sarah Hoffman's article last year in Salon -- a hilarious and thought-provoking assessment of living as a mother with a son who likes to wear dresses and other feminine attire. Hoffman writes about being constantly accosted by other mothers on the playground who want to question her son's gender variant behavior.

Hoffman writes:

"So I'm really trying to figure this out. Dr. Phil tells us that it's OK to be gay (just like the APA), but it's not OK for boys to play with Barbie (just like NARTH), because ... well, that's where I get stuck. Because ... they might grow up to be gay? But ... they won't necessarily, he says. And around we go."

However, Padawer's article takes a similar turn to Dr. Phil's sentiments, not Hoffman's. Padawer tells readers that studies suggest that "60-80 percent of pink boys eventually become gay men. The rest become heterosexual men or become women by taking hormones and maybe having surgery." There are no other options in her world. The fluidity she writes about? Gone in adulthood, apparently.

In the next sentence, though, we land on a truly bizarre statement. "Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted." Hold on a minute. Did we miss something here? I've lived in a number of cities throughout the world, and every single time I've worn a tie I've gotten double-takes. Or bottles thrown at me. Or someone pointing to a friend, asking, "What IS THAT?" (All three have happened in New York, by the way.)

As a child, I wore girls' clothes, for the most part. But if I deliberately wore more boyish attire, you can bet someone would comment on it. So I'm not sure what marker Padawer is using to make this statement. Yes, women can wear pants now. And vests, as long as they hug our curves. But try walking into a modern office wearing a suit and see if heads don't turn.

In the article, Padawer also explains transgender is "a term for those who feel they were born in the wrong body." The Gender Equity Resource Center at Berkeley, however, defines transgender people as "those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with." Why wouldn't Padawer use this definition, rather than the "I'm trapped inside the wrong body" understanding, which is false? It seems that the author's understanding of gender is more close-minded than she'd like to admit.

Although I think it's important to promote articles that bring up issues surrounding gender variance in a positive light, the twists and turns in Padawer's reasoning appear more like Dr. Phil, and less like reality.

What do you think?