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Friday, June 8, 2012

Supporting Gender-Variant Children

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The 25th annual PrideFest Milwaukee celebration of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender communities takes place this weekend on the Summerfest grounds. In addition to fabulous performers and more rainbow stuff than you can shake a stick at, there are a number of educational programs, two of which I am proud to be facilitating. Along with my good friend Lucky Tomaszek, I am hosting a workshop for parents, guardians, mentors, teachers, aunties, uncles and other adults on supporting gender-variant children. I am also leading a discussion for teens and young adults on (trans)masculine gender presentation.

The requests for these two workshops came from separate organizations, so it seems that there's growing awareness of transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming children and youth and the issues they face. In fact, while a lot of the media coverage of youth bullying and suicides over the past few years has characterized the victims as “gay,” gender variance is often involved. When we say someone “looks gay” or “acts gay,” what do we mean? Much of the time, we mean that the person in question crosses our rigid social gender norms—for instance, that a boy or man behaves in a way that is considered feminine, or at least not masculine enough. Despite our stereotypes, that does not mean that the boy or man in question is gay—but it does mean that he might be bullied for crossing those gender lines.

We like to put things in neat little boxes—gay/straight, boy/girl—but our identities are not so easily circumscribed. When parents or other adults see a child living outside our social gender norms, they often want to know what it means: “Does this mean she's gay?” or, increasingly, “Does this mean he's transgender?” Maybe. Maybe not. The important thing is that adults support young people's authentic self-expression in a world that is often cruel to those who step outside of the box.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself part of the LGBT community, if you have a child or teen in your life who defies gender stereotypes, I hope you'll join us this weekend. The workshop is free, although you do have to pay to get into PrideFest (which also gives you access to the summer's first roasted corn and mini-donuts, mmmmmm). If you can't make it but would like a copy of the resource list that Lucky and I will be distributing at our workshop, please send me a message.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.


Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.