This blog is the first in a series that examines issues around gender roles, gender identity, and the heterosexual community’s response to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in general. We will also look at how gay and lesbian individuals and organizations respond to transgender issues and individuals.
A few months ago, I wrote about an observation that a friend of mine (Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello) made in response to the results of a questionnaire he gave to students in his sociology of gender class. He asked his students to self-assess their gender role conformity, and what he found surprised him, surprised me, and will most likely surprise you, too!
The gay and lesbian students perceived themselves to not be gender conforming. In other words, gay males believed that they weren’t stereotypically male in appearance and behavior while lesbian females believed that they weren’t stereotypically female in appearance and behavior. On the other hand, the heterosexual males and females believed themselves to be gender conforming in appearance and behavior. In and of itself, that represents a pretty predictable situation. Surprisingly, however, on external observation Dr. Costello reported that the student’s perceptions were not accurate. In fact, the gay and lesbian students were more gender conforming that the heterosexual students.
When you consider this information against the truth that homophobic and intolerant individuals tend to persecute, threaten, and assault people who are not gender conforming, several questions arise – but I don’t believe that the questions are of equal importance. For example, why people’s self perception is inaccurate is less important than that it is inaccurate. On the other hand, when it comes to issues of persecution, threats, and assault I believe the most important question is why these things happen. What is it that makes a heterosexual male so threatened by a non-gender conforming individual that he becomes violent?
Dr. Costello points out that even the advertising and promotional material created by the gay and lesbian community is extremely gender identity conforming. The gay men in these materials tend to be extremely masculine and the lesbian women are stereotypically feminine. In doing so they present the homosexual community as monolithic – and no community is monolithic. Within the heterosexual population we find a spectrum of gender conformity. The same is true of the homosexual community, so why doesn’t the material generated by that community reflect its diversity? I would suggest they are sacrificing honesty on the altar of acceptance, and it’s not a good trade. Finally, there is the perception of both the bisexual and transgender communities that LGBT centers and advocates treat them as red-headed step children. It’s an accurate perception, easily verified by even a cursory examination of the materials at your local LGBT center.
Over my next several blogs I will be examining these and other important and related issues. I hope you will participate in the conversation!