I just read an interesting article about the growing gender identity crisis in schools. Who would have ever thought that this would be a major concern for school officials. Back in the day it was pretty clear cut, boys were boys and girls were girls, boys wore blue, girls wore pink and boys played with guns and army men while girls played with dolls at least that’s what we all thought. The closest thing to a gender identity problem I recall was a handful of girls who were referred to as ‘tomboys’ because they behaved like boys and liked boy stuff. I knew a couple of ‘tomboys’ in elementary school who could have kicked my butt! They were as tough as any of the boys and enjoyed taking part in the rough and tumble boy activities. I don’t remember it really ever being an issue of concern. It was no big deal and like other things considered ‘just a phase’.
In the 60’s with the growing popularity of rock music, the British Invasion and Beatlemania in 64, long hair on men started becoming fashionable among those under 30. This long hair craze seemed to cause about the only gender controversy that I can recall. It was a common complaint of the older generation that with everyone sporting long hair you could “no longer tell the boys from the girls.” Yeah long hair sure caused quite a stir back then, but was soon the norm among the young. Of course the elders saw this growing trend as part of a counter-cultural revolution and protest of sorts which paved the way for the hippie movement.
I can remember my dad and my uncle making comments about long hairs and how the boys looked like girls. My uncle was particularly upset by the trend, I think the fact that he was a barber may have had a lot to do with it. I suppose it was a bit shocking for our parents. Mine wouldn’t allow me to let my hair grow. If my hair touched my collar or started covering my ears, my dad sent me on a quick trip to see my uncle for a trim. The best I could do at least until after graduation in 1969 was to grow long bushy sideburns like Neil Young’s when he was with Buffalo Springfield. My dad was actually okay with that.
It’s pretty funny how some parents reacted to long hair. I mean long hair was nothing new. Many Beatniks of the fifties had longer hair and before WWI most men had longer hair and beards, so the hair social revolution of the 60’s was really nothing new. It did however cause some gender identity issues for me personally. I can remember several instances in the summer of 69 and the early 70’s being at a concert or party or something and scoping on a fine looking lady with her back turned towards me and thinking about making a move, only to have the object of my attention turn around and much to my horror, have a mustache, beard or both! Yeah, let me tell you, it was a bit disconcerting especially if I was with my friends which was most often the case. Man they not only had a good laugh at my expense, they simply wouldn’t let it go.
Today gender identity issues aren’t so simple, in fact they are extremely complex. By the time a child is preschool age the vast majority of children have usually made a gender appropriate decision, however some may tend to show interest in activities or articles related to the opposite gender that lingers past preschool age. So what are parents to do when their child is experiencing a gender issue and questioning their gender identity? Well according to leading experts in the field these children need to have a voice and be given the opportunity to work through their gender issues. They should be allowed the to express their cross-gender identity. Parents need to work with their children openly and honestly as do teachers and school officials. Therein lies the problem.
Although the number of these cross gender children is relatively small, pediatricians are beginning to see a growing number of cases in young children and schools are having to figure out just how to best accommodate them. It isn’t easy as several schools are discovering. Here in California a new law requires schools to provide cross gender students with “equal and full access to programs and facilities” including gender neutral bathrooms and private changing areas for PE and sports if necessary.
It all really begins in the classroom and how classmates perceive these cross gender students. Some may be uncomfortable sharing the classroom and choose to pick on or ridicule them or simply ostracize them. We all know kids can be cruel. The problems get worse as they move on to higher grades. Then of course there are those teachers who are unsympathetic to the child feelings, they often believe that conditioning the child to fit the gender norm is the route that should be taken. This type of teacher openly make fun of these students in front of the class and puts these students into uncomfortable situations. Yes, these are their teachers I’m talking about.
The real problem with the way cross gender students are handled is awareness. Teachers and other school employees do not know enough about the subject to address their needs properly. Faculty and staff need to receive information and training about these students. Policies such as those here in California need to be established nationwide. Development of student support teams on school sites could also improve the situation by monitoring how well the needs of cross gender students are being met and modifications should be made as needed. These students deserve the same care and attention as every other student. It is their right to receive a free and appropriate education.
I hadn’t really given much thought to the trans-gender issue in schools, and I’m a high school counselor! I’m aware of some gender issues on our campus and have counseled some students on the issue, but I find that at the high school level students are more tolerant and understanding of the cross gender issue than students in elementary or middle schools. Personally I believe a young child is too immature to be able to determine his sexuality. Good God these little ones do not have the mental development to make these decisions.still believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Allowing them to explore their cross gender feelings are okay, but only to a point. I believe some parents may take things to the extreme and actually confuse the child more. They are certainly not helping their child develop normally. I believe this is an issue that needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. No one rule applies to all here. No one size fits all.