Not too long ago, the definition was extremely simple: “gender” meant “the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between masculinity and femininity”. It initially focused primarily on physical make-up, the biological differences that made people either male or female.
Eventually, the use of the word was modified to speak to the traditional or stereotypical roles men and women played in society, but there were still two basic categories of male and female.
Same-sex relationships and bisexuality have been around since the beginning of time, but within recent years there has been a determined effort to broaden the basic physical definition of gender to include emotional and psychological feelings, which as we all know can change as time progresses.
The recent online petition put up by an irate parent at a private secondary school in Barbados should put us all on our guard. Essentially, the parent, who hails from Canada, says her 14-year-old son identifies as a girl, and therefore should be allowed to wear the girls’ school uniform rather than being forced to wear the boys one, although biologically the child is still male.
There have been several cases in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada where children as young as ten years old have gone through gender reassignment surgery.
Boys who say they identify as girls have been allowed to join the Girl Scouts, and parents, including high profile entertainers, have been allowing their children to dress as members of the sex other than their biological one from as early as three years old based on “who they identify as”.
Earlier this year, actress Charlize Theron made the declaration that her three-year-old son identified as a girl, so she began dressing him in female clothes and referring to him as “she”, a practice which generated considerable controversy.
One of her Hollywood colleagues, actor and TV host Mario Lopez, invoked the ire of the LGBTQ community when he spoke out against that matter, even though in all fairness he made a valid point.
He said: “I think if you are three years old and you think you’re feeling a certain way, or you think you’re a boy or a girl or whatever the case may be, it is dangerous for a parent to make that choice for them.
“It’s sort of alarming and then you have to think about the repercussions later on”.
In England, the late transgender advocate, Julia Grant, who began life as George Roberts and underwent a sex change in the early 1970s, advised that it was not right for children to undergo gender reassignment surgery or to live as their ‘preferred gender’ when they were so young. Later in life, she gave advice to people who wanted a sex change, letting them know that it would not solve all their problems.
Indeed, children do have active imaginations and it is well within the parents’ rights to set and enforce standards, as opposed to pandering to their every wish when it may create more problems than it solves.
For example, would this same parent protest if their child identified as a superhero and was banned from wearing their idol’s costume to school?
What will happen if the school allows the child to wear the girls uniform, but after a year of relentless teasing, not to mention bullying, he changes his mind and wants to revert back to the boys uniform?
When asked about the matter, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw said that the authorities would have to treat to transgender issues eventually, as has been the case in the rest of the world. But for now, she said: “Private schools regulate themselves for the most part, and we expect them to respect the law, be fair in their applications and not discriminate against anyone. We have not yet heard of any such cases in the Government schools, but the ministry will deal with it if they do.”
LGBTQ rights advocate Alexa Hoffmann, who was born male but said she has identified as a female since she was a young child, believes that now is as good a time as any to put the subject on the table. She declared: “It would do the Ministry of Education some good to observe the matter at the very least, rather than say they are not getting involved in it.
“They may say they are going to limit their involvement, and in all fairness if it is not in their purview to intervene, so be it, but if you have the opportunity to step in, don’t ditch it; at the very least, monitor the situation, see what is happening and take lessons from that.”
Hoffmann also believes that children should be included in conversations about sexual identity and be encouraged to explore their own. That is a valid point, but at the same time, they still have to follow the rules of the organisation to which they belong, and if that means compliance with their physical make-up in terms of attire, bathroom allocation and extra-curricular activities, then so be it, or home-schooling is always an option in this particular case.
Following on from Hoffmann’s point, the conversation on sexual identity has to be a very deep and far-reaching one, to gain an understanding of how these feelings emerged and the repercussions of acting on them, and based on that discussion, they will decide the route they want to go in life.