Original graphic I created to promote the Gender Debate at Bishop’s University.
Bishop’s University just held a debate on the proposition:
By allowing children the freedom to explore self identity beyond sex-based stereotypes, Genderless Parenting promotes self esteem and confidence.
The House (in favour of the proposition) argued that Genderless Parenting was not the denial of gender, but a model that granted flexibility in a child’s gender identification by teaching children the multiplicity of genders. The Opposition held that Traditional Parenting was about modelling gender behaviour for children, allowing them to identify within their socio-cultural fabric as man, woman or otherwise. By wording their discourses as counterarguments to each other, the teams dissimulated the fact that they were essentially arguing the same thing, leaving a divided audience on the matter.
In the 21st century, especially at a liberal university like Bishop’s, arguing that children should be taught the norm of man, woman and heterosexuality is sure to be an unpopular stance. This may explain the Opposition’s view of a traditional parenting that will accept a cross-dressing son. An appropriate parenting model should educate children on how gender is perceived and performed in society, while accepting however they eventually place themselves on that spectrum. I challenge anyone attending the debate to attribute the previous sentence to any one team that argued.
My takeaway from this debate is entirely different from whether I side with Genderless Parenting or Traditional Parenting. Instead, what appears as the most important issue for me is the language we use to define gender for the next generation. While the terms of Genderless and Traditional were surely catchy, they each failed to capture the essence of the debate. The word “genderless” suggests that we should entirely remove gender from the social equation: a strange egalitarian theory that seems idealistic applied to a myth of childhood innocence, but loses all practicality when, as members of the audience pointed out, these genderless individual—unable to tell if they are a “he,” a “she,” or an “it”—reach a very confusing puberty. In fact, the House was not arguing for a genderless, but a polygender model of parenting that recognizes genders beyond the male/female binary (identities known as genderqueer).
As for “traditional,” it appears the term was defined to mean a model of parenting that teaches culture to their children and is not detached from social values. However, the Opposition failed to acknowledge traditional values as a part of that definition. When the Opposition asserts that traditional model families would accept the identity of children outside of a heteronormative conception of gender, I feel the urge to remind them that Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1968 in Canada. In the US, the process began in 1962 with Illinois and completed in only 2003 with Texas. And that’s just for criminality. LGBT behaviour stopped being considered as a mental illness in the 70s in the US. As for Canada? Alberta is the last province to have removed LGBT behaviour from their list of mental disorders, as of June 2012. That was seven months ago. So when the Opposition defined tradition as acceptant of queer identities I want to point them to these dates. I want to point them to the countless stories of people losing their belonging to homes, families and communities, because their sense of self did not fit with tradition. Those stories are not mine to tell, but are readily told in queer media and groups, for those who care to learn them.
My issue is hardly with what the Opposition argued, because this team was not arguing from a position of tradition at all. The forty years that LGBT acts have been decriminalized in North America are not enough to form a tradition yet. Where I did end up siding with the House, by the end of the debate, was in their position that acceptance within a household is not sufficient; their polygender model of queer identity instruction is one that must enter social norms. The Opposition may feel that it is possible to remove the pejorative connotation of the word “abnormal” and to have people of abnormal genders and sexualities be considered in the same way as someone of abnormal intelligence, but to the 4 to 10% of LGBT youths in North America, the abstraction is irrelevant. Having to identify as a gender or sexuality that is deemed other by society is the hardest part of coming out. That pain and confusion could be avoided by teaching children about a society that includes these non-heteronormative identities. And social values begin in the family, hence the importance of a Polygender Parenting model that does not limit its instruction of sexual identity to the male/female gender binary.
The Opposition was right to argue that the role of parents is to model social values for their children. However, social values are not an external reality we are subject to and must teach our children to arm them against the world at large. Social values are determined by us and by including LGBT identities in the language of how we teach children, we are redefining that myth of the norm and turning an issue that still needs to be debated about today into a non-issue.