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Feb. 20th, 2017

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The following is a letter sent to Newsday in response to their printing of op ed article "The Myth of Gender-Neutral Parenting", available here. Newsday declined to print this letter.




Neuroscientist Debra Soh does a disservice to gender-variant people and to parents attempting gender-neutral childrearing ("The myth of gender-neutral parenting", NEWSDAY 2/5/2017, page A 30).

Imagine, if you will, that you have a mango snowcone in one hand and a mint snowcone in the other. Hurl the mango snowcone at the nearest wall from a distance of 5 feet. You get a massive splatter of orange ice a couple feet in diameter. Now hurl the mint snowcone, aiming about 6 inches to the right of where you threw the mango cone, and now you have a second large splatter that substantially overlaps the first one but skews to the right.

THAT is what neuroscience tells us about gender: that there are differences between males and females, but that there is more variation within each population than there is on average between the two populations, and that there is a lot of overlap.

I myself am a gender-variant person, the equivalent of a spot of mango ice over in the portion of the wall primarily occupied by mint green ice-flecks. No different or unusual process caused that ice fleck to be there — ordinary geometry says that any time you have this kind of distribution pattern, with a wide spread within each group and overlaps between the two groups, you are, BY DEFINITION, going to have such points.

The purpose of gender-neutral parenting is not to impose some kind of forced androgyny on children but rather to step back from gender prescriptivism, the belief that males who are not masculine and females who are not feminine are wrong, inappropriate, and not to be approved of.

A typically masculine male child would have no more reason to feel uncomfortable in a gender-neutral environment than a feminine male child like me would. Nothing bad is going to happen to him if he isn't getting his self-expression bolstered with constant messages saying that males are expected to be masculine, as long as he's supported in his self-expression.

The converse is not true. The atypically gendered child has historically experienced the world as a hostile place, because we are perpetually confronted with the message that not only are the majority of the people of our biological sex configured with a different set of personality characteristics, behaviors, priorities, and nuances, but that ours is wrong and that we should not self-express but instead should try to tuck our odd corners out of sight in shame and embarrassment.

If gender-neutral parenting is a threat to a typically gendered child's potential, the typically gendered person must be a fragile hothouse flower indeed.

———


Allan Hunter, author of THE STORY OF Q: A GENDERQUEER TALE, is a gender invert, a genderqueer activist; he presents gender theory and leads discussion groups in university women's and gender studies courses and addresses LGBTQ groups.



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