Remember that post I wrote two days ago about Sunnie Kahle, the eight-year-old-girl who was kicked out of her Christian school for "looking like a boy?" My MOM was the one who told me about the story; I think she saw a little of her daughter in Sunnie. And my mom took ACTION! She wrote a letter to Sunnie's principal, and gave me permission to share it with you all:
Dear Ms. Bowman,
Two days ago I read the Yahoo article about Sunnie Kahle, the 8-year old who was, until recently, a student in your school and who was, in essence, asked to behave more like a girl. That article hasn’t left my mind, so I decided to write to you. I can’t begin to tell you how appalled and saddened I am by your position on this. As a mother, grandmother, teacher, and most importantly, a Christian, I am surprised that you actually believe this is a Christian stand or that Christ would approve of such actions and comments. It is this kind of thinking that contributes to both non-Christians and Christians from staying away from the church – they don’t want to be a part of a religious community that is so arrogant and judgmental.
My understanding of Christ’s teaching is that, rather than judging others, we should be trying to live our own lives as Christ lived. Do you really think He would turn this young girl away because of her clothing or because her hair was too short or because she wasn’t feminine enough? If you really believe that, then you and I pray to a different God.
So what is it that concerns you, really? Are you simply afraid she might be “gay?” I understand your worry – the very thought makes us “old- school” Christians quite uncomfortable. My daughter was a tomboy as a young girl, much like Sunnie. She donned short hair and jeans and played on various sports teams. Now a woman in her 30’s, my daughter is one of the kindest, most caring, gentle spirits I have ever known. She is bright and courageous. She holds steadfast to a strong moral foundation and her faith in God.
And, it turns out, she’s gay. Trust me when I say, it wasn’t easy for any of us, and especially not for her. It didn’t change her love for God, nor God’s love for her. But it certainly gave God a chance to teach me a thing or two about His love. It required us to really trust that God doesn’t make mistakes, and that he has a purpose for everyone’s life, and that He loves everyone. I suspect God needed me to learn that the outside of a person – that is, their clothes, their hair, their sexual preference - was the wrapping to his gift. The gift, the real blessing, is to be found in each individual’s soul. The soul HE created.
I hope you come to see that this young lady, Sunnie Kahle, is just as special and unique, as much a blessing in our lives, as any other child, because she is God’s child. To try to change her spirit, to “fix” God’s perfection – my heart breaks for you. I hope you reconsider your stand and find peace in a new decision.
An eight-year-old girl named Sunnie Kahle was recently informed that she was no longer welcome at a Baptist elementary school in Virginia via a letter that informed her grandparents (who are her guardians) that her gender nonconformity is out of line with God's plan. One particularly scintillating excerpt reads, "God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity."
Let's leave aside, for the moment, the possibility that Sunnie is trans*. Let's assume (as her interviews seem to suggest) that she sees herself as female. This means the school administrators at Timberlake Christian have taken it upon themselves to decide what female "dress and behavior" look like. Unless the exactitudes of gendered fashion are spelled out in the Bible (and I don't remember reading that--do you?), this argument is absurd even on its own terms. God has "ordained" that this kid has to wear the kinds of clothing and play with the kind of toys that the execs at Disney and Walmart have decided is most effectively marketed toward her gender? Got it.
As a former little girl who was occasionally mistaken for a little boy, I know first-hand that it's not always fun. Kids have hundreds of ways, subtle and not, to single out their norm-defying peers. Expressing gender nonconformity, especially as a kid, is hard. Sunnie Kahle should be lauded for using her God-given guts, not bullied by her school's administration for not fitting into their idea of what girls are "supposed" to be.
I'm glad Sunnie has loving grandparents who stand by her just the way she is. If all kids were so lucky, I bet teen suicide rate would be a lot lower. In one interview, Sunnie's grandmother said that if Sunnie grows up to be a member of the LGBTQ crowd, she will "love her that much more." Unconditional love, total acceptance... sounds awfully Biblical. Maybe Timberlake Christian should take a page from grandma's playbook.
I love sports (almost) as much as the next dyke, but I have awfully mixed feelings about the Olympics this year. Russia's LGBT community is under constant, hateful, and often violent siege from its government. Gay "propaganda"--defined as anything depicting LGBTQ relationships in a positive or neutral light in a form accessible to minors--is illegal. This includes, as you can imagine, such "propaganda" as holding hands with your partner, wearing a T-shirt with a pink triangle on it, or even just being queer parents. Just a few weeks ago, the Russian government fined the editor of a newspaper who published an interview with a gay teacher. An interview, people. In a newspaper.
Gay people in Russia are regularly bullied, chased, beaten up, and subjected to all kinds of hateful acts. In a way, maybe it's good that the Olympics are being held in Russia this year, since it will draw attention to the human rights violations that go on in Russia every day. Principle 6 is the Olympic principle that forbids discrimination on the basis of politics, race, religion, gender, or otherwise--a principle decidedly not embraced in Russia.
The Principle 6 campaign is designed to raise awareness of the way LGBTQ people are treated in Russia and "and underscore that Russia's anti-LGBT discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement." I urge you to take the Principle 6 logo and make it your Facebook or Twitter image. I guarantee that people will ask you about it, which will give you more chances to spread the word.
And if you're a schwag-lover like me, you'll be happy to know that American Apparel has designed a very cool "Principle 6" clothing line, and it's money well-spent, since proceeds will support LGBTQ groups in Russia.
I hope you'll spread the word, and help LGBTQ folks in Russia imagine a better world.
A few years ago, I attended a professional graduate school at a good university. Recently, an acquaintance asked me how diverse my 200-person class was.
“Hmmm… I think I was literally the only lesbian,” I said.
“But there were lots of LGBT people, right?” my acquaintance asked. And then she named seven or eight gay men who had, indeed, been in my class.
In the moment, I murmured something like, “Oh, yeah that’s right.” But internally, I raised an eyebrow. Not only were these all men, but they were gender-conforming men, men who went to fancy prep schools, men who use “summer” as a verb and net annual salaries I could live off for a decade.
But in my acquaintance’s mind, we were all people who slept with people of the same sex; we all checked the LGBT box. We were all undeniably, certifiably, and irrevocably queer. So why did I blanch being lumped in with these gentlemen? (BTW, I know a few of them personally, and they truly are great guys.)
I think it’s because the things that made me feel alienated in graduate school did not have much to do with my attraction to women. In the upper echelons of this particular profession, no one cares who I carouse with or wake up beside. The things that made me feel alienated were, in order of their significance:
(1) social class
(2) gender nonconformity
(3) persistent lack of interest in making lots of money
The Nice Gay Men (NGM) of whom my acquaintance spoke shared none of these traits. Yet these are the traits that made me different from my peers, that let me bring a distinct perspective to the classroom, and that will continue to shape my voice in the future. But to the admissions committee, we all looked similar: white homosexuals with good grades from well-regarded undergraduate institutions.
(Obviously, lots of other kinds of diversity are important: race, disability, religion, ethnicity, and others. I’m just focusing on one kind here, which isn’t intended to negate the importance of these other kinds, nor of the intersections of these other kinds of diversity with queerness.)
I’m not suggesting that the NGM’s experience of LGBT life is somehow less “valid” than my own, nor that I embody “diversity” in a way that the NGM do not. But there was something ironic about being categorized with them, since they embodied precisely the traits that seemed so apparently lacking in me: wealth, gender conformity, a lucrative career path.
I bring all of this up mostly to ask the following: when we say that we are striving for diversity, what is it we’re really striving for? People whose experiences somehow bring different “perspectives?” Maybe. But how do we measure that on a form? Do we want people who were statistically unlikely to end up in the application pool? Do we prize phenotypical diversity? Do we simply want the folks with the highest grades and test scores? And in achieving any of these types of diversity, what role should (and does) queerness play?
Recently I was talking to someone I respect a great deal, and she said something I've often thought as well: many people are more uncomfortable with gender nonconformity than with homosexuality. Of course, the two often go hand in hand. But let's assume, for a moment, that we can disaggregate them.
In my work circles, which mostly comprise upper-middle-class NPR listeners, few people care if your partner is male or female. Same-sex partnership is still noteworthy, interesting, and a titillating gossip source to some people, but for the most part, it's not a big issue. Homos abound at high levels in my profession, and most are pretty open. But I have trouble coming up with examples of high-powered women in my profession who wear mostly men's clothing. If you're a woman giving a conference talk, it's not that big a deal to mention your same-sex partner. It is a big deal to wear a necktie. No one else does it, and you're likely to be seen as "making a statement."
For me, this begs two questions: (1) Why?; (2) What implications does this have for my own self-presentation? Today, I'll write about the former.
Here's my guess: looking gender-conforming still adheres to people's ideas and assumptions about gender--the idea that men "are" and "look" a certain way, and that women "are" and "look" a different way. If we define homosexuality narrowly (as I think most people do, particularly non-queers), it only challenges one aspect of gender typicality: whom you sleep with.
It's as if are only two kinds of ice cream, and ice cream always comes in double scoops: one vanilla, one chocolate. This is what most people always order, then later they learn that some people order two scoops of vanilla or two scoops of chocolate. "Fine," they think. "Some people like two scoops of the same thing. But there are still just two kinds of ice cream."
In contrast, if someone orders vanilla with chocolate swirls and says, "It's still vanilla--it just has chocolate swirls in it," (or if, God forbid, they order strawberry) this challenges people's fundamental ideas about the kinds of ice cream that exist.
In this way, gender nonconformists mess with people's categories. A woman in a tie, when only men are wearing ties, is like chocolate chip ice cream. "What IS that?" people think. "No flavor I've ever seen." This is probably why, as Kristen Schilt writes in One of the Guys, when people go from identifying as butch women to identifying as trans men, they become more accepted in the workplace. As butch women, people viewed them as gender atypical. When they become trans men, people can say, "Oh, I kind of understand--you were really chocolate all along!"
As more states adopt legal protections based on sexual orientation, I think gender conformity will be one of the next frontiers. This is closely tied--though not identical--to the fight for trans rights, providing another reason to help fight for the rights of all other queers, not just your personal subset.
For now, I'll leave the conversation there. What do you think, dear readers? In your everyday work lives, what's people's reaction to sexual orientation versus gender nonconformity?