Bois and Grrls

Genderqueer: Straight or gay, these kids refuse to play dress-up by the rules

"I felt I was a woman, and I was still attracted to women, ergo, I was a dyke," she says. "Fine with me. It wasn't fine with the other dykes, not in those days. And they questioned--'How can you be a woman? You don't have any of the socialization we've had'...and it made sense. So I said, 'All right, I'm not a woman, I'm a transsexual woman,' and that kind of mollified everybody. And then I realized, well, what am I saying here? If I'm not a woman, not a man, well, I guess I'm neither. And at that point, it was one of my many forays to the edge of suicide. It's not a pleasant place to be, neither/nor, when the culture says there's no such thing."

Bornstein also was told she should follow the old-school tranny code: Erase the past.

"It's mind-boggling, but transsexuality seems to be the only condition for which the therapy is to lie," she says. "And I didn't want to do that anymore."

Naomi Toledo jokingly calls herself a gay man trapped in a lesbian's body.
Dan Kramer
Naomi Toledo jokingly calls herself a gay man trapped in a lesbian's body.

Her struggles with gender identity were the basis for her first book, 1994's Gender Outlaw. She followed that with plays and more books, including the forthcoming Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Teen Suicide.

Connecting with gender-questioning youth is important because, she says, "Transgender has always been the territory of old farts, and now it's got some real juice behind it."

She calls genderqueer "a gender version of beatnik, hippie--whatever you want to call it. It's punk. It's that kind of radical voice and expression against conformity...I think it's cute, I think it's smart, I think it's really, really powerful."

Denise LeClair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, also sees power in genderqueer.

"For people who are genderqueer, they're celebrating it," she says from her office near Boston. "They're not going to apologize for the fact that they look different."

At first glance, you'd probably call LeClair a transsexual. She wouldn't disagree, but she prefers other descriptors. Stepparent. Soccer mom.

"At this point, the term 'straight woman' would also apply," she says.

While she likes the term genderqueer, she says many older gays and lesbians think of "queer" as an insult.

"They don't see any redeeming characteristics in it," she says. "And it's just the word that people would yell before they tried to hurt them."

And, she says, gender roles can be just as oppressive in the GLBT community as elsewhere.

"If you look in personal ads in the gay community, you're going to see the word 'straight-looking,' [or] 'straight-acting' in most of those ads...because people want to be with somebody who's not going to call attention to themselves," she says. "So even if you don't care that your boyfriend is really flamboyant, you know that if you're out with him, you may be more likely to get attacked or that you're going to have less acceptance from family and stuff because you're more visibly gay. And ironically enough, that visible gay thing is usually more of an attribute of gender expression, although most of these people would say that they're not transgender."

Gender conformity is what makes a movie as supposedly controversial as Brokeback Mountaina big hit.

"These are manly men," LeClair says of the movie's protagonists. "They're actually really conforming to their gender roles, and because they're not breaking any other boundaries, they're being circumspect about which things they cross over, then people are going, 'Oh, wow, isn't that a beautiful story.' But throw in one single boa into Brokeback Mountain and the whole thing goes away. You got nothing."


Started at the age of four

My mother went to the grocery store

Went sneaking through her bedroom door

To find something in a size four --Green Day

But if ever a gay cowboy rode the plains in a Stetson and boa, you can bet he had an overbearing mother and didn't bond with Dad.

Or at least that's what the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality has concluded. The California-based organization's plethora of physicians, psychologists and laypeople claim homosexuality and gender-bending are disorders that can be cured.

NARTH director Joseph Nicolosi didn't have a lot of time to talk, but it didn't really matter, because as far as he's concerned, it's pretty cut-and-dry. When asked if there could ever be an instance of a person eschewing their gender role without ever having suffered emotional or psychological trauma, Nicolosi said, "No, of course not."

Ergo, any little boy who prefers Barbie over Tonka trucks "did not disidentify with the mother and bond with the father."

Pennsylvania physician Richard Fitzgibbons' research supports Nicolosi's assessment. Fitzgibbons, a NARTH member, requested that the Houston Presse-mail questions about his gender identity research, but he failed to reply.

Fitzgibbons' research shows a slippery slope. In one paper, a boy goes from playing with Barbie to being a gay, alcoholic prostitute with HIV in four paragraphs.

"Today, many adults try very hard not to impose rigid gender stereotypes on young children, but this push for gender openness can lead parents to ignore the symptoms of gender identity conflict," Fitzgibbons wrote in the June 2001 issue of the Catholic magazine Lay Witness.

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