- 8th grader: Mr. Tang, nice purse [laughing]
- Me: Yes, you pointed out this satchel, or whatever you want to call it that I’m carrying.
- 8th grader: [laughing] you have a PURSE!
- Me: So you are laughing at the fact that I am carrying something that you perceive as not being masculine. Therefore you think that it’s humorous because this bag, doesn’t line up with the ideas of what you think men should carry. Am I right?
- 8th grader: [silence]
In my students I see Tomboys and Sissies. The girls who take on more masculine characteristics, wearing sports jerseys for example don’t seem to get any scorn but boys who are a little bit more feminine still get noticed. Most of my students don’t say anything explicit to them but you can tell they notice with the way my students look at these boys.
- Me: I’m all for a good ribbing, but making fun of someone because they conflict notions of the way genders should present themselves narrow our possibilities of expression and are reflections more of deeper insecurities, which are perfectly valid at your age, about your gender identity.
The creation of one’s gender identity is one of an important part of child development. It's natural for kids to try to make clear distinctions between men and woman and form in their brain signifying characteristics. In this way, a kid really shouldn’t be punished for making a reasonable observation wondering why there is a man pushing a baby stroller.
If we break open the possibilities and the grey areas between men and woman too early, it can get really confusing for kids. At the same time we need to embrace this spectrum and help kids learn that while they may not understand why some guys seem more “girly” than other guys, it’s not a bad thing.
By the time kids hit 5th grade, I have a lot less tolerance for the kind of “sissy” comments that I hear. Kids don’t really use the term "sissy" all that much anymore, instead it’s in kid’s reactions. When things are explicitly said which happens in the older grades very direct conversations need to be had.
I don’t hear kids making fun of other kids for being attracted to people of their own gender. The bullying that I have observed is less about sexuality but the way that kids define their masculinity. When you hear about kids being bullied often the phrases “suspected to be gay” come up because often times kids don’t even know if the kid who is bullied is actually gay or even care. They are more of target more because they don’t conform outwardly.
If we think that kids being bullied or made to feel bad about being a “sissy,” is an exclusive to children who are gay we are over-looking all the kids like myself who hold back and fear open and honest self-expression.
Not just gay kids need to hear that it gets better.
We cannot expect middle school kids to automatically accept the full spectrum of gender identity. This mixed up with sexual identity, which often doesn’t line up with gender identity in the ways that we assume is a difficult thing for adults to grapple with. So course there’s bumps in the road for young adults in figuring these things out.
We can have these bumps and talk things out, openly and honestly. The confusion, the ambiguity of feelings, and the lack of understanding young adults feel is okay. It needs to be embraced and unpacked. What’s not okay is for these kids to express these feelings towards their peers in negative, confrontational and socially aggressive ways.
I was lucky to have parents who didn’t mind me singing Disney Princess songs but a lot of kids don’t have that support from home. Kids can get through a lot in their day if they know they are loved and supported at home, but if they don’t have that to come home to, things can get dark very quickly.
I don’t know if my son, Ollie is going to develop characteristics that some define as “sissy.” If he does, he needs to know that he is loved not despite these characteristics but because of them. Diana and I are going to help him celebrate his interests even if the whole world thinks that it’s not what he should be into as a boy.
If Ollie is a stereotypical boy with out a hint of sissy than we have to open his eyes to different ideas of being a man, which are not as pervasive in our culture. Being a man is not about what you are into or who you love, but rather the pride you have in yourself and the respect that you treat yourself with and the people in your life.
I’m always going to be a minority. I’m Asian, I’m a music teacher, I’m in an interracial marriage, and I’d rather watch reruns on HGTV than a football game. Not being part of the crowd has shaped who I am and helped me develop strength and conviction in my beliefs. I’m not saying that you can’t develop similar characteristics being a Caucasian businessman who watches football every Fall weekend, but for me being a minority helped me develop some of my favorite parts of myself.
In the same way that I’d would never wish to be Caucasian, I don’t really want to be any less of a sissy. I love my girly dog and my brightly colored dress shirts. I’m going to deal with people making comments or giving me looks for the rest of my life. But that’s a small price to pay for embracing the who I am and being the man that my wife is proud to call her husband.