Sedgwick Diablog Open Thread

| 10 Comments

A discussion on Sedgwick's "How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay: The War on Effeminate Boys."

Please feel free to join in.

10 Comments

Okay, here we go. I'm going to attempt to respond to each of the other initial engagements (in order of when they were posted) from my group members in this one comment:

@chester_selfish
We talked on the phone for a bit after we both read the article, so a lot of our discussion has already been had. However, your write-up is a great outline of some of the things we discussed. Specifically, I am interested in how we (as a society) deal with boyhood effeminacy when the subject grows to identify as heterosexual. I think your analysis of the ways in which your anti-male traits have benefited you is also very useful. It pushes us to further examine why femininity is so dramatically devalued in our society (your evaluation that it is devalued in women and in men is, I think, quite accurate in most cases).

@Jo
Your entry serves as an excellent summary of Sedgwick's main arguments. I think you bring up some important points that I did not consider in my entry. I especially like your inclusion of the first quote you sited from Friedman about the two criteria for a healthy gay man in revisionist psychology. The "already grown up" criteria points to our reluctance (as a society) to deal with queerness in children. It implies that if a child or adolescence displays sexual difference, we are unable to encourage and support that, while we fail to consider the ways in which we affirm heterosexual behavior in children everyday. Excellent. Your last paragraph reminds us of the temporality of this piece. We must be mindful of considering how things may (or may not) have changed within the last 20 years.

@davyy
You get at some of the most crucial questions that we need to be asking ourselves in relation to this article. I think especially important are your questionings of how 'healthy adult homosexuality' is defined and how the pathologization of certain characteristics is decided upon. I think your entry begins to get at the homophobia and effemiphobia that underlies the aspects of revisionist psychoanalysis that Sedgwick discusses. Your questions of how we define masculinity and if kids who are diagnosed with gender identity disorder of childhood are inherently traumatized by their childhood or that they have undergone some traumatic experience are, indeed, very interesting. I would also like to thank you for sharing your own experiences here, it seems like this could very useful in our discussion.

Two more things:
1) I just want to interject here, without playing this up too much, that I would have definitely been diagnosed with gender identity disorder in childhood as a kid (or I still would be?). In fact, I may have been given this diagnosis on some official insurance document without my knowledge.
I would say that I received a fair amount of flack from not only my peers in school, but also my teachers. All the adults not in my immediate family were extremely concerned about my 'development' and the implications my effeminacy might have on my socialization as a child and my gender/sexuality performance as an adult.
2) Several new questions have popped up for me since my initial reading and engagement post:
How do we bring our kids up gay (referring to the title)?
Sedgwick talks about lack of institutions that actually seek out sexually different individuals or actively affirm homosexuality as heterosexuality's equivalent; can we discuss this more?
What role do schools play in affirming or demonizing gender-nonconformity?
I took a Psychology of Gender class at one of my previous colleges in which I learned that gender-nonconformity in girls is less indicative of adult homosexuality than in boys. What do we make of this?
@davyy brought up transgenderism. How can this be related to childhood gender-nonconformity, if at all? What are the implications of the DSM-III's diagnosis for the transgender community? Why do you think Sedgwick doesn't discuss this at all in her article?

Nosecage, I think you bring up some really interesting questions. I was also curious about how the author's views have or have not changed over the years since this essay was first published. The use of the word tolerant has always been worrisome to me especially when we are taking about tolerating people. In addition, the idea that it perhaps would be a better world if the "homosexual" no longer existed.
In response to a mother's love, I read that particular section as meaning a mother could, in no way be helpful in development of her son's masculinity. If she is being affectionate it is overly so and the same thing with protecting her child. The only way she could be of any use is by making sure her son develops a strong core gender identity. In fact it goes as far as to say that if a mother so much as expressed pride in her son's non-violent qualities she was undoubtedly "manifesting unmistakable 'family pathology'."

Since you all (my fellow group members) have commented, at some point, about presenting or being targeted as being more feminine, I would like to hear more of your personal experiences and thoughts. Specifically in regard to the mother's love aspect.

Longest comment of all time.

Awesome, @Jo.
I think your reading of that section is spot-on. Sedgwick is pointing out the revisionist psychoanalyst's rejection of any involvement by a mother in an effeminate boy's life. I think she goes further to suggest that 'mother love' (as a concept, previously coined by someone I read last year (I'll have to do some research into who that was originally used by)) is a contributor to the effeminate boy's resilience. Friedman questions how the effeminate boy survives adolescence. Sedgwick answers by suggesting a mother's empathy and support is a main contributor.
This is a perfect time to bring in my own experience. My mother was always supportive and encouraging of me in all my endeavors as a child. This inevitably included many of my gender-nonconforming actions and characteristics. She nurtured them in my pre-school years and encouraged me to view difference as a valuable quality. As I entered school and learned just how different I was, she stuck by me and helped to build my shield against the others kid's blows.
I entered therapy at the tender age of six when my mother became very concerned with how lonely I was feeling due to my inability to make meaningful connections with my peers (given that I understand the limited meaningfulness of friendships at that age, I wasn't really making any friends at all). I was also exhibiting some signs of psychological ailments (OCD related symptoms). My experience with my therapist was excellent. I saw the same therapist until I moved here last year. She effectively joined the team of adults who would be my support through the tribulations of my youth.

My therapist didn't try to convince to not be gay. Nor do I think she would have been more 'satisfied' if that had been the outcome of our work together.

@nosecage, regarding the question about what role do schools play in affirming or demonizing gender-nonconformity. I think I have a good example which I have mentioned in my comment to smilelotsplz on her annotated bibliography 1: masculinities, http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/qd2010/2010/10/annotated-bib-1-masculinities.html#comment.

The book which I have read for my first annotated bibliography, "Body2Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology", quote
"In 2003, the Ministry of National Unity and Social Development was desperate to justify every last syllable of its existence. One day while visiting a local university, the minister made known her observation that our campuses are overrun by "soft men". She reasoned this was due to the fact that the Malaysian education system had over the years allowed more women to excel and enter into universities, causing the men to lose their self esteem and become pondan (malay word for sissy, usually used in an offensive way)

The press then took up many pages in coming months, painting Malaysia as a country in danger of moral apocalypse as a result of the double-whammy social ill known as "soft men" and hard women". A lot of people thinks that it is funny when they see such behavior" said the minister "but really, it is not funny." Obviously she never met RuPaul.

And eventually some universities implemented boot camps run by army men to "straighten" out effeminate boys..."

This might seems a little bit funny or somehow Sarah Palin-ish.

@Jo, talking about my personal experience, I remembered that while I was in primary school, I was always being teased on how I acted and of course I cried whenever my peers were being mean to me. But crying does not help much, in fact it make it even worst as they will tease more saying that I cry cause I am not tough enough to take a joke or something.

Besides when I was 12, I started selling things through some catalogues and make some pocket money for myself. But most of the things that were sold in the catalogue were girls stuff. One day, my teacher caught one of my friends looking at the catalogue and confiscated it. I can still clearly remember the look that he gave me when he finds out that the catalogue was mine...

As for the aspect of mother's love, my mom is the role model that I have been looking up to in my whole life. The reason is that my dad is a free lance artist who have never work a day in his life, he love me very much but I sees my mum's suffering for being a breadwinner for the whole family. For the last few years I have started to realize and maybe understand why my mom have always told me not to mentioned about how my family situation is to other people and to tell people that my mum is my family's only financial income, one way he is trying to protect me from being bullied by my friends and to avoid being talked about by others parents that I do not have a role model and that is the reason that I am effeminate, and to avoid my dad being the topic of others. Being brought up in a society like that I have blamed my father for me being gay, until I came here I start to understand more about my sexuality, I stop blaming my dad for me being gay. My mum have been very supportive of my in everything that I am or going to do.

I appreciate your honesty about your past experiences Nosecage and Davvy.One thing that I wanted to point out is a particular section of the essay in which Green expresses his approval about peer therapy. "He refers approvingly at one point to 'therapy, be it formal (delivered by paid professionals) or informal (delivered by the peer group and the larger society via teasing and sex-role standards)'". It seems to me that, based on your comments about your childhood, the idea of peer therapy was not only not ineffective at "fixing your effeminate behavior" (and I want to make you aware that it was a challenge typing that last phrase without rolling my eyes) but it seems that it was detrimental to your emotional well being. I am a proponent of therapy IF the participant is willing and IF it is preformed in a way that is safe and comfortable for the client. Peer therapy does not seem to meet either of those requirements. Especially during this time when teen suicides are occurring more and more frequently I am going to go out on a limb and say that PEER THERAPY DOES NOT WORK!

Thoughts?

I think this video totally pertains to this week's diablog. This video was used originally intended (I'm pretty sure) for use in K-12 classrooms, or the teachers of those students.

Tomboy from Barb Taylor on Vimeo.

Thanks for posting that, jaropenerkate. Quickly, I am struck by a couple things from the video:
1) The continuous use of "boy/girl things" even when trying to explain nonconformity in a positive light.
2) The comfort of the mother at the end is key here.
3) The question (which was the title of the book the video is based on) "Are you a boy or a girl?" raises a lot of questions for me. I got this question very frequently as a child. It seems clear that the other kids aren't actually questioning Alex's sex; they are questioning why she is acts the way she does. This video/story makes it seem like Alex's peers know that she is a girl biologically but her actions make them confused and uncomfortable, so they respond by insistently asking her this question. Does this fit our understanding of 'bullying'?

I am curious as to why the video doesn't spend more time explaining why it is okay for kids to be gender nonconforming in a way that other kids might understand. I think it is valuable to set up 'gender neutral' spaces like this teacher has, but it seems like it doesn't help Alex feel an better. How might we explain this to kids? How can kids be expected to use Sedgwick's model of breaking down binaries?

I've got to run to an appointment, I will be back to comment on davyy and jo's last thoughts.

@davyy:
Your thoughts in your most recent comment are, indeed, very provocative. Your example of the hard girls/soft boys being targeted by the administrator in Malaysia shows just how relevant this issues is. A superintendent recently resigned after anti-gay pro-gay-teen-suicide/bullying that he posted on his Facebook page were publicized. This is very similar to your example from Malaysia except that the American administrator was made to resign while the Malaysian minister's comments sparked a country-wide backlash against effeminate boys and masculine girls.
I would also like to briefly comment on your experience with your parents. I think that while you have been able to realize that your gender-nonconformity is not related to your parents' untraditional gender roles, much of society and psychoanalysts might still point to this as its primary cause.
Can we find examples of effeminate boys that have strong relationships with their fathers? Do we think they exist?

@Jo:
Again, awesome.
Peer therapy = bullying. I don't think even Green himself would deny that that is what he means by that term. 'Peer therapy' is the process through which our bodies and minds are assimilated into normativity. No more needs to be said on that issue.
Well, maybe a little more. You say that is 'does not work.' I would argue that it does actually work in a lot of cases. When we use my aforementioned definition of the term, 'peer therapy' does serve to reach its ultimate goal (to disappear difference and perpetuate the apartheid of the closet). The goal of this kind of therapy, or revisionist psychoanalysis, is not to help people feel comfortable with their differences and find ways to mediate backlash, it is instead to repress these differences.

If you feel like it, watch Obama's 'It Get's Better' Video. The most important and poignant part of his video, in my eyes, is breaking down the myth that bullying is a valuable part of adolescence. I think this relates to @Jo's point and I think Sedwick would agree with the President's message about this issue.

@davvy. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I think you are not alone in your previous placement of responsibility on your father for your sexual orientation. I would be willing to bet that it happens more than one would think. What you were feeling coincides with some parts of what our reading was talking about. The idea that having a head of household that is a woman creates an atmosphere that increases a boys femininity.
@jaropenerkate. Thank you so much for contributing to our diablog. i was hoping to get a chance to speak about the other end of the spectrum, which is girls that present more masculinely. Our reading is predominately about young boys but I beleive that little girls or "tomboys" are subjected to the same ridicule and pressure that feminine boys do. Although, in most respects it seems a bit more tollerated if you will for little girls to play sports than it is for little boys to want to play with dolls.
@nosecage, I agree with your arguement that peer therapy is successful in the fact that it does acheive the ultimate goal, which is to ensure individuals stay in their little heteronormative boxes. Also, I appreciate you posting the Obama video, I think your assessment is spot on.

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