Stereotyping and the Gender Binary

Pink or blue?

Pink or blue for baby clothes? Does it matter?

I’ve just got back from the cinema, having watched my first LGBTQ film.  In it, the transgender protagonist seemed angry and resentful towards her parents for forcing her into a particular gender and sexuality from the moment she was born.  The baby was dressed in blue and surrounded by boy’s toys to play with.  There was particular disdain for the nurse who helped deliver her, for saying things like “oh doesn’t HE look like HIS father?”

Looking back at my childhood I guess it was a similar story, in that I was brought up ‘as a boy’ (when I wasn’t wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs that is).  But I don’t think that this had a negative impact on my life at all.  At such a young age I really had no knowledge of what I was wearing, let alone what it might mean to an observer.  People needed a pronoun to refer to me by, and my sex dictated that it be a masculine one.  If my parents had deliberately rebelled against the gender stereotypes, it would feel more like they were trying to influence my life, rather than letting me make my own decisions.
And with the toys, well I’d play with (or chew) anything I could get my hands on, be it a toy soldier, a barbie, a stick or a spider!

In the film it seemed like the main character had decided what they are now, and then was trying to retroactively fit that to their childhood.  I don’t feel that this works, there was a very definite time in my life where I started to question my gender.  I wouldn’t have wanted a childhood where I was forced to confront this any earlier than when it naturally happened.  I needed to experience all the boy things to develop into who I am today.

Whether you are straight, gay or trans is something you discover for yourself in life.  My parents were great in the fact I never got told off for crossing any stereotypical gender boundaries, and I was actively encouraged to pursue any interests and hobbies that I had.  Nobody so much as batted an eyelid when I brought my first boyfriend home or wore my low-cut, feminine, purple hoodie on Christmas day.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have been in the news recently as their daughter has expressed a desire to wear boy’s clothes and be called John.  It is natural for a child to experiment with different names and identities (my brother insisted we call him Sam for a while when he was younger because he had a friend called Sam).  The parents in this case aren’t making a knee jerk reaction and telling the child to conform to gender stereotypes, they are allowing John to explore and find what makes him comfortable.

I agree that gender is predominantly a social construct, but the film gave a very embittered view.  Maybe the protagonist’s parents were close-minded and did not welcome her exploring her gender, but I felt it was unfair to start the criticism of them at the very moment she was born.  The film portrayed a very dark and tormented look at being transgender and, while life isn’t always sparkles and rainbows for me either, I found I couldn’t relate to the main character at all.

The film was billed as setting out to “explore perceptions of the gay scene, queer stereotypes, gender and identity.”  I’d hoped I would come out of the cinema feeling empowered at seeing transgender issues on the big screen, and that other movie-goers would be made more aware of, and more sensitive to, the problems that transgender people face every day.  Instead I was left feeling that the writer’s view of being transgender was very, very different to my own.


3 thoughts on “Stereotyping and the Gender Binary

  1. Bob Pike

    I’m glad you have such understanding parents; I didn’t. My mother found some items of female clothing I’d hidden and made an issue of it; she wasn’t a nice person. I used to crossdress right up into my 30’s (I’m in my 60’s, now) and long ago realised that I’m bisexual. I don’t think you can pigeonhole people into nice, neat categories – he’s gay or she’s hetero. With me, my sexuality is all over the place; one day I’ll find women attractive, the next it could be a very effeminate man.
    Some psychologist on a BBC documentary offered a theory that we are ALL both masculine and feminine at the same time, a bit like a sliding scale with male at one end and female the other and at various times in our lives, we find ourselves at different places on that scale. It’s the nearest explanation I’ve heard. I feel that doctor had his finger right on the pulse (pardon the pun!). That’s why the writer of the film you saw had a completely different POV to you. We’re all unique, no one profile can fit a type of person. You have your preferences, likes and dislikes that are unique to you. I don’t think you’ll ever find an answer that fits exactly.

    1. jenroseblade Post author

      Thank you for your comment 🙂

      My overall feeling at the end of the film was that it was putting too much weight on the fact that gender stereotypes were being enforced at birth. To me that doesn’t matter as much at that age and I don’t really see a viable alternative at the moment. What matters much more is how the child is allowed to explore their gender and sexuality as they grow up, and I think that would have been more interesting for the writer to expand on.

      It sounds like unfortunately in your case you weren’t allowed to do this. I was lucky in that although I did explore my gender (and sexuality) at a younger age, nobody ever found out so there were no negative repercussions. When I actually resolved to do something about my gender issues I was older and had moved out, so was able to go ahead with this without the risk of bad reactions so close to home.

      I don’t think the writer or director of the film are actually transgender, so I’m not sure what their sources were. All I know is I didn’t feel under attack from the minute I was born in the same way that their character seemed to.

  2. Jennifer Louise Carter

    Hi Jen,

    I cant comment on the film, but as for upbringing, there is definitely a difference in attitude between people today and a few years ago. In the past there has been a need for people to conform to a specification and follow a set path. This was projected in every way that society could make a statement about people….very profound (for me). Boys had to me boys and girls has to be girls.But today there is a more open and accepting culture, and this gets reflected in the world we live in.

    I am about to take up a counselling role with a nationally recognised organisation in which I have openly discussed my TG self, if they had found this a challenge in any way I would have walked……but actually the group who interviewed me was totally un-phased.

    For my own benefit and fulfilment I am also working with an LGBT organisation as a counsellor……I want to make people realise that it is normal…..being TG is very normal ………..if only people would accept it for themselves first of all (very difficult of course) and then gain the confidence to accept that their friends family and colleagues will go through a phase of acceptance too…with varying degrees of success! we just have to get the message out there….it is slow and a massive challenge…..but it is happening.
    Take Care
    Jen xx


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