Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Framing Gender Noncomfority as Homosexuality, Again

[TW: Gender policing]

Being "all boy" comes so naturally to all boys that Malaysia sends some of them to Boy School so they can learn how to be real boys. From the BBC:

"Sixty-six schoolboys identified by teachers as effeminate began counselling this week to discourage them from being gay. They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education. An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back 'to a proper path in life'....

Gay rights groups have also criticised the measure, saying it promotes homophobia in the Muslim-majority country where gay sex is still illegal."

These gay rights groups are correct in noting that rigid gender policing promotes homophobia, but it's always interesting when a violation of gender norms is framed primarily as a gay rights issue while the more-obvious gender rights issue goes unmentioned.

For instance, the BBC article notes that the state officials were unable to detail specific "effeminate" or gay traits observed. Instead, the officials blamed this alleged "pre-homosexuality" on parents who encouraged "boys to develop feminine traits, by dressing them up in girls' clothing at a young age." Given that homosexuality is not defined as "a boy dressing up in girls' clothing" this automatic conflation between gender nonconformity and homosexuality is dubious.

The gender rights issue here, of course, is that a boy should be able to wear whatever the fuck he wants to wear, especially given that what makes an article of clothing "feminine" or "masculine" is arbitrary, ever-changing, and variable across different cultures.

The other gender rights issue is that it is largely viewed as degrading to boys to demonstrate effeminate traits (and wear "feminine" clothing), because femininity and, consequently, girls and women are seen as inferior to boys and men. So, while this sort of rigid gender policing is likely grounded in homophobia, it is also grounded in, and a reinforcement of, male supremacy. A society's fear and loathing of "effeminate" men mirrors its fear and loathing of women.

Notice, too, that the BBC article makes no mention of gender nonconforming girls (or lesbians or bisexual women). This invisibilization of women often happens when the media frames instances of gender policing/anti-homosexuality in African and Middle Eastern states primarily as "gay rights" abuses.

This pattern of framing leads me to speculate that a human rights abuse has to be framed as being inflicted upon gay cisgender men for it to be recognized by the international community as a human rights violation. If these groups were, or were framed as, women or transgender people, I believe the atrocities would be seen as too specific to women or trans people to be considered atrocities implicating the dignities and rights of humans beings.

What's also notable is that gender noncomformity is so often framed as a something that is unnatural- as though a gender noncomforming person is just confused and hiding hir true nature. For instance, a state educator said:

"As educators, we have to do something about it before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return."

The mainstream assumption is that gender nonconforming kids have somehow been "indoctrinated" into being that way. What state officials invariably overlook are all of the ways mainstream narratives (and death penalties, prison terms, and special boot camps) indoctrinate and frighten people into being Real Men and Real Women.

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