Unconsciously Passing on Gender Oppression and a Lack of Consent
I’m only going to address the pull out ‘Interactive Wheel’ in the back of
Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity,
and only one sentence on one of the three concentric circles.
This problematic sentence is reflective of the rest of the book. The center circle that is referring to the body says, “I have…” with three choices, “a body that made adults guess ‘girl’ ; “a body that made adults guess ‘boy’ ; or “a body that made adults say ‘not sure.’”
Since we’ve explored the importance of language in the last 2 parts, I want to slow this down to really look at what is being communicated.
“I have a body that made adults…” Here a child claims for their self that their body made adults act, taking all the responsibility and placing it on their body for action upon it.
From a child’s perspective, there’s a tone of compassion for parents (or other adults) doing the best they can, my body made them do it. But this comes at the expense of the child. The sole responsibility for action on their body is their body. This leaves no option to question or consent to action on their body, especially in relation to someone with greater power, like an adult.
This dynamic is impacted by the fact that gender assignments are attached to sex assignments. There is now a message that says everything happening to them is their own fault, because of their body. This is how oppression becomes internalized.
This is a common set up for women, femmes, trans, nonbinary, genderfluid, and queer people to be harmed. “You’re body made me do it.” This is profoundly compounded by racism.
The other part of the phrase,
“guess ‘boy’ or ‘girl’” This can further isolate and disorient the child by removing responsibility or context of the oppressive system and the reality of how sex and gender are assigned, not assumed, in our current culture.
A guess or an assumption is very different than an assignment. Using the word guess erases the reality of how bodies are currently assigned the labels of “male” or “female” at birth and the rigid gender requirements attached to those labels. It also erases responsibility from the system that enforces these sex and gender requirements. By extension, it erases the history of gender oppression and the colonization of the indigenous Americas and Two Spirit people.
So with this one sentence that a child is encouraged to say, “I have a body that made adults guess…”, all responsiblity is placed on their body and any other responsibility and context is removed. This effectively puts the full onus on the child for their own oppression.
Internalized oppression like body shame and blame must be negotiated by many adults from LBTQI2S+ communities, privately and out in the world, especially for those who are Indigenous or POC. That’s why our annual celebrations are called PRIDE! It takes a simple word to cut through a dense, oppressive cultural fog.
Even for those of us who are a part of the community, it can be challenging to understand the extent by which the dominant systems oppress us, especially with something as common and necessary as language. It takes work to say what you mean with a language shaped by the oppression of women, femmes and LGBTQI2S+ people.
I find it difficult to understand what the author of Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity was consciously trying to teach with her Interactive Wheel and children’s book when these messages are embedded in her work. (*NOTE: several other books have come out since 2019 with very similar if not exact same “guessing” language.)
For me, my experience with this book has stressed the power of language, the importance of lived experience and why it’s where we must begin to create real change and equity.
This is our opportunity to finally take the onus off our kids & the larger LGBTQI2S+ community and put in on the system where it belongs.
Language is where we can create real change and equity.
There’s no time to waste.
We must heal the song we sing to our children.