Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pathologizing princesses

I guess I shouldn't have expected social workers to be perfect. In general, I think the profession is oriented to meeting people where they are and helping them in a non-judgmental way. But there are times when I'm disappointed. Don't get me started on phrases from professors like "the opposite race" and "everybody has sexual desires."

As part of my social work training, I'm interning with a school counselor. This week as I looked through the child psychotherapy manual in my supervisor's office, and I saw the section on Gender Identity Disorder. I knew that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual lists it as a mental disorder, but doesn't prescribe any treatments. This book does. Apparently if I get a girl who wants to dress like/act like/be a boy, or vice versa, I'm supposed to talk her out of it. We're supposed to talk about her mommy - doesn't she want to be like her mommy?

Gag me with a spoon.

I've seen the fear of children's gender-bending. I've seen teachers deeply uncomfortable about the idea that the child over there with the short hair and cargo pants - that one? really? - is a girl. After a nail polish extravaganza at daycare, I've seen a boy gleefully show his mother his purple-and-gold nails, only to be yanked to the sink and scoured. (She was so upset she forgot you can't take off nail polish with soap.)

It doesn't have to be like that. Take Cheryl Kilodavis, author of My Princess Boy. At first she was worried about her four-year-old son's taste for high heels and sparkles. But his family rallied around him, and when he decided to be a princess for Halloween, she called the school. And the school made it clear to everybody, students and staff, that nobody was to laugh at Dyson. On Halloweeen, some of the male teachers came as ballerinas and performed a dance for the school. The kids loved it, of course.

When he's older, maybe Dyson will transition to living as a woman. Maybe he won't. Do we really have to wrestle with a four-year-old about this?

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