Is “Gender Confusion” a Trans Parallel of “Sexual Lifestyle”?

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I’ll keep this post short, because I really would love to see some discussion about it.

Last week, I posted on Facebook a link to a blog post by a mom whose son wore a crossdressing costume for Halloween. She wrote how happy she was for him, and how disappointed she was about the other moms at the preschool who bullied her about it. Her post has been incredibly widely read, so much so that she appeared on the Today show this morning to discuss it.

The conversation was mostly positive, but I found myself really struck by the use of the phrase “gender confusion.” Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the Child Mind Institute talks about how if a child refuses to wear clothing that matches the child’s sex beyond the age of 5 (i.e. when it’s no longer play), it could mean “something significant for a child’s sexuality later on or gender confusion.” His message is positive, so I’m not too worked up about it, but that language seems troublesome.

Wouldn’t gender confusion refer to people who are unsure of their gender? He uses it in the context of children who very clearly decide they are a different gender, not that they are confused. Confused people need to be guided, reoriented. To refer to a gender identity or gender presentation that is moving from cis to trans as confusion seems both inappropriate, inaccurate, and subtly demonizing.

I’m not a member of the trans community, so I don’t want to pretend I fully understand the personal impact of this language, but this just strikes me as wrong. Gender exploration, gender variance, transgender… these terms I think would be more appropriate.

Any thoughts?

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There are 10 Comments to "Is “Gender Confusion” a Trans Parallel of “Sexual Lifestyle”?"

  • Calvin says:

    I find that “gender confusion” is basically “gender identity disorder” but for kids- I find both words to be rather insulting. I do not and have never shown any symptoms of GID; all the other trans people I know do not and have never shown symptoms of GID.

    Barbara Walters had a really good 20/20 special on Transgender kids and some really badass parents. I think it’s still on youtube. (random statement :-))

    I had to be approved by my mom’s insurance company to undergo top surgery (which is coming up Dec. 2nd! Yay!!) and get them to pay for it and they of course needed proof that I’m not crazy. And as understanding and brilliant and supportive as ALL of my doctors are, they had to revert to language that makes me appear a slave -of sorts- to my gender identity and my body’s imperfections. Perhaps slave is too harsh a term, but the medical community, (especially at times the psychological community) has to use these terms because that’s all they’ve been given. Constantly hearing that you’re controlled by your body’s image and your brain and body not lining up can lead to some serious depression.

    Hormone therapy is still seen to be experimental by the FDA, despite it being used since the 1950s to help us; I guess my bottomline is that the scientific community needs to expand on our issues- ultimately people look at us as “freaks” because that’s what both society and science say we are. That we’re mentally unstable. And we get called as such- gays and lesbians hear “freak, pervert, fag, dyke” and we hear all those as well as “psycho”.

    Gender Confusion and GID hurt us because their language, despite the well-meaning people who use it to help us, portray us as either “confused” or psychologically unstable.

  • Beaker says:

    To me this is so silly. I’m female and I ran around with no shirt on up till I sprouted boobs. I wore boy clothes and played sports and climbed trees. As an adult I still wear unisex tshirts and boy workout shorts most of the time. I’m straight, I still love sports and people need to stop being so uptight. I do think there’s probably a bit of a double standard though because it’s much easier to dismiss a tomboy than a boy who wants to be Daphne for Halloween. When I was really young, maybe 4 or 5, I used to pray that God would turn me into a boy and every morning when I woke up I’d check to see if it worked. I’m glad it never worked. I’m not the girliest girl by any means but I turned out okay. And yay for his mom who loves him no matter what he decides he’s into later.

  • Jessica A. says:

    Personally, as a trans woman, language like this feels like it’s trying to shame people into being “normal.” Sure, we’re free to be who we feel we really are, but we get to live with words like “confusion” and “disorder” marking us as different.

    That little kid is my new hero I think.

  • Jessica A. says:

    Not to mention it lets them shift the blame over to us. THEY’RE not the ones with the problem, we are. We get labeled confused and disordered, even though we’re just trying to live our lives the way we feel most natural.

  • I wrote about this when I was writing for the Ex-Gay Watch, in a piece entitled Trans And Gay: The GID Diagnoses And “Gender Confusion”. In the piece I wrote:

    Conservative religious organizations and ex-gay organizations use the term gender — and variants on the term gender — to group together GLB & T people in a manner that GLB & T people don’t group themselves together. This series will explore groupings around the term gender, and the term’s variants.

    It’s not quite yet common knowledge in western society that there are significant differences between being a gay man and being transgender woman, but more and more people are becoming aware that being gay and being transgender are pretty far from the same thing.

    However, it appears that in the collective minds of NARTH and others, there’s barely a line between gay men and trans women. Here’s my educated guess as to why:

    NARTH’s tie-in of gay and transgender people utilizes the medical community’s Gender Identity Disorder (GID) diagnoses. Specifically, GID in Children is considered a pre-homosexual/pre-transsexual diagnosis {from the link: Zucker and Bradley (1995, p. 53) noted that “homosexuality is the most common postpubertal psychosexual outcome for children [with GID].”}, while GID in Adults is the diagnoses for transsexuals.

    Dr. Joseph and Linda Ames Nicolosi’s A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality is largely about explaining the GID in Children diagnosis to religious parents of effeminate male or emasculate female children, and then what explaining what they believe one should do if a child is diagnosed with GID in Children. NARTH’s website, in a reprinted paper from its 2002 Conference {The Treatment Of Childhood Gender Identity Disorder (GID), Dillworth, Marc S., Ph.D.}, affirms the GID in Children diagnosis, and affirms a treatment model which is “…the same as Drs. Rekers and Nicolosi.”

    NARTH, Exodus International, the Illinois Family Institute, Focus On the Family, Americans For Truth, and the Concerned Women For America have made use of the term gender confusion. Sometimes the context of gender confusion is related to transgender or transsexual people, sometimes it’s related to homosexual people…

    Anywho, the piece goes on from there. Basically, the religious right has been using the term “gender confusion” to refer to the entire LGBTQ community for awhile — blaming both homosexuality and transsexuality on “gender confusion.” “Sexual lifestyle” and “gender confusion” are related terms, and these terms can be used for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer people. To the religious right folk, we’re all variations of same human experience — they don’t see any difference between trans and gay people, even though trans and gay people see lots of differences between ourselves and our subcommunities of the LGBTQ community.

  • Ben01 says:

    Hmmm, what I find so frustrating about this is using the term ‘gender confusion’ when talking about wearing women’s clothing; as if one is not behaving like one’s sex the moment they wear something a little unconventional. It plays into this whole ‘men are supposed to act like this’ and ‘women are supposed to act like that’ mentality that keeps reinforcing the idea that there are right and wrong ways of behaving: the normal way and the different way.

    Why would someone who thinks dresses are comfortable be any less of a man?

    • scooterz says:

      stereotypes are a bitch. I am struggling with my orientation, but Shame and guilt are at the core of who I have become. Re-identifying with the reality of my created gender are central to my recovery AND acceptance to who I am. God did not make a mistake. I have been deceived…..

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