Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Redesigning Gender

"Each parent needs to permit S. a variety of ways of expressing himself and S. should be supported but not encouraged towards any gender preference."
"If the mother is forcing S. to be a stereotypical girl against his wishes, then this no doubt will cause him emotional harm. If the father is forcing S. to be a stereotypical boy against his wishes, then this no doubt will also cause him emotional harm."
"Neither parent shall unilaterally dress S. as a girl or force S. to take on certain gender roles against his wishes."
"In the event that S. expresses a desire to dress as a girl, then the parent in whose care S. is shall respect S.'s desire but shall contact the other parent and the society immediately to notify them of S.'s wishes and the parties shall agree as to how to proceed."
"In many respects, they are both loving and dedicated parents. However, each parent needs to permit S. a variety of ways of expressing himself and S. should be supported but not encouraged toward any gender preference."
"S. has the right to express himself the way he so chooses and it is hoped that each parent will accept, respect and support S. as he develops, in whatever way he develops."
Justice Sheilah O'Connell, Halton Provincial Court

"It needs to be seen in the context in which it occurred [parents' separation], which was a two-year, extremely high-conflict divorce. The disagreement was related to distrust between the parties. They agreed that it needs to be the child's choice — they just couldn't agree on what the child's choice was because of the context they were in." 
Geoffrey Carpenter, lawyer for S.'s father
Photo courtesy of the author.
The author’s son as Wonder Woman -- Photo courtesy of Kate Cohen, Slate

This is a little boy being discussed, a kindergarten-age child whose name cannot be released to the public to protect his privacy. The little boy's parents were involved in a nasty custody struggle; threats were used and girls' clothing that the mother of the child prepared for her son to wear as a girl, were burned by the father. Both the father and the mother of the boy accused one another of forcing the boy to be the gender of their choice. In the father's case, it was felt that the child should be what he is.

The mother obviously felt differently, felt that she was sensitive to her child's innermost desires, and that was to be a girl, not the boy he was born as. The little boy referred to as "S." to protect his identity, was referred to as "she" by his mother. The mother of the child painted his nails as one would a little girl's. His father insisted his 4-year-old son be sent to school wearing boys' clothing as befitted his birth identity as a male child.

But the mother, who lives in Oakville, Ontario explained that it had come to her notice that her son was attracted to girls' clothing, to items such as "sparkly pink shoes", just as he was also interested in conventional girl-type activities, with no intervention on her part; he just gravitated naturally, and she was merely satisfying his inclinations. And the father who lives in Burlington, Ontario insisted that his child was a "normal boy" whom his mother forced to dress like a girl.

The little boy's father said that he had burned girls' clothing in a backyard bonfire at the request of his son. And he was concerned that his son was being bullied at school as a direct result of the confusion over his attire and his behaviour. This, despite descriptions of the boy as being well-adjusted and friendly and well-liked by his classmates, according to the school administration and Children's Aid Society workers assigned to the case.

The Halton Children's Aid Society based on reports from S. (while in his father's care), filed a protection order, responding to the little boy saying his mother hit him on the knee and forced him to be a girl when he had no wish to be a girl. Justice O'Connell came to the conclusion on the evidence presented to her that neither parent was more credible than the other, ruling the child be given equal time with each parent, and the parents must attend counselling and be supervised by the Children's Aid Society.

The parents had consulted with a general pediatrician and adolescent medicine physician at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. Joey Bonifacio specializes in gender issues. His meeting with S. left him with the impression that the child was indeed interested in feminine clothing and activities. But he was as well interested in toys like Transformers and Captain America, traditionally marketed to boys, even while he liked the colours purple, pink and admired long hair.

Finding the boy intelligent and articulate, he expressed the opinion that "S. only expressed affective statements that were tied to gender expression such as, 'I want to be a girl. Girls have long hair'." Dr. Bonifacio is in charge of the Transgender Youth Clinic at Sick Kids; his report on his meeting with the child noted that gender expression and gender identity are not to be confused. That the child should be exposed to both feminine and masculine toys, activities and clothing and allowed to make his choice while still being referred to as a boy.

The child's father was initially belligerent over the recommendation, sending the doctor threatening emails stating "I'm going to get a degree in social media and make sure that you are my special project. Because you abuse children and make money off it..." The father lost no time in apologizing while revealing that he had himself struggled with gender association as a child: "so happy when my grandma dressed me in a dress and makeup".

Little angel? Unlike Lorraine's son, five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral'
Little angel? Five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral' --

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