According to the brilliant E.J. Graff, the next battle is over gender–and it’s one we should all be fighting.
In a great Newsweek cover story that explores the way our cultural ideas of “queerness” have changed, E.J. argues that, thanks to the tireless efforts of a generation of gay rights activists, the battle over the right to desire–and even marry–whoever you want is close to being won. But on issues of gender identity and expression, we’ve still got a ways to go. An excerpt:
It may be OK, soon, for a woman to marry a woman and a man to marry a man everywhere in the United States. But it’s not even close to being OK for a boy to like Barbies and sparkly pink dresses or to swish when he grows up—or for a girl to be so masculine that people nearly do a double take trying to figure out which sex she fits. It’s not OK, yet, for someone apparently born male to grow into womanhood, or for someone who started life considered female to make it clear he’s a man. As for the rest of us, we are still, far more than we understand, herded unnecessarily by our sex—by the stereotypes associated with how a woman or a man should act.
It needn’t be this way. And if we as a country make the right legal, cultural, political, and educational decisions in the years to come—if we are willing to listen to, and learn from, those on the gender margins—we can make more room for us all.
Unlike the battle over marriage equality, the fight for a different approach to gender will not only or primarily affect lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men. Nor is it, contrary to conventional wisdom, a battle that is only or even mainly about people who are transgender—those whose gender identity differs from their chromosomal sex. It is, rather, a battle that will affect all Americans. And while it can and should be led by the LGBT rights movement, with the transgender faction in particular stepping forward and taking the lead, this isn’t our battle alone. This coalition can and should include straight men confined by our society’s tendency to tightly patrol gender norms, and straight women who care whether men get involved at home. All of us, it turns out, will better thrive as our society opens its mind to a different way of thinking about gender.
These are issues I’ve touched on before, and I really appreciate the way E.J. frames her “gender manifesto” as not just about gay people, or trans folks, or women. As she writes, “breaking the nation out of its gender straitjacket” is truly about everyone.