An Essay By: Anti_Intellect
There is a certain freedom inherent in expressing our gender the way that we see fit. When we are able to fully express ourselves via our gender we open our lives up to a host of possibilities. Conversely, one of the primary ways by which we are denied freedom of expression is by having our gender boxed in, told it can only be one thing.
As I have educated myself more and more on the various ways in which gender and sexual identity intersect, it has become clear to me that homophobia and gender stereotyping are two sides of the same limiting coin. Where there is gender stereotyping there is homophobia, and vice versa.
There are countless times in my own life when I have encountered homophobia simply because of people stereotyping me based on my gender. As a boy who played with dolls and oftentimes preferred the company of girls I was thought to be gay. This claim was made despite the fact that my sexual identity was not fully known to myself or others. The claim was made simply because my gender expression did not align with what our patriarchal society considers to be normal gender behavior or interest for a boy.
It is all too common in our society for people to affix sexual orientations to someone based purely on gender stereotypes. The “masculine” woman and the “feminine” man, regardless of sexual orientation, are often considered to be gay just because they don’t align with what is thought to be acceptable gender expression. Women and men in fields that are traditionally thought of as gender specific are also the victims of gender stereotyping and homophobia: male cheerleaders, female cops, male nurses, female football players.
As an educator I have endeavored to get my students to think above and beyond gender stereotypes. I have provided a safe space where my students can feel comfortable recognizing, naming, and challenging gender stereotypes. Why can’t a boy have a diary? Why can’t a girl prefer the color blue? Why can’t a boy like playing with a female character? Why canâ€™t a girl have hairy arms and legs? These are some of the stereotypes that I have engaged with my students, and guided them in their thinking above and beyond.
As I mentioned earlier, gender stereotypes are one of the ways homophobia is sustained. When we don’t fit certain gender ideals our sexuality is often questioned. This can be very hurtful for people of all sexual orientations. The pernicious stereotypes and assumptions around gender have shown themselves to be too convenient for sustaining and promoting homophobia.
A lot of homophobia can be negated by challenging gender stereotypes. It is my belief that people who are comfortable with diverse gender expression are less homophobic. If you don’t believe that there is only one way for a person to express their manhood and womanhood then you are less likely to object to that person being intimate with someone of the same gender. You will have embraced that gender expression and identity is diverse, and sometimes our expressions and identity don’t align with gender stereotypes.
It is my hope that we as people, educators and activists key in on the way that gender stereotypes sustain a homophobia culture. When we free ourselves from gender stereotypes we embrace an ideology that is affirming to people of all sexual orientations. We are doing the work of ending homophobia.