It's so predictable that it verges on comical: Whenever a feminist tries to argue that most gender norms we have are learned and not inborn, many (probably most) parents will protest. No way, they'll argue. They didn't try to impose gender norms on their kids and yet somehow Little Johnny was just drawn, as if by instinct, to the toy truck while Little Jane was clutching baby dolls before she even knew what babies were. How dare feminists suggest that parents themselves put kids in tightly defined gender boxes and then guard those boxes anxiously? Why, that would never happen!
Which is why it's so strange to read this story about what happened in St. Paul, Minnesota when Dave and Hannah Edwards asked their kid's school, Nova Classical Academy, to accommodate their kindergartener as she started identifying as a girl.
At the beginning of her Kindergarten year, the Edwards’ daughter still identified as a boy. She still wore the boys’ uniform and identified with male pronouns. But they already knew she was gender non-conforming from the many girly things she liked. Plus, Hannah told ThinkProgress, “She would say things like, ‘In my heart, I’m a girl,’ or ‘In my heart, I think I might be half and half.'”
Their daughter was transitioning, and the kids were making fun of her. So the school decided to take a proactive approach and have the kids read the picture book "My Princess Boy" and have a lesson on why you shouldn't bully other kids for being different. The school sent an email out to parents describing the upcoming lesson, and that's when things exploded.
The school encourages a lot of communication with and between parents, and the other parents at the school used this as an opportunity to be unbelievably vicious to the Edwards family, whose daughter, it is worth remembering, is only 5 years old. Parents sent messages, visible to everyone, that said things like we don't "have to celebrate gender non-conformism" and "we are opting our children out of any teaching that goes against the natural order of gender identity" and "as a woman, I take offense at any boy who is pretending to share my gender when he quite clearly NEVER can nor ever will."
What is especially interesting about the letters is they almost universally feature self-serving hypocrisy in huge doses. Parents would inevitably claim things like, "We recognize [differences] and respect them" or "I have no ill will to any transgender people" before going straight on to demonstrate thoroughly that they do not actually respect differences and they do have ill will towards trans people.
"But it is foolish to assume that such behavior is normal," the no-ill-will parents wrote, "and should not raise any eyebrows. For children to find such things either alarming or strange is natural."
Sorry, but you have to choose. Either you "have no ill will" or you want to raise your eyebrows and tut-tut about how alarming you find difference. But if you do the latter, it demonstrates beyond any doubt that you do, in fact, hold ill will towards trans people.
"Other comments," Ford writes, "similarly called out the Edwards as bad parents and asserted that their child did not deserve any accommodations or anti-bullying interventions. Similar sentiments were expressed at meetings."
Things got worse when conservative groups got involved, using the whole controversy as an opportunity to harangue and bully not just the Edwards, but any families in the community that have kids who are LGBT by having protests and meetings, under the guise of "concern" about what is really none of their business.
Conservatives pushing this anti-trans hysteria sweeping the country always posture about how it's not about bigotry, but about safety, claiming they just want to keep men from putting dresses and sneaking into the women's room under the guise of being trans. The right loves their fig leaves, but this particular one is so silly that it's self-evident that it's just a cover story for the real urge, which is gender policing.
I think the unstated worry - kids coming to see gender fluid people as "normal" - makes more sense than the "child molester loophole" stuff.
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) April 22, 2016
But this St. Paul situation makes it clear that the anti-trans freak-out is not about safety, but about bullying and harassing people for not fitting into the narrowly defined gender roles that conservatives prefer.
Dave and Hannah Edwards are not telling other people how to raise their kids. They aren't asking the school to tell other kids they are gay or trans. (That doesn't happen and is just another right wing myth.) They are simply asking that their daughter be left alone, and that the school take measures to prevent bullying. The storybook at the center of this controversy is simply a lesson in understanding that differences exist and learning to respect them. That should be a non-controversial lesson, unless you want to raise a kid that is a small-minded bully.
Which, to be fair, appears to be what some parents want. But schools need to be able to keep the peace, and so have a right to put a premium on minding your own business and letting other people be different without bullying them over it. Teach your kids whatever foul ideas you want at home, but schools should have a right to tell kids that when they're at school, they have to be nice to people, even if they are different.
Anti-trans bigotry is ugly and that should be reason enough to stand up against it. But this story also shows why it has ramifications beyond just making life harder for trans people and their families. The parents and conservative groups involved are using anti-trans hysteria to forward an even broader agenda of gender conformity, arguing that their discomfort gives them a right to tell others how to dress, what name to use, how to behave, and even what kind of medical care to get. If they'll do it to trans people, don't think they won't do it to anyone who violates their tender ideas about how you should behave because of your gender, whether it's a woman who doesn't wear makeup or a man who prefers ballet to football. And they are so devoted to this gender policing, they're willing to abuse a 5-year-old to carve out this privilege to control the lives and bodies of other people.