Happy Pride Month everyone!
Yes, the month of June is all about love, respect, encouragement, and acceptance. Every year it is celebrated to stand in solidarity against any discrimination and violence towards the LGBTQQIAAP or LGBTQ+ community. It is celebrated to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots.
But what does this LGBTQIAAP stand for? It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, and Pansexual.
Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics that any society associates with girls and boys, and women and men. People commonly identify themselves as female or male, but there are also people who consider themselves to fall in the middle or who don’t limit themselves in the name of gender.
When we talk about gender, automatically the concepts of gender identity and gender roles arise. A person can be born female or male but they may identify themselves differently based on their preference, choices, emotional and sexual attraction to others.
Societal Gender Norms
Our society has a set of ideas about how a man and a woman should behave, dress, speak, and present themselves. It is our society that has defined a man and a woman. For example, how a boy or a man is expected to be strong and not cry, whereas a girl or a woman is expected to be soft, accommodating, and emotional; or how boys are expected to play with cars whereas girls are expected to play with dolls.
We can even talk about how the color blue is associated with boys or men whereas the color pink is associated with girls or women. That is what we have perceived and accepted.
But with time these ideas, notions, and concepts have been changing. The world is evolving.
Early Childhood and Gender Norms
Through research, it has been known that the concept of gender in a child starts to develop from the age of two.
During this time, they become aware of their identity, appearance, roles, and the norms and ideas attached to it i.e. what girls should do and what boys should do. But throughout their course of life, they experience and develop a clearer view of themselves and their gender.
Children have different ways of showing their gender identity. It can be through:
- Their behavior,
- Preference of clothing and hairstyles,
- Verbal and non-verbal actions.
We can also understand through their interaction with the gender of their friends and the people they communicate. Some children become certain about their identity but some may experience confusion. It is a gradual and completely normal process. All the children require love, respect, and support from their family, friends, and school.
How to Explain Gender Diversity in Early Childhood
In the case of young children, who may experience confusion regarding their gender identity, it requires more attention, love, respect, and support, especially from their family. Here are some examples that parents can use to explain gender diversity to all children so that they are more accepting of themselves and other kids around them.
Lion vs Lioness
We all know the lion is the king of the jungle. But do you know why? Because of its appearance and voice. Their mane attracts their mates whereas they roar in order to protect the jungle, their territory and call their members. The lioness on the other hand is the bread earner of the family. She feeds her children, her mate by bringing food for them.
But have you ever heard about lionesses with a mane? Yes, sometimes lionesses grow a mane and even behave like males. In Botswana, lionesses have been found to grow a mane and behave exactly like lions. They even protect and dominate their territory and members.
This helps children understand that you can always have different traits, behavior, mannerism, taste, style, preferences and that is completely normal. Gender and sexuality have no bounds.
Other examples from the Wild
Swans stick to only one partner. 20% of them choose same-sex partners or same-sex interactions. Lions, Dolphins, Bison, Giraffes, Penguins, Walrus choose same-sex partners as well.
Indian Mythology shows the Way
Even Hindu Mythologies like the Puranas, the epics, regional folklores hold so many stories of LGBT themes. These stories talk about gender neutrality, same-sex and opposite-sex love, breaking the stereotypes of gender, third gender characters and so much more. These themes have also been depicted through literature and art. When you visit famous old temples, historical sites, you should definitely look at their architecture.
- Vishnu who is considered as the protector of the universe became Mohini i.e. his feminine form to save the world. As Mohini, he even bore a child with Shiva who was Lord Ayyappa.
- Again, Iravan/Aravan is considered to be the god of the transgender community. He was the son of Pandava Arjun and Naga princess Uloopi. He was sacrificed. His last wish before he died was to get married. Since no woman came forward to marry him Krishna took the feminine form of Mohini and married him.
- Even Arjun, as a curse, had to live in exile as the eunuch Brihannala.
- Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics in an ambiguous form. In Hindu Mythology, Ardhanarishvara is the androgynous form of both Shiva and Parvati.
There are so many stories like these. Some of them I have read and some of them I have heard from my grandmother when I was young.
Acceptance begins at Home
When I wrote children need more love, respect, attention, and support especially from their family I meant their parents. Parents are the ones who can actually talk to their children about all these things. It is important for them to talk about gender, sexuality and their roles with their children at an early age to make them more aware and understanding towards themselves and others.
- If a child questions or rebels about gender identity feelings, listen to them. You can support your children by doing the following:
- Understand that gender expression is not a method of defiance or rebellion.
- Do not suppress their natural gender expression in front of family or in public.
- Do not punish or shame gender expression.
- Do not block them from gender diverse friends. Encourage to be inclusive, and help children understand those friends better.
- Do not blame your child and their behavior as a reason for them facing any discrimination from others.
- Build a positive sense of self in your child.
Definitely the entire thing is very sensitive for both the parents and the children. It is even difficult for many but by talking about these things the children will not only be educated but it will also create a positive impact on them. The children require a space where they can be honest with their parents and vice versa. They require a space where they are not being judged so that in the future when they approach their parents, they can do it without fear and guilt.
Sumedha is a graduate and post graduate in political science from Calcutta University and currently she is pursuing her Post Graduate Diploma in Management. She is a young lady in a generation that is more accepting and vocal about LGBTQ+ rights. She identifies as an Ally to the LGBTQ+ community. She hopes of a world where parents and society accept LGBTQ+ children and youth as they are.
Purba is the founder of JoGenii and believes that learning begins at home. She believe in innovative early childhood education practices and curates play-based learning products at JoGenii.
Image Credit: A rainbow drawn by "Jo", the inspiration behind JoGenii