The Gender Spectrum

Sue Bohlin's picture

When I use the term “gender spectrum,” you might think in terms of masculinity on one end and femininity on the other. We hear men being prompted to “get in touch with your feminine side.” (For some reason, women never seem to be exhorted to “get in touch with your masculine side.” Huh.)

But I don’t think that’s the way it works. In Genesis 1, we are told that “God created them male and female” (Gen. 1:27). I think, rather, that there is one spectrum of masculinity and another spectrum of femininity. I also think that God is the one who chooses where on the spectrum babies are born, according to His design and for His pleasure and glory.  

The Femininity Spectrum

I suggest that little girls come into the world at some point on a femininity spectrum. On one end  is the girly-girl who comes out of the womb asking for the little flower headband to wear in the hospital nursery, and she keeps on running toward all things frilly and girly. She loves pink, loves to wear dresses and twirl around to “be pretty,” wants to wear nail polish and makeup just like Mommy (or like the other ladies she sees on TV). On the other end of the spectrum is the tomboy jockette, who can’t stand wearing dresses, wants to climb trees and play tackle football with the boys. These girls are often gifted athletically and many are natural leaders. When these little girls’ type of femininity is supported and encouraged, they are comfortable in their skin just the way God made them. Wise parents also make sure they wear dresses and “act like a lady” when it’s time to do that—with the promise that when they get home, they can put their jeans or sweats back on and be comfortable.

Sometimes, though, girly-girl types can morph into “mean girls” and inform the jockettes that they’re not good enough as girls, and they can receive the message that it’s not okay to be the kind of girl they are, the kind of girl God chose for them to be because He has a good plan for them. They can grow up not feeling secure in their femininity.

The Masculinity Spectrum

On one end is the rough-and-tumble boy—athletic, noisy, enjoys getting dirty. He bonds to other boys shoulder-to-shoulder, engaging in common activities or tasks, and tends to find face-to-face interaction intimidating. On the other end of the spectrum from the athletic boy is the aesthetic boy: emotionally sensitive, gifted in art, music, theater, dance, or some other kind of art. He usually avoids athletics, getting dirty, and anything having to do with balls coming at him. He bonds eyeball-to-eyeball, connecting to others’ hearts through their eyes the way most girls do, but they are not girls. And then, of course, there is everything in between.

In our culture, we tend to define masculinity in terms of the rough-and-tumble type ONLY, but I don’t think God agrees, since He delights to create so many sensitive boys and those who are a balance between the two. In fact, even as toddlers, they can reveal themselves by responding to another child’s upset by dropping what they’re doing and going over to pat them, soothe them, and attempt to comfort them: “You okay? It’s okay.” This sensitivity is a beautiful thing to behold, but it can get a little boy in trouble. Since we define masculinity so narrowly, it is easy to marginalize and shame the masculinity of the sensitive boy. Especially if his daddy is a rough-and-tumble sort of man who is flummoxed by a little boy who would rather Daddy read to him than throw a football.

If the sensitive boy is affirmed in his type of masculinity, he can grow up to be a phenomenal husband, father, pastor, counselor, artist, musician, dancer—the list goes on. When tomboy girls are loved and accepted by their parents just the way they are, they can grow up to be great moms and teachers and scout leaders, especially of boys.  If, however, they are ostracized for the way they are designed, they can burn with the indignity of being “other than.”

It’s these sensitive, gifted boys that are most at risk for embracing a gay identity, especially when others wound them by slapping false labels on them, even from a young age: gay, queer, homo, fag. Tomboy girls, especially the ones gifted athletically, are quickly tagged with ugly false labels as well: lez, queer, gay. They can easily think, “What do others know that I don’t know? If they say it, it must be true.”

But it’s not true. They’re not gay, they’re gifted. If only they could be helped to see themselves that way!

Our goal as adults should be to help all children grow into gender-secure, emotionally healthy kids who are glad God made them a boy or a girl, and are comfortable in their own skins just the way God made them. I think it starts with affirming the different kinds of masculinity and femininity. It’s ALL good!
 

Comments

Sharifa Stevens's picture

Sue, this made me immediately think back to your post about the viral blog that made the rounds after Halloween.

It's disheartening to think about how narrow our spectrums are, and the havoc that narrow spectrums can cause on self-esteem. There's just not enough room. Thank you for making room by explaining the spectrum of masculinity and femininity.

I wonder if you have seen this video that addresses "manhood" and the boxes men force each other and themselves into. I would love to know your thoughts on it (I'm partially spelling it out because some of the subject matter is very grown up): http://www dot cnn dot com/2010/OPINION/12/26/porter.men.violence/index.html

Sue, I appreciate your post and thank you for standing up for the gentle boys.  As a Christian and adoptive parent of two amazing boys--one of whom is not particularly rough and tumble--it's refreshing to hear someone in the church acknowledge that there is more than one way to be a boy.  

However, I am disturbed by what you seem to be saying in your statement "They’re not gay, they’re gifted. If only they could be helped to see themselves that way!" Are you implying that as parents we can ensure our children are attracted to the opposite sex by affirming them as children?

The reason this is interesting to me is because typically as parents of non-stereotypical boys we are told that we've been too affirming, too accepting.  We are frequently told that it's our acceptance of our boys' gentle and creative sides that makes them feel they can continue these more feminine traits into adulthood, and that these feminine traits make them gay.  So, if the goal is to affirm our sons and let them express themselves, how long do we do this?  Do we accept his love of musicals but not his first crushes?

In other words, it seems we can't win.  No matter what we do, if our child turns out to be gay, it's out fault as parents.  It seems to me then, that our only choice, is to continue loving and accepting them as they grow into adults.

My 8-year old son doesn't yet know the meaning of the word gay, but he does have a crush on a boy.  He's aware that his male schoolmates' playground crushes are focused on girls, so he keeps his crushes secret.

Sure, he's experienced some odd glances for sporting figure skates instead of ones for hockey, but he's certainly never been called any of the derogatory terms you mention in your blog.  His gentle, cheerful spirit has been nurtured from day one.  He understands that there is more than one way to be a boy, and, more importantly, he understands that everyone doesn't understand this.  (His father is also a gifted musician, artistic and gentle.)  

My goal as a parent is to make sure my son is sure of himself and who he is--knowing that he is who God created him to be.  I don't know for sure that he will identify as gay or transgendered later in life.  All I can is offer him the unconditional love and space to figure it out who he is.  But I do know, however he identifies, it will be him telling me--not the other way around.  It won't be the result of bullying or parenting.  

In the words of another Christian parent, "I couldn't make my son gay--I can't even get my kids to brush their teeth." 

Thanks again for your post.  I hope you will consider this response in love.  I am trying to make the world a safer, more loving place for my son--particularly in the church.

Sue Bohlin's picture

Hi Sophia,

You wrote,

>>Are you implying that as parents we can ensure our children are attracted to the opposite sex by affirming them as children?

As a parent of two grown sons, let me say we can't ensure ANYTHING. But we can do everything in our power to raise emotionally healthy children who successfully navigate the whitewater of adolescence and emerge as gender-secure adults. Everything in OUR power doesn't cover all the bases, though. Here's the bottom line: children need to have a secure attachment to their same-sex parent (and this is especially true of boys) in order to feel they belong in the world of their gender, and then as they get into elementary school they need to learn to attach to their same-sex peers. They need to have buddies. I have seen a number of people who had wonderful, warm relationships with their parents but shut down their emotional growth when they didn't connect with other boys or other girls. They stayed stuck at their emotional age because the next stage of child development didn't happen.

>> We are frequently told that it's our acceptance of our boys' gentle and creative sides that makes them feel they can continue these more feminine traits into adulthood, and that these feminine traits make them gay.

Let me encourage you: whoever is telling you that doesn't know what they're talking about. The sensitive, creative, artistic boy is demonstrating the imago dei just as much as the rough and tumble boy. Our God is has a very big range to Him! When a boy's gentleness and creativity is respected, it won't make him gay. It will encourage him to grow in the way God made him. (Can you imagine a more gentle and creative boy than the Lord Jesus? He grew into very secure manhood!)  For 37 years I've been married to one of those sensitive, gentle boys who grew into an amazing man, and one of our sons is an emotionally sensitive artist who makes a great husband to his wife.

>>My 8-year old son doesn't yet know the meaning of the word gay, but he does have a crush on a boy.  He's aware that his male schoolmates' playground crushes are focused on girls, so he keeps his crushes secret.

8-year-olds are still learning to connect with and attach to other boys. This is an essential part of growing up. Having a boy-crush at this age is completely normal. I would be suspicious of the reported girl-crushes at this age. The other boys may be blowing smoke in what they're saying because they think it's expected of them.

>>He understands that there is more than one way to be a boy, and, more importantly, he understands that everyone doesn't understand this.  (His father is also a gifted musician, artistic and gentle.) 

Way to go, Mom and Dad! You can't ask for anything more than this from a sensitive boy. Let me just say--a dad's attention, affection and affirmation mean the world to a child, especially boys. Since your husband can affirm your son's emotional make-up as another sensitive soul, you guys are miles ahead of the game.

>>In the words of another Christian parent, "I couldn't make my son gay--I can't even get my kids to brush their teeth."

Great line! While it's true that nobody can make a son gay, unfortunately, unhealthy parent-child relationships can set children up to believe all sorts of lies about themselves and eventually assume a gay identity.

>>I am trying to make the world a safer, more loving place for my son--particularly in the church.

Good for you! The best thing you can do is pump up your son's "emotional immune system" by helping him celebrate and delight in the way God made him: sensitive, artistic, creative, gifted to bless others with his temperament and talents. So, even if people who don't understand him judge him, he can look in the mirror and say, "God made me special because He loves me and He has a plan for me."

I'm glad you wrote. In closing, let me suggest a couple of articles for you:

"God's Artists: Real Men?" by Ricky Chelette, https://livehope.org/resource/parenting-the-sensitive-soul/

My answer to email about the reasons for same-sex attracted feelings, with lots of information about children and child development: http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.6757221/k.C515/Why_Doesnt_God_Answers_Prayers_to_Take_Away_Gay_Feelings.htm

Blessings to you,

Sue

Lael Arrington's picture

Sue, thanks for writing this from a life of integrity loving and ministering to those in a homosexual life style. Jack included your idea of 2 spectrums for maleness and femaleness in his sermon this morning. He will have a link to this blog posted below the link to his sermon at our website: http://www.fellowshipbiblecolumbia.org/resources/recent-sermons/
What you do matters, my friend.

Sue Bohlin's picture

Thank you, dear friend, for this very encouraging feedback! I'm so glad I was able to get that information to you in time for his sermon! I'm looking forward to listening to it.

Blessing you today!

What I am understanding from this is that; the children (Tomboys and Aesthetic Boy) that dont realize that they are gifted, instantly find attraction in the same sex? How are those two related...? And what about the Althletic boys or Girly girls that dont realize their gifts, what happens to them?

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