Sissies and Tomboys: Gender “Nonconformity” and Homosexuality

What do we know about the formation of gender identity, in both its biological and social-psychological components? Given the interplay between these two levels of explanation, what model of gender is most theoretically and empirically adequate? What do we know about the connection between childhood gender nonconformity and the development of a homosexual orientation? Does psychiatry still work with a conservative, overly-simplified model of gender? If clinicians allowed more leeway in their conceptions of gender, then would not their focus be on the child ‘s accompanying anxiety or depression rather than on his or her purported gender “nonconformity?” Is it possible that psychiatry is diagnosing creative, sensitive children with a disorder when their crossgendered characters may be a manifestation of their temperament? Might psychiatry in general be ignorant of the distinct experiences of homosexual girlhood or boyhood in some of these cases? These were some of the issues posed Friday, February 10, when CLAGS presented a one-day conference, “Sissies and Tomboys: Gender ‘Nonconformity’ and Homosexuality,” at the The Graduate Center, CUNY.* The first panel of the conference, “Models of Gender: Is Anythi ng Essential About Gender?,” featured Elias Farajaje-Jones of the Howard Divinity School; Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Medical Science at Brown University; Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors: A History of Resistance (forthcoming); and Chris Straayer, of Cinema Studies at New York University. The panel was moderated by Suzanne Kessler, Professor of Psychology, Purchase College, SUNY. The second panel, “Sissies and Tomboys,” began with a presentation entitled “What Do I Do on Monday?” by Susan Coates and Sabrina Wolfe of The Childhood Gender Identity Center at St. Luke’s! Roosevelt Hospital. Ken Corbett followed Coates and Wolfe with a paper entitled “Homosexual Boyhood: Notes on Girlyboys,” in which he spoke about the distinctive experience of homosexual boys in contrast to boys with “Gender Identity Disorder.” David Schwartz and Adrienne Harris, both psychoanalysts, served as respondents, and Justin Richardson, Director of the Columbia Center for Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Mental Health, was the moderator. *This issue of the newsletter went to press before the conference date. A full report of the event, with pictures, will be published in the Fall, 1995 issue of the CLAGS News.