Gender Expression and Homophobia: A Motor Development and Learning Perspective: Boys and Girls Should Not Be Expected to Move a Certain Way Based on Gender-Stereotyped Roles and Expressions

Article excerpt

It cannot be ignored that some individuals in our society, including among the children and teens we teach and coach, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). Being LGBT is just another difference among students (such as race, mental/physical challenges, gender, or religion) that teachers and coaches must acknowledge and address. Homosexuality and homophobia are rarely discussed in schools, yet they are relevant in motor-development and motor-learning settings because people hold gender-stereotyped beliefs about movement and about LGBT individuals. Few educational curricula address these topics directly, yet we expect physical education teachers and coaches to know how to deal with these differences among their students.

In this article, I will address homophobia and related stereotypes in physical education settings by identifying several misconceptions people hold about sex, gender, and homosexuality; describing stereotypical gender-specific expressions about movement; and providing suggestions for teachers to help children and parents develop movement freely.

Misconceptions

The distinction between the words "sex" and "gender" is often misunderstood. Sexologist John Money (1994) introduced the distinction between biological sex and gender roles in the mid 1950s. Biological sex refers to the physical and biological characteristics used to determine whether individuals are classified as male (e.g., testicles) or female (e.g., ovaries). Gender, however, refers to stereotypical roles and behaviors associated with each sex, reflected in a range of characteristics distinguishing between masculinity and femininity. More specifically, gender is a culturally determined construct that helps us to distinguish generally between men and women (Eitzen & Sage, 2003). For example, in the United States, men are expected to be tough and physically strong, whereas women are expected to be nurturing and subservient. In fact, these gender expectations are present in the population from early childhood (Garcia, 1994).

Most societies expect stereotypical gendered behaviors to match the individual's sex and thus their sexual orientation. We expect boys and girls to display the characteristics that are socially and culturally identified with their sex and to identify with that gender role as well.

Gender-role identification begins early in life, usually before the child is even born. Expectant parents often learn their child's sex before birth in order to plan and prepare a gender-specific environment that identifies with the child's sex. For example, parents buy clothes in colors that match socially stereotypical expectations for their child's sex, as well as toys such as balls and dolls that they hope will predict future behaviors.

Certainly, a wide variation of behaviors exists between both sexes and genders. Although only two traditionally defined sexes exist (i.e., this article lacks the space to discuss hermaphrodites), a spectrum of different orientations, behaviors, actions, and preferences occur in students that may not match the characteristics commonly attributed to their sex. The issue of sexual identity and sexual orientation cannot be dichotomously defined; a large range of freedom exists. Students who do not demonstrate the expected gender identification of their biological sex are often teased, bullied, and called names such as "sissy" or "fag."

Another misconception related to sex and gender roles is the idea that homosexuality is a choice, thus implying that homosexuals are somehow guilty for being gay or lesbian. Even though we have some understanding of the causal chains of sex and gender from the biological to the behavioral, research on this topic is far from completed (Abrams, 2007; Money, 1994). Research studies and new technology have demonstrated that gender identity begins in uterine life and is highly related to genetics and hormones during prenatal life. …