It's cookie time
in America. Right now, little girls all across the country are standing in
front of supermarkets, waiting to derail your new years’ resolutions with a
single box of thin mints. These devilish little entrepreneurs you know as the
Girl Scouts, an organization founded in March 1912 by Juliette Gordon Lowe to
help American girls build courage, confidence, and character. Today’s
organization focuses on achieving those goals by fostering leadership skills,
environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange.
It all sounds like wholesome, nonpartisan fun, but evidently the scouts are not squeaky-clean enough to avoid public scrutiny. First were calls from the health-conscious to remove trans-fat content from the cookies, which the Girl Scouts obliged. That’s fine with me, although it's possible the cookies could have been laced with arsenic and I still wouldn’t have had the inner strength to say no to them. But as soon as the war over trans-fats moved out of the limelight, a much more peculiar war over transphobia moved in.
When I mention transphobia, I don’t mean that the Girl Scouts are guilty of it. On the contrary, the organization is receiving withering criticism from conservative organizations because they’ve become too inclusive, by publicly opening their doors to transgendered girls.
It all started when Bobby, a seven year old transgendered girl from Colorado, was refused membership to her local troop. After her mother complained, the Girl Scouts quickly responded, stating “Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them... If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”
This is astonishingly and refreshingly open minded of them. But their inclusiveness was met with hostility from groups like the “Honest Girl Scouts,” a conservative organization that ironically traffics misinformation about the Girl Scouts, and troops in Louisiana, who disbanded in protest. One 14 year old girl from California even attempted to instigate a nationwide cookie boycott which, of course, failed.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the existence of transgendered children is a difficult reality to grasp -- it’s not just garden variety bigots who may be frightened by it. There are many who simply aren’t familiar with the concept, and can’t fathom how a young child can express a gender identity that is different from their biology with so much conviction. Part of the problem is that some are misinformed about the linkages between gender (or how a person acts, interacts, and feels about themselves), and sexuality (how a person thinks romantically and sexually about others). The latter is irrelevant in this case. But even with that understanding, there are still lingering questions. How do we know it’s not just a phase? What is the difference between someone who is transgendered, versus someone who is just a “tomboy” or “effeminate?” These are all valid questions, and there is no way to be certain. In fact, some children who express a gender identity different from their biological sex end up identifying as homosexual later. But even with all these questions, the American Psychological Association has determined that forcing conformity, rather than allowing a child to be who she wishes to be, is ultimately more damaging than helpful.
I can’t relate to what it
must be like to feel alien to your own body. But I think I can understand what
it means to have to reconcile seemingly contradictory pieces of yourself. I
have always been Indian American, and I have always been a girl. But I have
also always been very opinionated and outspoken. And although the way I define
these traits has changed in many ways, I still believe them to be irrevocable
parts of myself. That meant that sometimes Indian adults whom I interacted
with, especially those who weren’t used to my personality, bristled when I
unapologetically expressed an opinion. Some even became very aggressive when
trying to put me in my place, because I was behaving contrary to what was
expected of me.
There is no definitive guidebook on what it means to be a girl or Indian American, and I’m not saying that being a Girl Scout was instrumental in helping me figure anything out. But when I was on the verge of adolescence, being part of the organization created a space for me to explore my own femininity, or really just personhood, in a way that provided a contrast to what my local ethnic community was telling me about my identity at the time. I just got a chance to interact with people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, all of whom also had families that were different from my own, and who may have been presented with similarly confusing ideas of how they should behave as sisters, daughters, and members of their communities.
It was just one of the many ways I could expand my universe, compare myself to people in a larger world, learn what pieces of myself I couldn’t change, what parts I wanted to keep, and what parts I could just let go. As this happens we’ll all inevitably collide with voices that demonize our contradictions, just as much as we find others who love us from them. For Bobby things seem to have worked out, and at least for now: a small contingent of intolerance drowned out by louder voices of acceptance.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!