As a student of sociology, I often find myself blaming society. Society imposes the norms that oppress us, Society forces people in the closet, Society causes gendered misery and misogyny, homophobia, racism, and transphobia.

I usually think this until I have conversations with students of psychology that tend to yell at me for pulling the blame away from the individual.

I do think, however, that I have a genuine amount of sympathy for some people that make unfair decisions because they fear the norm. Take the example of a father that has an effeminate young boy. He acknowledges at some level that the boy may grow up to be gay, but he knows how direly difficult it will be for that boy to grow up through school and become a confident adult in the face of truly oppressive norms at school for effeminate boys. The kid will get made fun of all throughout school, he could get beat up, and god forbid, he could risk aggravated assault and murder. Why wouldn’t the parent then worry about his boy’s effeminate gender performance? Why wouldn’t he try to get him to play sports, dress more manly, and not play with his barbies in public?

On the flip side, of course, are a whole variety of problems. Forcing your son to play sports, dress more manly, and hide interest in barbies subjects the boy to a host of complicated feelings and socialized behaviors, including self-hatred and closeting of favored gendered behaviors and sexuality. Further, why not be harsher on the dad? How dare he not love his son unconditionally and let his son act and behave the way he feels most comfortable? How dare he not be the good father that calls in at school and calls parents when he hears his son is treated poorly because he’s effeminate and/or possibly gay, instead of training his son to be more “normal”? How dare he reinforce and reproduce the same norms that often end up creating individuals that (out of fear) stand by and watch while publicly oppressed others endure the pain and suffering that in another situation they themselves could be suffering?

I think it’s really complicated. I think that we, as people who understand many of these issues and were brave enough to take strides to fight against our own oppressive forces, need to take focus our anger at different levels. I think that in most cases we need to take our anger out most at the mainstream level. We need to rally and fight against political moves and TV shows and newspaper articles that are oppressive.

But on the individual level, we need to balance sympathy with action. We need to be able to talk with the dad to show that we understand how hard it is for children to survive adolescence relatively unscathed, but also tell him that sometimes scratches are important to maintain individuality and a concrete sense of self. We also need to tell him, and convince him, that if their kids are LGBTQ that they will still be beautiful and amazing and make them proud in ways they can’t even imagine right now.

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