Category Archives: Domesticity

Gender Identity: NPR, Zucker, and Ehrensaft

As I was driving on Wednesday, I heard this piece on All Things Considered. I heard most of it then, but I looked it up today after work. It’s part of a two-part series, and I listened to the second part today, as well.

The first part deals with small children (2, 3, 4) who strongly identify with the gender that is opposite of their genetic make-up. It details two boys, one on the east coast, one on the west — both who strongly identify with being a girl and with “girl-things.” The set of each boy’s parents goes to see a doctor about their son. The east coast set goes to Ken Zucker, and the west coast set goes to Diane Ehrensaft.

After listening to this piece, I began to read up a bit on Zucker and Ehrensaft. This article called “Drop the Barbie! If You Bend Gender Far Enough, Does It Break?” reveals how “behaviorist” and rigid Zucker is. As part of his therapy, he has parents take away all of the “girl” (in this case) toys. He has the parents disallow him to play with girls or pretend he is a girl character is his play. In the ATC piece, he brings up that if one were to bring a black child to a therapist, and that child says, “I’m white,” then should the therapist have that child live as white? or should the therapist try to make that child comfortable with whom s/he is? He says one would do the latter. He claims that both “confusions” stem from surrounding dysfunction.

This is not an apt comparison. At the very least, racial identity has more to do with cultural identity, since race is a social construct. Whereas gender is obviously cross-cultural, and it is biological to at least some degree. [Honestly, there is a lot more to this — I can intuit it. It is not an apt comparison, yet at the moment I do not have the words to fully articulate it. One one hand, a) a black child identifying as white — what does that even mean? White culture? The whole question of a black child claiming to be white relies on an idea that there is a limited way to be black and a limited way to be white. b) Does this happen? If anyone has thoughts on this — I’d love to hear them!]

In terms of Zucker’s idea that gender “switching” in small children is caused by dysfunction (thus nurture), he, of course, seeks to find the cause (from the article “Drop the Barbie!”):

Zucker and his colleagues try to uncover the psychodynamics in the family that might be at the root of the child’s gender distress. Girls may develop GID, he believes, because they’ve formed the perception that being a girl is weak or dangerous. One little girl he saw recently, for example, had witnessed her mother being assaulted by the mother’s boyfriend. A boy, on the other hand, in a family where the mother is suffering from depression and is emotionally unavailable, might make an effort to act like a girl to get closer to her.

He goes on to say:

Parents are encouraged to set limits on the cross-gender behavior of the child. “We urge them to say, ‘Let’s figure out what other things you can do besides play with that doll,'” Zucker says. “In some situations, we have to work hard with parents’ own issues about gender. Could be a mother who’s had difficulty with the men in her life and has a lot of mixed feelings toward men. That gets translated to the boy, and her fear that he’ll grow up to be like those men causes him to reject being a boy.”

Hmmmm. This smacks to me of the ol’ “Let’s blame it on the mother…” “Gay son — he was mothered too much!” Here, mom is the cause of both disorders. I can’t say I see sound logic here, either.

When Ehrensaft was interviewed, she said something that I thought was pretty profound (from ATC):

Ehrensaft, however, does not use that label. She describes children like Bradley and Jonah as transgender. And, unlike Zucker, she does not think parents should try to modify their child’s behavior. In fact, when Pam and Joel came to see her, she discouraged them from putting Jonah into any kind of therapy at all. Pam says because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn’t think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah.

“She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah’s not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don’t put a kid in therapy until they need it,” Pam says.

If it’s not a dysfunction, then don’t make it one. Human nature is such an odd beast, and I wonder if I’d take that approach if it were some behavior that seemed truly wrong from my perspective. I guess the difference is that in order for something to be truly wrong, I would think it would need a component of causing harm — causing harm to the self or to others. Part of what is difficult for me is that this feels like an automatic response for me, to use a phrase I don’t really like, a “no-brainer.” Yet, I am having a very difficult time articulating why. Anyway, check the series out and let me know what you think.


Another Shout-Out

I could not forget you, Banshee Buddy! I actually broke out the banshee today — had to shovel some snow. Hope your winter break is great.

I Been Busy

Okay, so I haven’t written in like fifty years. This is mainly because I have been having the busiest semester of my life. Many of you know I am teaching a class on Bharati Mukherjee. It is taking up most of my time. This has also been the semester of many holidays and family visits. Diwali was a few weeks ago, and we went to visit my in-laws. And most recently, I was in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. It was a birthday gift to my mother-in-law — and it was a lot of fun! On top of that, we just bought two rooms of furniture and we are selling some of our “old” furniture.

To top that off, I have helped run several events at school, including a parent book club — for which parents read The Middleman and Other Stories and a coffee house (open mic type thingy) sponsored by our school’s Amnesty International, which I advise. Sleep has been at a premium, and I have been facing a long string of colds. Though busy and stressful, everything has been good. I’m having a lot of fun, and teaching this class has made me a student again.

Baby Neilson!

We threw a fun shower for Amy.  Here are a few pictures. In this first one Amy and Scott are opening a baby aquarium. Many of baby Neilson’s gifts were marine life themed:


Asha had a full house:




Congrats to Amy and Scott!

Handyman Husband Blogging

Several weeks ago, Sujal and I decided to buy a new front door because our old one was broken. It’s all fine and dandy to go to Home Depot to buy a new door — but hanging it — now that’s something different. It was easy enough to take the old door down. We even discovered that we lived in what was once a pink house: 


Our first attempt to hang the new door ended in a lot of swearing and some help from our brawny neighbor, Pat. It was obvious that we needed to mend some gaps. We could hang the door straight, but that didn’t make the porch straight. Yes, we have a slightly slanty porch. So my husband got on it. He got some wood to adding some shimming, and he deftly added it.



After that, we had to start painting. We began painting in the afternoon, but it started to get dark as Sujal did the final coat:


We had the brilliant idea to use a living room lamp outside so Sujal could see better. Of course my neighbors (and a student) were walking their dog by us as we brought the lamp out.


I know it looks like Sujal is painting the door frame with plain yogurt, but he’s not. It’s just our fancy paint bucket.


Now it is done, and we have a beautiful front door. And the cats can once again, enjoy sitting out on the screened in front porch. Here is Tillie enjoying the fresh air:


Great Condos for Sale in Amherst, MA

I just wanted to put up a link to Lara’s website, because she is selling two completely refinished condos at The Brook in Amherst, MA. She and her partner Joe did the work, including completely gutting the two bedroom, and the renovations they did on the one-bedroom was just short of gutting it. They have excellent style and taste, so if you are in the market, they are great.

One is a two bedroom, 1.5 bath that has two floors and a basement. It overlooks woods, so it is pretty private.

The other is a one bedroom, one bath with cool wood floors. Just check it out.

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Deck Update

Ahhhhhh! I have finally finished scrubbing, sanding, and staining the damn deck! It made need a few touch-ups after it is dry, but I think it looks pretty good. I can’t say it looks amazing or brand new, but I can say it looks a hell of a lot better than it did before — hence the term ‘home improvement.’

Anyone looking for advice on refinishing a deck? Here it is:

a. Hire someone.
b. If you cannot hire someone, then gather together a crew of friends and relatives, perhaps people who owe you something. Slate a day for scrubbing. Slate a day for sanding. And slate a day for staining. Order pizzas and provide soda and beer. It’s a huge job.
c. If you decide to do it yourself, first make an appointment with a shrink.

As I finished up the last few boards today, it gave me a greater appreciation for those with the home improvement aptitude. Actually, it is a talent, a gift. I worship people who are good at home improvement. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends who fall into that talented category — really, they are a couple.

They have completely renovated three condos in Amherst, MA at a condo community called The Brook, which they now have for sale (well, they sold one –so two left). Here is the MLS website and you can plug in her MLS numbers. The MLS number for the one bedroom condo is: 70605492
The number for the two bedroom condo is: 70605598
The totally gutted the two bedroom — including tearing down all the drywall to insulate better. The have all sorts of recessed lighting, speakers, etc. It’s a very funky style, and they have paid such close attention to detail. Check out the photos if you can, because they are really nicely redone.

Update: I found Lara’s website for her condos.


I began this summer with lots of home improvement high hopes.  I tend to be “domestically challenged,” and I use that term in a broad sense.  I’m not the best cook, I’m not the best cleaner or organizer (for myself), and I’m not even close to the best at home improvement projects.  Alas, I wanted to feel like I accomplished something this summer.   I had this vague plan that I would systematically attack each room in the house, cleaning, painting, decorating.  Somehow “systematic” and I just do not bond well.  I have yet to paint inside the house, though I have high hopes that this is still to come.  Sujal, having started his new job, does not have much time to help me with the summer home improvement activities.  

Some of my smaller accomplishments — I bought curtains for our dining room and hung them on existing curtain rods (although even as I write this, I have ideas about how I can improve their “look,” as the curtain rods are a bit tacky).  My mother-in-law gave us curtains for our bedroom for our shower, over a year ago.  I decided to put them up.  In the midst of trying, I recalled that I had tried this once before, but the rods we had in our bedroom were too big for the opening of the curtains, so I needed to buy curtain rods.  

This led to a stressful trip to Ikea, where I fretted over the right rods and the right curtains for other windows in the house.  I only bought the rods.When I came home to install them, Sujal told me I’d need to use the drill, and that scared me a little, so Sujal said he’d do it.  Knowing he’d have little time, I tackled the project myself, only to find partway through that I really needed Sujal to show me how to use the drill.  He ended up doing the drilling, because I was having a hard time.  I ironed the curtains and scarves to go over the curtains — about 2 hours of ironing (and anyone who knows me knows I do not iron).  When I put them up, they looked pretty good — though I didn’t feel 100% accomplishment because Sujal helped me with the drilling.

Backtracking a bit, At the beginning of the summer I decided to refinish the back deck.  It seemed like a do-able job, like something I could do while Sujal was at work, and I’d feel like I really accomplished something.   I honestly though I could knock it off in about two or three afternoons.  I looked up online how to go about refinishing it, and I got myself set up to scrub the deck.  I did not take “before” pictures, but there was a lot of green on the deck to say the least.  As I begain handscrubbing the railings and all the individual slats under the railings, I realized I could not finish scrubbing in one day.

It became a daily ritual for me to get up early, go out and scrub for about 2-3 hours (it’s exhausting grinding a brush into a deck), maybe scrub for abother 2-3 hours in the evening, and repeat the process the next day.  Two weeks into it, I was only about halfway done.  That’s when a friend of Sujal’s lent us his pressure washer.  Sujal helped me with some of the pressure washing — about six to seven hours in itself.  Then I sanded the deck, and finally, I’ve been waiting for a few dry days to stain it.  Frankly, I was getting ready to throw in the towel — “To heck with the deck!” I muttered in my sleep. Then my friend Lara came to hang out with me for an afternoon, and she offered to help me.  When I began this project, I really thought the deck would untimately look amazing — brand new even.  I thought I’d stain it with with a rich transparent cedar tone, and it would be beautiful.  Alas, the previous owners put a grey deck stain on it before.  Even though everyone assured me that it could not be grey deck stain, that it was mere weathering of the wood, after completely scrubbing and pressure washing it, it was obviously grey deck stain.  So as Lara and I got ready to stain with my fancy stain, we did a test spot, and of course you could still see some of the grey spots.  Ugh.

Luckily, Lara rolls well prepared.  She just happened to have 1/2 a can of opaque brown deck stain in her car, so we used that.  Again, it was great to have help — in fact, I am eternally ecsatic and grateful for her help, but again, I was not accomplishing this on my own.  Once again, I thought I could knock off staining the deck in an afternoon.  We finished the 1/2 can yesterday, and I had to go get more today.  I am presently taking a break from the hot sun, and I’d say I’m almost 1/2 done with the staining.

As I was staining, I began thinking about my feeling like I haven’t accomplished much with this deck.  I began thinking about how in my regular life (teaching), it does not feel like accomplishing much on the day to day basis.  Of course getting through a class is an accomplishment, but not much of one.  Because I do not see accomplishment readily in my day to day work, I was looking for this satisfactuon of being able to see it in refinishing the deck.  It seemed tangible.  Then I started to think about how teaching a kid to write and to write better is actually a pretty amazing accomplishment, even if it does not feel like it on the day to day basis.

I thought of this student I tutored this year, and I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing much with this student.  And then the parents told the advisor the the kid’s grades were improving.  The English teacher told me the writing was improving, particularly the kid’s organization.

I remembered teaching in Ware, when a science colleague told me she could always tell the kids I taught because their writing was so tight and organized.  She said she’d been really impressed.

And then on rare occasions, I’ll get a letter or an email from a student telling me that they really learned to write better because of my class.  It may sound like I am trying to toot my own horn, but I’m not.  I’m just trying to work through this idea of accomplishment.  I started to think that if I’d taken a summer job refinishing decks that I probably would not feel like I accomplished something after each of the decks I’d have finished, because it’s a job.  Teaching is not a “job,” per se, but it isn’t as tangible.  So this summer I felt like I needed to see some tangible accomplishments. I started thinking more about how there are times people remember a teacher who really taught them something — or even more specifically, teachers who taught me something.  I’ve only written one letter (perhaps two) to a teacher who was very inspiring.  I wish I’d have written more, especially while they were still teaching and therefore relatively easy to find.  A letter is tangible evidence of accomplishment.  So reader, let me suggest that you write a letter to a teacher (or two) who inspired you, someone who really taught you something, especially something you value.  Not that teachers are in it for the constant praise (if they are, they are in the wrong profession — just listen to Mitt Romney for two minutes), but they are human.  We all seek some affirmations from time to time.

I’ve also received nice notes or comments from parents.  They are also wonderful to receive, although it is different than words coming from the student him or herself.  Anyway, this was just my thought process as I was staining the deck today.  I’m about to go out and stain some more — and frankly, yes, I am feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I can’t wait until we christen the deck with a BBQ!

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