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Newsweek cover story illustrates gender confusion in American culture

May 16, 2007

Newsweek’s disturbing cover story in its May 21 edition will most certainly muddy the waters further in the ongoing debate over gender identity in America.

Newsweek’s disturbing cover story in its May 21 edition will most certainly muddy the waters further in the ongoing debate over gender identity in America.

A report titled "The Mystery of Gender" seeks to answer the question: "Aside from the obvious, what make us male or female?" The multi-author piece proceeds to downplay biological differences between men and women and, through the use of numerous real-life illustrations, sound bites and statistics from feminist sociologists and allusions to science, touts with a positive spin the increasing number of people who identify themselves as "transgendered" and its significance for gender identity.

The overwhelmingly positive, almost sermonic tone of the article debunks self-evident truths about human sexuality and proclaims a single theme: the traditional idea that gender identity is a biological absolute is out, gender self-determination is in. The sub-headline which adorns the cover is thesis-like: "The new visibility of transgender America is shedding light on the ancient riddle of identity."

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the article is its subtle insistence on the normalcy of "transgender children;" that is, children whose parents have allowed them to change gender identities because the tykes were dissatisfied with their original biological makeup.

The article illustrates its point with the infinitely troubling narrative of six-year-old kindergartner now named "Jona" Rose: "Rose, from northern California, seems like a girl in nearly every way—she wears dresses, loves pink and purple, and bestowed female names on all her stuffed animals. But "Jona," who was born "Jonah," also has a penis."

The writers tell how "Jona" convinced "her" mom to buy "her" a dress at age four and was "so excited she nearly hyperventilated." "Jona" apparently began wearing dresses to preschool every day at age four and "no one seemed to mind," the article points out.

The narrative continues, "They chose a private kindergarten where Jona wouldn’t have to hide the fact that he was born a boy, but could comfortably dress like a girl and even use the girls’ bathroom," the article says, quoting the child’s father, Joel, as saying "She’s been pretty adamant from the get-go: ‘I’m a girl.’"

In a bewildering exercise of pronoun calisthenics, writers chronicle the story of another child who was born female, but insisted—at 30 months of age—that she be called "him." A therapist later "confirmed the (parents’) instincts to let [their child] guide them" in determining whether the youngster would continue to exist as a male or female. The child’s mother, Colleen Vicente, said, "The most important this is to realize who your child is."

Predictably, Newsweek gives short shrift to traditional views of gender and marginalizes biblical arguments for gender identity by, in one brief paragraph, telling of the struggle of a Florida man who underwent a sex-change operation to become a woman and was opposed by a local Baptist minister. The authors briefly quote the minister—second hand—as saying "Jesus would want him terminated."

Authors offset what they obviously see as a narrow-minded Baptist minister with a longer vignette about a 56-year-old Baptist pastor who underwent a "gender reassignment" procedure in 2003. His wife of 33 years has remained with him and the minister—formerly John, now "Julie"—said, "Actively expressing the feminine in me has helped me grow closer to God."

Accompanying the article is a timeline marking a "history of transgender awareness," and the piece itself asserts that "transgendered reality" is really nothing new.

View Newsweek article.

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