The Advocate Magazine 2023 Number 46, Issue 3 | Page 16


( wo ) Man Up : Implications of Binary Gender-Role Socialization for Gender-Diverse Folx

In my years of providing genderaffirming clinical mental health counseling , I have become more curious about the socialization of my clients in relation to learning about acceptable and appropriate gender roles , especially those clients who waited until later in life to affirm their authentic transgender or nonbinary selves . This curiosity is beneficial in understanding the roots of gender minority stress and how clients navigate the social world around them .
Individuals make meaning of gender-role expectations through schemas and socialization within their culture . Using Bronfenbrenner ’ s Ecological Systems Theory ( see diagram on page 9 ), we can see that gender-role expectations can impact a gender-diverse individual on each level :
Michelle Crossley , PhD , LMHC , NCC , ACS , delivered an address at AMHCA ’ s 2023 Annual Conference on the implications of binary-gender diversity socialization for gender-diverse people
Dr . Crossley , an associate professor at Rhode Island College in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program , also has a private practice where she provides individual , couples , and family counseling to gender-diverse clients . Dr . Crossley serves as president of the Rhode Island Mental Health Counselors Association ( RIMHCA ) and has been invited by several community agencies to provide continuing education on the importance of providing gender-affirming counseling .
• Microsystem : The most immediate relationships and environments can assert gender-role expectations that are harmful to the individual . Example : Family members who encourage children to “ act like a lady ” or “ be a tough guy ” and punish them when they act outside of these expectations .
• Mesosystem : The interaction between the people and environments can create harmful and dangerous situations when information is shared across people and / or environments . Example : Laws that require teachers / school counselors to disclose when a student identifies as genderdiverse at school , even when the student notes that home is not a safe space to share that identity .
• Exosystem : Structures that do not directly interact with an individual continue to impact the microsystems . Example : School board decisions to limit the style of dress at formal events ( i . e ., limitations for boys who would want to wear a dress or girls who would want to wear a suit ), or state government restrictions on access to genderaffirming medical care for minors .
• Macrosystem : The established culture and society in which an individual is growing up will impact their development . Example : Girls raised in families and communities that embrace patriarchal values will be expected to assume subservient feminine roles .
• Chronosystem : The predicted and unpredicted transitions and shifts over one ’ s lifetime . Example : The growing number of hate crimes and bills that restrict access to gender-affirming care affects gender-minority stress for gender-diverse folx .
While it might seem that the problems with socializing individuals into a strict gender binary is new , it was introduced by Sandra Bem , PhD , in the late 1970s . Bem ’ s Gender Schema Theory emerged from social learning and cognitive-developmental theories and focused on the phenomenon of sex stereotyping within one ’ s culture .
If you were to simply observe a young child in play , you would notice that they tend to follow sex-appropriate preferences that are defined and reinforced by their culture — from both the micro- and macrosystems . Children organize this information , including their self-development , according to the cultural definitions of maleness and femaleness using gender-schematic processing .
This schema is a lens that one uses to create a network of associations that help organize and guide the perceptions of what is known versus what is seen . When children are socialized using rigidity in maleness and femaleness that aligns with the sex assigned at birth , they can be stifled in developing an authentic gender identity . Based on her research , Bem advocated that guardians socialize children using gender-aschematic practices , or androgyny , to allow for authentic identities to emerge .
Bem was a pioneer in believing that parenting toward androgyny would allow individuals to live a more authentic life . The number of guardians who
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8 The Advocate Magazine 2023 , Issue # 32 American Mental Health Counselors Association ( AMHCA ) www . amhca . org