I grew up playing with monster trucks, action figures and construction sets — you know, “boyish” toys. Although my playthings may seem harmless, there is a specific genderization of toys that creates a certain stigma — one inherently followed by children and something we have learned to categorize as a norm.
There is an unfair fluidity of gender when it comes to children’s toys. Why is it that it is more acceptable for any child to play with boyish toys, but only girls can dress up, have dolls and play house? Boys tend to avoid playing with “girly” toys because of their fear of being called gay by their peers. This fear of social isolation and this negative stigma surrounding being called gay do not come to existence on their own but are rather a result of the boy’s home environment, specifically his father’s influence on him.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to sexuality: One dictates that sexuality is socially constructed; the second says people are born with a certain sexual preference. The role and definition of sexuality in our society has been ever-changing throughout history, depending on sociological demographics, including class, gender and religion. The toys we play with and the environment in which we grow up are more than a reflection of our culture: They are regulators of sexual social interest and normativity, and one of the strongest inhibitors of sexual flexibility is the emphasis of gender binary in the home.
In a study done by sociologists Nicholas Solebello and Sinikka Elliott, it was found that some fathers promote masculinity to their sons by encouraging them to engage in traditional heterosexual behavior, such as dating girls and looking at magazines for straight men. Having these fathers take an active role in promoting such activities shows how they might believe they have control over their sons’ sexuality. These fathers believe sexuality is sociologically fabricated, open to influence and not biological in nature.
In my opinion, sexual orientation is not influenced by a person’s social environment. While there isn’t a traceable gene that characterizes sexuality in children, I do believe people are born with a specific sexual orientation. Therefore, sexuality is not socially influenced, but it is socially defined. Homosexuals are now able to identify themselves using the word gay because our society has come to understand and now identifies the differences in sexual preference by recognizing the existence of sexualities independent of heterosexuality. Homosexuality has existed throughout human history, but certain relationships that are now seen as gay may not have previously existed in the same context that they do today.
An argument against this theory is that if sexuality is truly biological, there should be some evidence of its existence — aka, open declarations from homosexual people — throughout history. I think the only reason homosexuality is not necessarily prevalent throughout history is that its definition and qualifications have changed over time. While it has been argued that prominent historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Michelangelo were gay, there is no definitive proof that they engaged in any sort of homosexual activity because, while certain actions may seem blatantly homosexual to Americans today, physical intimacy may not have been seen as queer for our ancestors or for other cultures. For example, the intimate friendships of women in the Victorian era who would touch one another playfully were seen as close bonds, rather than erotic relationships.
Toys should not be treated as a defining identity factor. Just because a boy wishes to play with dolls does not mean he is gay; his toy choice has no reflection on his sexuality. When I raise my child — son or daughter — I won’t attempt to perpetuate any gender or sexuality stereotypes. I’ll buy him or her puzzle blocks and slip in some construction tools and toy houses. I will purchase more of whichever he or she seems to enjoy better. As for clothes, I won’t stick to blue or pink but rather throw in some green overalls and yellow shirts. Heteronormativity has no place in our society.
A person’s sexuality is based on biology, but it is our society’s understanding of sexuality that allows that person to identify as queer. Either way, a homosexual person’s role in society has no stronger or lesser political power than any heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or demisexual person.
If my son wants to play with Barbies, I am going to buy him Barbie, Ken, their Malibu dream house and their pink Mini Cooper. I will support whatever social sexuality my children decide to exhibit. Who am I to determine the sexuality of our children?
Brett Tanonaka writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact him at [email protected].