Michele Yulo thinks parents should have their kids watch Dancing With the Stars precisely because of the complex gender questions that might come up around Chaz Bono.
My sixth grade teacher was one of my all-time favorites. He was super cool and everyone thought so—the girls all had secret crushes on him and the boys all wanted to be him. I can still picture him at the front of the class reading aloud The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald. I’m sure I’m not the only of his students who would say that he had an enormous impact on my education—especially during those adolescent years when kids tend to really dislike school in general.
When I started college, I visited my old elementary school and was happy to find out he was still there. I was curious to know if he would remember me, but also excited just to see him. Of course, I wondered if he looked like I’d remembered. He had been really handsome (at least in my eleven year old mind). We spoke for a few minutes—I told him that I was thinking of going into teaching and that he had been an inspiration to me and my choice of career. When I walked away, I was fairly certain he was gay. Of course, I didn’t give an iota that he was—but what was interesting to me was that I never had a clue that he might have been gay when I was eleven. Honestly, I didn’t know what gay was back then and, ultimately, what I came away with in sixth grade was a voracious love for learning. I never once questioned my identity or sexuality because I was exposed to a gay person on a daily basis.
Remember the Teletubby fiasco back in the 90s in which Jerry Falwell claimed that one of the Teletubbies, specifically Tinky Winky, was gay because he had a boy’s voice, carried a red purse, was purple and had a triangle-shaped antenna? All these descriptors, Falwell and others of his ilk said, were evidence that Tinky Winky was gay and part of an agenda to brainwash kids into either being gay or unwittingly learning about homosexuality. I must remind you that the Teletubby show was for toddlers aged three and under. If I recall, my daughter might have seen it once or twice when she was not quite two. Eventually, Tinky Winky was declared to be straight. But it never really mattered.
Well, I’m here to say that Chaz Bono is the new Teletubby. He’s become a character in the outspoken and morally superior antics of some who think that his appearance on Dancing With The Stars is unnatural going as far to say that they would boycott the show if he were on. The group One Million Moms “accuse[d] ABC and DWTS of ‘helping create visibility for the LGBT community.’ And that this ‘promotes a destructive lifestyle.’” Creating visibility?! How dare they!
Fortunately, the show did not succumb to those threats and Chaz Bono remains. However, at least one person continues to condemn Chaz Bono’s appearance and thus seems destined to repeat Teletubby history — Dr. Keith Ablow. Dr. Ablow appears to have a proper C.V., has been seen on Oprah, and is a frequent contributor to Fox News which is where I found his Op Ed, “Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono On ‘Dancing With the Stars.” In his piece, he says:
The last thing vulnerable children and adolescents need, as they wrestle with the normal process of establishing their identities, is to watch a captive crowd in a studio audience applaud on cue for someone whose search for an identity culminated with the removal of her breasts, the injection of steroids and, perhaps one day soon, the fashioning of a make-shift phallus to replace her vagina.
Now, from what I’ve gathered, DWTS did not provide an introduction about Chaz’ surgeries or make an announcement on the show itself that a transgendered person would be one of the performers. How does Dr. Ablow think children will find out? Because certainly anyone who does not know Chaz Bono’s history would invariably see a man—not a woman who became a man. Regarding his assertion, I seriously doubt that upon hearing applause (“on cue”) for Chaz, children would turn to their parents and say, “Mommy/Daddy, why would the audience clap for a woman who removed her breasts, injected steroids, and has a makeshift phallus replacing her vagina?” Nor do I think that, after seeing the show, an adolescent would suddenly decide to change their sex or even become confused about it. The obvious thing has to be said here—being exposed to someone who is gay (as I’m sure I was when I was an adolescent), or transgendered, cannot, as if with the wave of a magic wand, cause such a transformation. Another remark he makes is in the form of an analogy:
”The truth is that Chaz Bono should be empathized with and treated with dignity. Any contribution he makes to the world should be applauded as it would be for any other person. But Chaz Bono should not be applauded for asserting she is a man (and goes about trying to look like one) any more than a woman who believes she will be happier without arms, has them removed and then c ontinues to assert that she was right all along—her self-concept was that of a double amputee. Now, all is well.”
I have to admit, I had to read this a couple of times to try and make sense of it, but here goes. According to Ablow, it would be okay if children and adults alike applauded Chaz for contributing to the dancing on the show, but not okay to be applauded if he stood up on the show and pronounced, “I am a man!” It would be the same as if a self-proclaimed double amputee (huh?) were on the show. We could applaud their ability to dance (Come on! How could you not applaud?), but not if they got up and pronounced, “I’m proud that I chose to be a double amputee!” because inevitably that person made the wrong choice about how great her life would be without arms? (And what about people who modify their bodies through plastic surgery? Isn’t that the same concept?) Clearly, he is setting up a false dichotomy here–a no-win situation for anyone because, according to Dr. Ablow, we cannot allow a person who has altered their bodies to truly be themselves publicly and would make them less deserving of dignity and our empathy.
With all that is happening on the bullying front, with kids committing suicide after being made to feel like outsiders and being misunderstood, whether because they are gay or don’t quite fit in, this could have been an opportunity to actually improve the discourse and become a teachable moment. Instead, the promotion of harmful stereotypes that cause and perpetuate intolerance that lead to bullying continues.
In the end, do we shield our children, as Ablow suggests, from the likes of the Chaz Bonos or do we teach them to embrace and understand differences? Does anyone really believe having a conversation about Chaz Bono and then seeing him on DWTS would actually change the sexual nature of a child? Ablow concludes that “[i]f you care about your kids, don’t let them watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’ starring Chaz Bono.” I conclude that if you care about your kids, let them watch DWTS starring Chaz Bono. And don’t avoid or ignore the subject if it comes up (which it probably will not). As parents, you should engage your children in a thoughtful and intelligent discussion about such complex topics. Give your children some credit (after all, you raised them), as well as your ability to explain the “birds and the bees.” Or, who knows, they may just be entertained and realize years later that they had seen a man who used to be a woman dance. I may not be a psychologist, but somehow I think my way is better. Dance on, Chaz Bono!
This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/Reboot, Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Salon, HyperVocal, Ms. Magazine, YourTango, Psycholog