Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gender and finding your fit: It's for straight guys, too

This piece in the Tennessean came from the business section, and it's not an overtly political story. But at the same time, it really is:

Growing up in Middle Tennessee, Jeff Garner didn't feel like he fit in. His friends liked to hunt and fish. He liked to draw in his room.

They played musical instruments; he loved colors and fabrics. He wore his hair long and his dad called him "daddy's little girl." Garner dressed like Abercrombie & Fitch before Abercrombie & Fitch was hip, then discarded the tattered hats and T-shirts when they became mainstream, said his childhood friend and Christian music star Jaci Velasquez.

"He was a cool-looking surfer boy who looked like he should have been in Malibu," Velasquez said.

These days, Garner feels more like he fits in. The 30-year-old clothing designer from Nashville is making a name for himself here and abroad — including being one of the few chosen to walk the catwalk at London Fashion Week in February.

I suspect many readers would be tempted to wonder about issues of sexual orientation. Well, the piece goes on say that he was married but is now divorced. Sometimes the story is not sexual orientation; sometimes it's the way people express gender.

Given Family Action's recent hysteria about sexual orientation and gender identity in Nashville, it's important to remember that the way people simply ARE can easily be politicized. But Jeff Garner wasn't taught to express gender the way he does. No subversive group of gay teachers conspired to make him a fashion maven. He went to conservative Church of Christ schools K-college. This is a guy who likes "target shooting, handling all-terrain vehicles, and horseback riding." He's just another stereotypically masculine straight guy, except he's got long hair and he is a fashion designer. Whether it's genes, hormones, or whatever, Jeff Garner is who he is, and not the product of liberal social engineering or the "homosexual agenda."

Thankfully, he's found his fit, his peace with who he is and what he's doing. Doesn't that seem like an odd thing to say about a straight man, though? Wouldn't you expect that sentence to be about members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community? But the way gender is politicized doesn't just affect us. Too often, members of our community have been fired from jobs because of who we love or for being transgender. But sometimes people who are straight and comfortable with the gender into which they were born are also stigmatized because they aren't seen as masculine enough or feminine enough. So instead of focusing on whether people are a good friend, a good mate, a good employee, people around them fixate on the way they express gender and obscure the gifts they bring.

Think of it this way. What would we be missing if Jeff Garner had simply conformed and given up on fashion, and in this case, eco-friendly fashion? What gifts are we missing out on when we project our gender issues onto others and try to make them choose between what is coming from inside themselves and what we expect? In the end, the issues that are at the center of the GLBT rights movement are liberating for everyone, including straight guys!

-Chris Sanders

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