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Upon meeting an individual, the first distinction observed is whether the person is male or female. More often than not, this first impression is made from what the individual is wearing, such as a man's suit or a woman's dress. However, sexual gender cannot always be assumed by what one is wearing.
Based on history and culture, people have been conditioned to visually assess whether an individual appears as they are expected, meaning, a woman looks like a woman and a man looks like a man based on how he or she is dressed (Lyons pp). "Dress is the most visible manifestation of gender and status because it provides information about an individual's characteristics and expected role behaviors," thus, establishing an social path for communication (Lyons pp). This process of gender appropriate dress begins at birth, as parents dress their children in "gender-symbolic dress that encourages other to attribute masculine or feminine gender and to act on the basis of these attribution when interacting with the child" (Lyons pp). Society expects an individual's gender characteristics to form a logical, consistent package, thus, these gender-associated beliefs are inseparably linked (Lyons pp). The acceptable norms that govern gender-appropriate dress are so powerfully ingrained in societies, that clothing choices are actually rewarded or punished, which in turn contribute to the development of gender identity, therefore, dress becomes a means of measuring up to cultural standards associated with gender roles (Lyons pp). Moreover, "this socialization process also ensures that individuals learn attitudes that predispose them to respond positively or negatively toward the gender-appropriate dress of others" (Lyons pp).
In Western societies, females may dress in a masculine style as long as they "do not attempt to disguise their biological sex," however, men are forbidden to adopt feminine attire (Lyons pp). Because of this taboo, cross-dressers, a term usually applied to men who wear women's clothing, are subject to being labeled "sissy or crazy" for they violate the norms (Lyons pp). Their behaviors, but more importantly, their appearances "do not conform to the expected gender roles prescribed by society" (Lyons pp).
Studies of heterosexual and gay men's attitudes toward heterosexual and lesbian and gay cross-dressers revealed that gay men are much more accepting than heterosexual men of 'gender-discordant" behavior and deviations from the traditional gender roles (Lyons pp). Negative attitudes are usually due to a lack of familiarity with gays or bisexuals, however, higher education and human sexuality courses have shown to be effective in reducing negative attitudes toward sexual minorities (Lyons pp). Yet, affective change in attitudes occurs from direct experience, "behavioral attitude change indicates that somehow individuals have been convinced to behave in a way different from their prior behavior" (Lyons pp).
In Western culture, children are subjected to the gender system of expected male and female physical characteristics, behaviors and personality traits from the moment they are born (Lyons pp).
According to gender schema theory, this information is processed through the use of gender schemas, which are cognitive mechanisms that serve as a lens through which children observe and interpret what is considered "normal" male and female behavior. These gender schemas influence people's views of gender roles. In Western
societies individuals are more likely to condemn men's rather than women's gender role nonconformity due to the higher status of men in society (Lyons pp).
Masculinity and femininity are not opposite ends of a continuum, but rather represent two separate dimensions of a person's personality, thus, those who are described as possessing traits consistent with traditional cultural expectations associated with their biological sex are "gender-typed as masculine or feminine," while individuals who integrate equal aspects of both masculinity and femininity are considered to be androgynous (Lyons pp).
Regardless of their biological gender, androgynous people are more flexible in various situations and adopt appropriate role traits for particular situations, rather than subscribing to gender-appropriate expectations (Lyons pp). Moreover, they are more independent and not as likely to have their personal opinions swayed compared to those who identify with masculine or feminine identity (Lyons pp). "Feminine and androgynous persons of both sexes are considered to be more nurturing than are masculine persons,' and androgynous people are less likely to stereotype, judge or criticize the sexual behavior of others and have a more positive attitude toward sexuality than individuals who are gender-typed (Lyons pp).
In American culture, homosexuality and cross-dressing represent sexuality diversity and are not generally accepted by society, resulting in homophobia and discomfort of cross-dressers (Lance pp). As previous research has suggested, education of heterosexuals about homosexuality reveals a reduction of homophobia, and the same appears to be true concerning cross-dressing (Lance pp). According to a recent study involving thirty-seven university classes, with each class consisting of sixty students, a reduction of discomfort of cross-dressers among the students occurred following an interaction between the students and cross-dressers (Lance pp).
The subject of human sexuality found in textbooks and literature is most often characterized in terms of heterosexual norms and thus, raises the "accusation that they unfairly convey heterosexual views" (Lance pp). According to Larry Lance,
This cultural heterosexism orientation, which is founded on the discriminating assumption that people are or should be involved with people of the opposite gender, reinforces anti-gay attitudes by advocating a value system and stereotypes that seem to reinforce prejudice and discrimination. Prevalent homophobia attitudes, irrational fears and negative attitudes of gay people, present on college campuses could in part account for homosexuals finding their college life less emotionally supportive (Lance pp).
Although cross-dressing is recognized and accepted in many cultures, it is considered atypical in American society (Lance pp). Cross-dressing among women in American culture is relatively infrequence because the norms concerning what an individual may wear are far less restrictive for females than males (Lance pp). For example, seeing your mother in your father's pajamas would raise a mild reaction, if any, however, seeing your father in your mother's nightgown would most likely produce a strong reaction of concern (Lance pp). Lance explains that the difference in reaction "is the notion that most women who wear men's clothing do not seem to find the sexual satisfaction that men experience when cross-dressing" (Lance pp).
Since the majority of colleges have not undertaken serious efforts to reduce negative attitudes towards cross-dressing, diversity movements have been implemented to help decrease these attitudes and to help promote acceptance of individuals who adhere to different sexual orientations (Lance pp).
Universities and colleges that have achieved success in producing a supportive environments for homosexuals have found that "these students can feel comfortable and are less likely to perceive self-destructive attitudes and behaviors than gay students in social environments characterized as not supportive" (Lance pp). However, empirical research concerning the application of contact theory, interaction of homosexuals with heterosexuals, appears to be inconsistent (Lance pp). One study revealed that have gay speakers interact with students actually increased the homophobia of the heterosexual students, while other studies reported a decrease in homophobia attitudes (Lance pp).
Lance emphasizes that applying contact theory to reduce homophobia and the discomfort of cross-dressing in college environments is effective only under certain conditions (Lance pp). He stresses that there must be institutional support for the understanding of diversity and that social interaction must be for the purpose of mutual understanding and that this social interaction must be among people of equal status (Lance pp). Further research is suggested to determine if the reduction in discomfort with cross-dressing continues over time and whether social contact theory can be applied to reduce the discomfort of cross-dressing and reduce homophobia with other populations (Lance pp).
During the past century, behavioral scientists have attempted to determine the origins of homosexuality, focusing mainly on male homosexuality (McFalls pp). The results from studies have led to wide and varied contradiction of theories that run the "gamut from forces hidden deep in the recesses of the unconscious mind to visible configurations in the tissue of the brain itself" (McFalls pp). Early psychoanalytic theory held that male homosexuality is a "developmental abnormality stemming from pre-Oedipal and Oedipal conflicts' (McFalls pp). Recently this thinking has been supported by psychiatrists who believe that male homosexuality is rooted in unconscious conflicts of early childhood, such as the close bond mother-son relationship (McFalls pp). Other researchers have found that parents of homosexuals have emotional unhealthy or less than desirable marriages (McFalls pp). Other environmental theories include "parents who encourage their sons to cross-dress, parents who wanted a daughter instead of a son, and maternal pampering associated with a first-born child" (McFalls pp).
Traditional masculinity is generally defined by rejection of both homosexual and female behavior and prejudice against men who display feminine behavior is almost as common as prejudice against homosexuality in (Moulton pp).
The DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1995)
diagnostic criteria for gender identity disorder combines the three separate disorders defined by the ICD-10
(gender-identity disorder of childhood, dual-role transvestism, and transsexualism), and includes
(a) a strong and persistent cross-gender identification
(not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages…[continue]
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