It’s hard to think of anything changing more quickly in our society right now than our understanding of gender. There’s an explosion of young people identifying as gender nonconforming in some way or another, and others are coming out as transgender or nonbinary throughout their lives, from childhood to old age. But this sea change has brought with it an enormous amount of confusion and resistance. As of July, lawmakers in 21 states had introduced bills that focus on restricting gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, such as hormone blockers, and 29 states had introduced bills banning transgender youth from sports. But we also know that the degree of support a young person receives when coming out — or doesn’t — can have profound consequences for their mental health.
How should we process and understand this moment in gender? Kathryn Bond Stockton is a distinguished professor of English focusing on gender studies at the University of Utah and the author of the book “Gender(s).” She is incredibly skilled at explaining the fundamentals — and complexities — of what gender means and how people, including Stockton herself, have wrestled with it.
In this conversation, we discuss why and how Stockton has always felt out of place as a woman; how her entry to the evangelical church actually advanced her acceptance of her gender; why gender is “queer” for all of us, regardless of how we identify or how much we think about it; the ways that we perform our genders without even knowing we’re doing it; how the choices parents make concerning things as seemingly banal as clothing and toys shape children’s gender identities; how an expanded sense of gender can bring pain as well as pleasure and playfulness; what Stockton has learned from discussions about gender roles with Mormon students in her Utah classrooms; what we would gain — and possibly lose — if we were to loosen social categories of gender; why Pride celebrations can be so utopian; and much more.
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Kate Sinclair; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Sonia Herrero and Isaac Jones; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin, Kristina Samulewski and Rollin Hu.