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Vocapedia > Gender identity > Men




Steve Greenberg


The Ventura County Star


Editorial cartoon.


12 October 2010





























































































































Why is UFC so popular with men? | Modern Masculinity    G    16 January 2020





Why is UFC so popular with men? | Modern Masculinity        Video        G        16 January 2020


Iman Amrani is back with series two of Modern Masculinity.

Episode one takes her to UFC 244 in New York.


From open workouts with Darren Till

to Jorge Masvidal vs Nate Diaz

on fight night at Madison Square Gardens,

Iman speaks to fighters and fans

about why MMA is growing in popularity

with so many men, including president Donald Trump.
















gender        UK













gender        USA










gender rules        USA










gender equality        UK










gender equality        USA










gender pay gap        USA






gender identity        USA










gender identity online        USA






gender identity disorder        USA






The Masculine Mystique


Custom Suits to Make

Transgender and Female Clients Feel Handsome        USA        2013






sexual orientation        USA






gender stereotypes        UK








gender stereotypes        USA






gender stereotypes at work        UK






gender divide        UK






gender-free toys        USA






cross-dressing > "femmeselves"        USA






sexist        UK






pink collar        USA















man, men        UK


















man, men        USA

















































manosphere        UK










manhood        UK










manhood        USA












manliness        USA


























maculinity        UK







video - G - 16 January 2020















masculinity        USA


















manspreading        USA












manspreaders        USA










patriarchy        UK










men > be discriminated against        UK










Seventies Man        UK










macho > macho political system        UK










males        UK










male chauvinism        UK










alpha male        UK










machismo        UK










machismo        UK











young, urban males

obsessed with personal grooming and health        UK










manosphere        UK










"mama's boy"        USA


















sexism > female playwrights        UK










misogyny        UK



























misogynist        UK










misogynistic        UK












woman-hater        UK










wolf-whistle        UK












Corpus of news articles


Vocapedia > Gender identity > Men



More Men Enter Fields

Dominated by Women


May 20, 2012

The New York Times




HOUSTON — Wearing brick-red scrubs and chatting in Spanish, Miguel Alquicira settled a tiny girl into an adult-size dental chair and soothed her through a set of X-rays. Then he ushered the dentist, a woman, into the room and stayed on to serve as interpreter.

A male dental assistant, Mr. Alquicira is in the minority. But he is also part of a distinctive, if little noticed, shift in workplace gender patterns. Over the last decade, men have begun flocking to fields long the province of women.

Mr. Alquicira, 21, graduated from high school in a desolate job market, one in which the traditional opportunities, like construction and manufacturing, for young men without a college degree had dried up. After career counselors told him that medical fields were growing, he borrowed money for an eight-month training course. Since then, he has had no trouble finding jobs that pay $12 or $13 an hour.

He gave little thought to the fact that more than 90 percent of dental assistants and hygienists are women. But then, young men like Mr. Alquicira have come of age in a world of inverted expectations, where women far outpace men in earning degrees and tend to hold jobs that have turned out to be, by and large, more stable, more difficult to outsource, and more likely to grow.

“The way I look at it,” Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, “is that anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.”

After years of economic pain, Americans remain an optimistic lot, though they define the American dream not in terms of mansions and luxury cars but as something more basic — a home, a college degree, financial security and enough left over for a few extras like dining out, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States’ Economic Mobility Project. That financial security usually requires a steady full-time job with benefits, something that has become harder to find, particularly for men and for those without a college degree. While women continue to make inroads into prestigious, high-wage professions dominated by men, more men are reaching for the dream in female-dominated occupations that their fathers might never have considered.

The trend began well before the crash, and appears to be driven by a variety of factors, including financial concerns, quality-of-life issues and a gradual erosion of gender stereotypes. An analysis of census data by The New York Times shows that from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade.

That does not mean that men are displacing women — those same occupations accounted for almost two-thirds of women’s job growth. But in Texas, for example, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in that time period, rising from just over 9 percent of nurses to almost 12 percent. Men make up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, but almost 28 percent of first-year teachers.

The shift includes low-wage jobs as well. Nationally, two-thirds more men were bank tellers, almost twice as many were receptionists and two-thirds more were waiting tables in 2010 than a decade earlier.

Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to 1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.

Now, though, the trend has spread among men of nearly all races and ages, more than a third of whom have a college degree. In fact, the shift is most pronounced among young, white, college-educated men like Charles Reed, a sixth-grade math teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston.

Mr. Reed, 25, intended to go to law school after a two-year stint with Teach for America, but he fell in love with the job. Though he says the recession had little to do with his career choice, he believes the tough times that have limited the prospects for new law school graduates have also helped make his father, a lawyer, more accepting.

Still, Mr. Reed said of his father, “In his mind, I’m just biding time until I decide to jump into a better profession.”

To the extent that the shift to “women’s work” has been accelerated by recession, the change may reverse when the economy recovers. “Are boys today saying, ‘I want to grow up and be a nurse?’ ” asked Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “Or are they saying, ‘I want a job that’s stable and recession proof?’ ”

In interviews, however, about two dozen men played down the economic considerations, saying that the stigma associated with choosing such jobs had faded, and that the jobs were appealing not just because they offered stable employment, but because they were more satisfying.

“I.T. is just killing viruses and clearing paper jams all day,” said Scott Kearney, 43, who tried information technology and other fields before becoming a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

Daniel Wilden, a 26-year-old Army veteran and nursing student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he had gained respect for nursing when he saw a female medic use a Leatherman tool to save the life of his comrade. “She was a beast,” he said admiringly.

More than a few men said their new jobs had turned out to be far harder than they imagined.

But these men can expect success. Men earn more than women even in female-dominated jobs. And white men in particular who enter those fields easily move up to supervisory positions, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator — as opposed to the glass ceiling that women encounter in male-dominated professions, said Adia Harvey Wingfield, a sociologist at Georgia State University. More men in an occupation can also raise wages for everyone, though as yet men’s share of these jobs has not grown enough to have an overall effect on pay.

“Simply because higher-educated men are entering these jobs does not mean that it will result in equality in our workplaces,” said Ms. Gatta of Wider Opportunities for Women.

Still, economists have long tried to figure out how to encourage more integration in the work force. Now, it seems to be happening of its own accord.

“I hated my job every single day of my life,” said John Cook, 55, who got a modest inheritance that allowed him to leave the company where he earned $150,000 a year as a database consultant and enter nursing school.

His starting salary will be about a third what he once earned, but database consulting does not typically earn hugs like the one Mr. Cook recently received from a girl after he took care of her premature baby sister. “It’s like, people get paid for doing this kind of stuff?” Mr. Cook said, choking up as he recounted the episode.

Several men cited the same reasons for seeking out pink-collar work that have drawn women to such careers: less stress and more time at home. At John G. Osborne Elementary, Adrian Ortiz, 42, joked that he was one of the few Mexicans who made more in his native country, where he was a hard-working lawyer, than he did in the United States as a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom. “Now,” he said, “my priorities are family, 100 percent.”

Betsey Stevenson, a labor economist at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said she was not surprised that changing gender roles at home, where studies show men are shouldering more of the domestic burden and spending more time parenting, are now showing up in career choices.

“We tend to study these patterns of what’s going on in the family and what’s going on in the workplace as separate, but they’re very much intertwined,” she said. “So as attitudes in the family change, attitudes toward the workplace have changed.”

In a classroom at Houston Community College, Dexter Rodriguez, 35, said his job in tech support had not been threatened by the tough economy. Nonetheless, he said, his family downsized the house, traded the new cars for used ones and began to live off savings, all so Mr. Rodriguez could train for a career he regarded as more exciting.

“I put myself into the recession,” he said, “because I wanted to go to nursing school.”

More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women,






Should the World of Toys

Be Gender-Free?


December 29, 2011

The New York Times



Berkeley, Calif.

NOW that the wrapping paper and the infernal clamshell packaging have been relegated to the curb and the paying off of holiday bills has begun, the toy industry is gearing up — for Christmas 2012. And its early offerings have ignited a new debate over nature, nurture, toys and sex.

Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).

That free-to-be gesture was offset by Lego, whose Friends collection, aimed at girls, will hit stores this month with the goal of becoming a holiday must-have by the fall. Set in fictive Heartlake City (and supported by a $40 million marketing campaign), the line features new, pastel-colored, blocks that allow a budding Kardashian, among other things, to build herself a cafe or a beauty salon. Its tasty-sounding “ladyfig” characters are also taller and curvier than the typical Legoland denizen.

So who has it right? Should gender be systematically expunged from playthings? Or is Lego merely being realistic, earnestly meeting girls halfway in an attempt to stoke their interest in engineering?

Among the “10 characteristics for Lego” described in 1963 by a son of the founder was that it was “for girls and for boys,” as Bloomberg Businessweek reported. But the new Friends collection, Lego says, was based on months of anthropological research revealing that — gasp! — the sexes play differently.

While as toddlers they interact similarly with the company’s Duplo blocks, by preschool girls prefer playthings that are pretty, exude “harmony” and allow them to tell a story. They may enjoy building, but they favor role play. So it’s bye-bye Bionicles, hello princesses. In order to be gender-fair, today’s executives insist, they have to be gender-specific.

As any developmental psychologist will tell you, those observations are, to a degree, correct. Toy choice among young children is the Big Kahuna of sex differences, one of the largest across the life span. It transcends not only culture but species: in two separate studies of primates, in 2002 and 2008, researchers found that males gravitated toward stereotypically masculine toys (like cars and balls) while females went ape for dolls. Both sexes, incidentally, appreciated stuffed animals and books.

Human boys and girls not only tend to play differently from one another — with girls typically clustering in pairs or trios, chatting together more than boys and playing more cooperatively — but, when given a choice, usually prefer hanging with their own kind.

Score one for Lego, right? Not so fast. Preschoolers may be the self-appointed chiefs of the gender police, eager to enforce and embrace the most rigid views. Yet, according Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that’s also the age when their brains are most malleable, most open to influence on the abilities and roles that traditionally go with their sex.

Every experience, every interaction, every activity — when they laugh, cry, learn, play — strengthens some neural circuits at the expense of others, and the younger the child the greater the effect. Consider: boys from more egalitarian homes are more nurturing toward babies. Meanwhile, in a study of more than 5,000 3-year-olds, girls with older brothers had stronger spatial skills than both girls and boys with older sisters.

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

Traditionally, toys were intended to communicate parental values and expectations, to train children for their future adult roles. Today’s boys and girls will eventually be one another’s professional peers, employers, employees, romantic partners, co-parents. How can they develop skills for such collaborations from toys that increasingly emphasize, reinforce, or even create, gender differences? What do girls learn about who they should be from Lego kits with beauty parlors or the flood of “girl friendly” science kits that run the gamut from “beauty spa lab” to “perfume factory”?

The rebellion against such gender apartheid may have begun. Consider the latest cute-kid video to go viral on YouTube: “Riley on Marketing” shows a little girl in front of a wall of pink packaging, asking, “Why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different-color stuff?” It has been viewed more than 2.4 million times.

Perhaps, then, Hamleys is on to something, though it will doubtless meet with resistance — even rejection — from both its pint-size customers and multinational vendors. As for me, I’m trying to track down a poster of a 1981 ad for a Lego “universal” building set to give to my daughter. In it, a freckle-faced girl with copper-colored braids, baggy jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers proudly holds out a jumbly, multi-hued Lego creation. Beneath it, a tag line reads, “What it is is beautiful.”


Peggy Orenstein is the author, most recently,

of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

Dispatches From the Front Lines

of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.”

Should the World of Toys Be Gender-Free?,
NYT, 29.12.2011,






Are We Not Man Enough?


December 17, 2011
The New York Times


ON Friday, a federal judge in San Francisco sentenced Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s career home run leader, to two years of probation and community service. Mr. Bonds’s success in baseball, and his conviction for obstruction of justice earlier this year, both stemmed in part from his use of a testosterone-based balm famously known as “the cream.”

But in the more than eight years since Mr. Bonds was first accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, something strange has happened: millions of men have started to use “the cream,” too — or one of any number of similar treatments to make themselves look and feel younger and stronger.

According to reliable estimates, total testosterone prescriptions have skyrocketed, from 1.75 million in 2002 to 4.5 million last year. The demand, said John Hoberman, author of “Testosterone Dreams,” isn’t limited to would-be pro athletes; it extends to “police officers, bouncers, biker gangs and the ‘anti-aging’ industry that provides legal prescriptions to millions of older males.”

Too often, the Steroid Era in baseball turned into a game of sanctimony and whodunit, distracting from the more important question of why we, as a culture, want our athletes comic-book pumped up and artificially enhanced. And it helped us avoid recognizing that, from Hollywood actors on human growth hormone, to weekend athletes, to men in their 40s or 50s or beyond who just want to feel less blah because of “low T,” we are on the cusp of an Age of Juicing.

It’s as if we’ve all stepped into Jose Canseco’s world. The retired baseball player opened his 2005 book “Juiced,” a No. 1 New York Times best seller (which I ghost wrote), by predicting that the use of steroids and other enhancements by athletes was a precursor to widespread use among the general population.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that intelligent, informed use of steroids, combined with human growth hormone, will one day be so accepted that everybody will be doing it,” Mr. Canseco said. “We will be able to look good and have strong, fit bodies well into our sixties and beyond. It’s called evolution, and there’s no stopping it.”

What’s behind this explosion? A change in medical opinion, for one thing. New research has cast doubt on claims that low-level testosterone supplements pose a health risk for men, specifically regarding links between prostate cancer and high testosterone levels. That opened the door for doctors to start recommending treatments to a wider range of patients, just as it loosened the floodgates for drug companies to start pushing them.

“Over the last five years the market for prescriptions for testosterone products has been one of the biggest growth areas for the pharmaceutical industry,” Abraham Morgentaler, an associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School and author of “Testosterone for Life,” said in a phone interview.

And, to be fair, there is a medical justification for many of the prescriptions. “There are still millions of men in this country who have symptoms and signs of testosterone deficiency who are not diagnosed or treated and should be,” Dr. Morgentaler said.

But the medical establishment wouldn’t have had much luck had demand not spiked as well. In a way, the juicing scandals in sports served as a perverse advertisement for the drugs’ effectiveness. We saw the home-run totals, we saw the muscles and we saw the guys who looked as if they were having a whale of a good time with their Adonis bodies — until they pushed it too far and started looking ridiculous, like Barry Bonds, whom one insider dubbed “the Michelin Man” for his bulging neck.

The truth is that a big part of steroids’ attraction was always mental. Jason Giambi, an admitted juicer who now plays for the Colorado Rockies, once told me the key to being a big-league hitter was to “feel sexy” up at home plate, and he meant it far more literally than I understood at the time. Extra testosterone does a lot for the body, but it also gives an athlete a feeling of being unstoppable, of having an edge, of feeling, well, sexy. It’s this feeling that many men at home watching “low T” ads during the recent baseball playoffs want for themselves.

It’s not just sports. People laughed when Sylvester Stallone was arrested in Australia in 2007 for trying to transport his personal stash of growth hormone, but its use is reportedly widespread among actors of a certain age looking to keep a youthful appearance.

Of course, millions of men (and women) remain, to say the least, wary of such treatments. Dr. Morgentaler, a self-described testosterone skeptic when he began researching it more than 20 years ago who later became an advocate, believes that the stigma was created unfairly. “People have the idea that stuff is illicit and illegal and dangerous,” he said. “But really the story in sports is that it’s against the rules of whatever game it is.”

He has a point. But I remember interviewing an East German athlete outside a Berlin courtroom in 1999. She was one of many plaintiffs in a case against Manfred Ewald, the former East German sports boss, who had given orders to give underage female athletes large doses of steroids without their knowledge, leading to a wide array of health problems, including giving birth to babies with club feet. “Steroids are a time bomb,” she said. “They are always dangerous. I would tell athletes around the world, ‘Keep yourself off steroids.’ ”

Then again, there’s a difference between sluggers shooting themselves up to reach testosterone levels 50 times above normal — consequences be damned — and low-level supplements that can improve quality of life with a minimum of health risk.

My real worry, though, is cultural. Just as group pressure led ballplayers to juice to keep up with the competition, might not the “low T” mind-set push men to juice up, even if a little slowing down with age might in fact be natural? Dr. Morgentaler told me about men he treated who no longer had that burning drive to run out and sell another client, all because of low testosterone.

But is that so bad? Do we really want to feed a business culture that increasingly elevates cocksure confidence and pushiness above all else, especially if it filters into everyday life?

In an era marked by the dangerous decisions of an entire industry full of gung-ho alpha males, shouldn’t we be wary of a culture that pushes us even further in that direction? Maybe some quiet time for reflection or awareness of the consequences of one’s actions might not be so bad — even if it means a little lower T.


Steve Kettmann is a former sportswriter

for The San Francisco Chronicle

and the author of “One Day at Fenway.”

    Are We Not Man Enough?, NYT, 17.12.2011,






Why Herman Cain Is Unfit to Lead


November 14, 2011

The New York Times




HARD as it has been to watch, harder still to live through, the spectacle of Herman Cain’s dodging sexual harassment allegations is a real step up for the status of women. Their sexual treatment is now part of the open political process, rather than a smarmy rumor to be passed among cognoscenti in the dark.

The fact that what several women have said might register in a presidential campaign — as if women’s sexual mistreatment at work might really matter — could be a potential game changer, even though the prevailing dynamics of sex, race and power that made sexual harassment so difficult to denounce in the first place are amply on display.

The firestorm surrounding Clarence Thomas’s defense to Anita F. Hill’s allegations in his confirmation hearing for the United States Supreme Court 20 years ago not only falsely set up race and gender as mutually exclusive and opposing forces, but also framed subsequent defenses to sexual harassment charges by Bill Clinton and others as mere personal peccadillo or political fodder. Predictably, in this latest remix, political intrigue and racial grandstanding, combined with vicious attacks on the accusers, have obscured the principal inquiry: the leadership potential of a presidential candidate.

Sexual harassment is not a Democratic or Republican issue, a liberal or conservative issue, or a black or white one, although those politics can shape it. As a consequence, it does not present a test of group loyalty but a chance to evaluate the reported behavior of someone who seeks to govern.

Sexual harassment is no private problem, readily compartmentalized, or a merely symbolic disqualifier. The allegations of sexual harassment go to the core of Mr. Cain’s qualifications to lead. Even lacking certainty about facts, what emerges as the Cain story unfolds is a picture of a man with significant deficits in terms of temperament, judgment and, potentially, veracity.

The seeming lack of concern about behavior that cost his former employer money, the sense of entitlement and belief in personal impunity, and the supposed failures to remember are disturbing enough; the accusations about his behavior toward women, abuse of authority, and inability to follow the law should be presumptively disqualifying in a person who seeks to unite and lead.

Polls indicate that some may be swayed by Mr. Cain’s denials, suggesting that the disclosures are a smear campaign, implying that these women fabricated their claims to derail his nomination. How inconvenient that the two initial claims surfaced over a decade before there was any political campaign to derail, and that Mr. Cain’s own employer apparently concluded that prudence dictated their settlement. This decision does not reflect how easily employers can be cornered. Sexual harassment law sets the bar high, even for the kind of quid pro quo demands reported by Sharon Bialek, the first of Mr. Cain’s accusers to go public.

That the National Restaurant Association decided to resolve the prior claims with compensation provides some picture of their nature: they were most likely not a one-time event (unless extremely severe), they were most likely not made by someone whose credibility could be easily demolished, and they were most likely not behaviors that would offend only an overly sensitive woman (as Mr. Cain suggested when he said that he had merely compared the height of one of his accusers, Karen Kraushaar, to the height of his wife). The law requires a pervasive pattern of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature or acts of real severity as viewed by a reasonable person that create a hostile working environment, or demands to exchange sexual compliance for workplace benefits. Anything less would have provided the company little incentive to settle.

Mr. Cain’s assertion that the public attention to these reports is “a high tech lynching” threatens to insulate his behavior from the deeper assessment it demands. Like Mr. Thomas, whose elevation to the Supreme Court was facilitated by this statement, Mr. Cain rides a wave of suspicion and empathy. It would be wrong to dismiss the appeal of his defense, given the common dimension of public sexual humiliation and how deeply “lynching” resonates as a metaphor for black men in the real context of the sexual politics of racial hierarchy.

But neither Mr. Cain nor Mr. Thomas stands in the shoes of those crucified for offenses against the powerful. No one was, or will be, killed and hung from a tree for defending the prerogatives of the top 1 percent. And it is germane that women of all races face a specific kind of public sexual humiliation for reporting their abuse at the hands of those with power over their employment. This is a major reason that so many, rather than speaking out, have opted for silence, and in overwhelming numbers still do. Simply put, women do not want to be pornography.

Remarkably but not atypically, Ms. Bialek’s Republicanism and her personal respect for Mr. Cain remain intact. Women who come out of the shadows, like Ms. Bialek and Ms. Hill before her, are not silenced as others can be, including by confidentiality agreements routinely forced on them by companies as the price of relief. These women want and expect the harasser to man up: acknowledge what he did, genuinely apologize, and change, meaning never do it again. And the failure of a candidate to do so should not be considered a winning political strategy but instead regarded as presumptive evidence of unfitness to lead. That would be a step toward real progress. Our leaders owe us nothing less.


Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a professor of law

at Columbia University

and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Catharine A. MacKinnon is a professor of law

at the University of Michigan

and a visiting professor of law at Harvard University.

Why Herman Cain Is Unfit to Lead,






Supporting Boys or Girls

When the Line Isn’t Clear


December 2, 2006

The New York Times



OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 — Until recently, many children who did not conform to gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.

But as advocates gain ground for what they call gender-identity rights, evidenced most recently by New York City’s decision to let people alter the sex listed on their birth certificates, a major change is taking place among schools and families. Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.

Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.

“First we became sensitive to two mommies and two daddies,” said Reynaldo Almeida, the director of the Aurora School, a progressive private school in Oakland. “Now it’s kids who come to school who aren’t gender typical.”

The supportive attitudes are far easier to find in traditionally tolerant areas of the country like San Francisco than in other parts, but even in those places there is fierce debate over how best to handle the children.

Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”

As their children head into adolescence, some parents are choosing to block puberty medically to buy time for them to figure out who they are — raising a host of ethical questions.

While these children are still relatively rare, doctors say the number of referrals is rising across the nation. Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the rights of transgender students, and some schools are engaged in a steep learning curve to dismantle gender stereotypes.

At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”

For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair. Then came his mothers’ silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.

En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me. I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”

Thus began what the B.’s, who asked their full names not be used to protect their son’s privacy, call “the reluctant path,” a behind-closed-doors struggle to come to terms with a gender-variant child — a spirited 5-year-old boy who, at least for now, strongly identifies as a girl, requests to be called “she” and asks to wear pigtails and pink jumpers to school.

Ms. B., 41, a lawyer, accepted the way her son defined himself after she and her husband consulted with a psychologist and observed his newfound comfort with his choice. But she feels the precarious nature of the day-to-day reality. “It’s hard to convey the relentlessness of it, she said, “every social encounter, every time you go out to eat, every day feeling like a balance between your kid’s self-esteem and protecting him from the hostile outside world.”

The prospect of cross-dressing kindergartners has sparked a deep philosophical divide among professionals over how best to counsel families. Is it healthier for families to follow the child’s lead, or to spare children potential humiliation and isolation by steering them toward accepting their biological gender until they are older?

Both sides in the debate underscore their concern for the profound vulnerability of such youngsters, symbolized by occurrences like the murder in 2002 of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teenager born as Eddie, southeast of Oakland.

“Parents now are looking for advice on how to make life reasonable for their kids — whether to allow cross-dressing in public, and how to protect them from the savagery of other children,” said Dr. Herbert Schreier, a psychiatrist with Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.

Dr. Schreier is one of a growing number of professionals who have begun to think of gender variance as a naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a disorder. “These kids are becoming more aware of how it is to be themselves,” he said.

In past generations, so-called sissy boys and tomboy girls were made to conform, based on the belief that their behaviors were largely products of dysfunctional homes.

Among the revisionists is Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a child-adolescent psychiatrist at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington who started a national outreach group for parents of gender-variant children in 1998 that now has more than 200 participants. “We know that sexually marginalized children have a higher rate of depression and suicide attempts,” Dr. Menvielle said. “The goal is for the child to be well adjusted, healthy and have good self-esteem. What’s not important is molding their gender.”

The literature on adults who are transgender was hardly consoling to one parent, a 42-year-old software consultant in Massachusetts and the father of a gender-variant third grader. “You’re trudging through this tragic, horrible stuff and realizing not a single person was accepted and understood as a child,” he said. “You read it and think, O.K., best to avoid that. But as a parent you’re in this complete terra incognita.”

The biological underpinnings of gender identity, much like sexual orientation, remain something of a mystery, though many researchers suspect it is linked with hormone exposure in the developing fetus.

Studies suggest that most boys with gender variance early in childhood grow up to be gay, and about a quarter heterosexual, Dr. Menvielle said. Only a small fraction grow up to identify as transgender.

Girls with gender-variant behavior, who have been studied less, voice extreme unhappiness about being a girl and talk about wanting to have male anatomy. But research has thus far suggested that most wind up as heterosexual women.

Although many children role-play involving gender, Dr. Menvielle said, “the key question is how intense and persistent the behavior is,” especially if they show extreme distress.

Dr. Robin Dea, the director of regional mental health for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, said: “Our gender identity is something we feel in our soul. But it is also a continuum, and it evolves.”

Dr. Dea works with four or five children under the age of 15 who are essentially living as the opposite sex. “They are much happier, and their grades are up,” she said. “I’m waiting for the study that says supporting these children is negative.”

But Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and head of the gender-identity service at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, disagrees with the “free to be” approach with young children and cross-dressing in public. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Zucker has treated about 500 preadolescent gender-variant children. In his studies, 80 percent grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to 20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately change their sex.

Dr. Zucker tries to “help these kids be more content in their biological gender” until they are older and can determine their sexual identity — accomplished, he said, by encouraging same-sex friendships and activities like board games that move beyond strict gender roles.

Though she has not encountered such a situation, Jennifer Schwartz, assistant principal of Chatham Elementary School outside Springfield, Ill., said that allowing a child to express gender differences “would be very difficult to pull off” there.

Ms. Schwartz added: “I’m not sure it’s worth the damage it could cause the child, with all the prejudices and parents possibly protesting. I’m not sure a child that age is ready to make that kind of decision.”

The B.’s thought long and hard about what they had observed in their son. They have carefully choreographed his life, monitoring new playmates, selecting a compatible school, finding sympathetic parents in a babysitting co-op. Nevertheless, Ms. B. said, “there is still the stomach-clenching fear for your kid.”

It is indeed heartbreaking to hear a child say, as J. did recently, “It feels like a nightmare I’m a boy.”

The adjustment has been gradual for Mr. B., a 43-year-old public school administrator who is trying to stop calling J. “our little man.” He thinks of his son as a positive, resilient person, and his love and admiration show. “The truth is, is any parent going to choose this for their kid?” he said. “It’s who your kid is.”

Families are caught in the undertow of conflicting approaches. One suburban Chicago mother, who did not want to be identified, said in a telephone interview that she was drawing the line on dress and trying to provide “boy opportunities” for her 6-year-old son. “But we can’t make everything a power struggle,” she said. “It gets exhausting.”

She worries about him becoming a social outcast. “Why does your brother like girl things?” friends of her 10-year-old ask. The answer is always, “I don’t know.”

Nila Marrone, a retired linguistics professor at the University of Connecticut who consults with parents and schools, recalled an incident last year at a Bronx elementary school in which an 8-year-old boy perceived as effeminate was thrown into a large trash bin by a group of boys. The principal, she said, “suggested to the mother that she was to blame, for not having taught her son how to be tough enough.”

But the tide is turning.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, requires that students be addressed with “a name and pronoun that corresponds to the gender identity.” It also asks schools to provide a locker room or changing area that corresponds to a student’s chosen gender.

One of the most controversial issues concerns the use of “blockers,” hormones used to delay the onset of puberty in cases where it could be psychologically devastating (for instance, a girl who identifies as a boy might slice her wrists when she gets her period). Some doctors disapprove of blockers, arguing that only at puberty does an individual fully appreciate their gender identity.

Catherine Tuerk, a nurse-psychotherapist at the children’s hospital in Washington and the mother of a gender-variant child in the 1970s, says parents are still left to find their own way. She recalls how therapists urged her to steer her son into psychoanalysis and “hypermasculine activities” like karate. She said she and her husband became “gender cops.”

“It was always, ‘You’re not kicking the ball hard enough,’ ” she said.

Ms. Tuerk’s son, now 30, is gay and a father, and her own thinking has evolved since she was a young parent. “People are beginning to understand this seems to be something that happens,” she said. “But there was a whole lifetime of feeling we could never leave him alone.”

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