from Gender Identity Disorders and Gay Activism in the Schools

Lesbian Professor Urges Deconstruction Of Gender

October 9, 2007 - Assistant Professor of Social Work, Barb Burdge, published an essay in July 2007 on the importance of social workers undermining the alleged "social construct" of gender.

In "Bending gender, ending gender: theoretical foundations for social work practice with the transgender community," (Social Work, July 1, 2007), Burdge asserts that social workers must reject "a dichotomous understanding of gender" in favor of "more accurate and affirming conceptualizations of gender."

Burdge says that current view of gender - the social construct of dividing humans in to male and female - is oppressive and should be rejected altogether. She believes social constructionism and queer theory provide methods for social workers to actively work to subvert "binary" concepts of male and female.

She believes that transgendered individuals - which includes a whole range of individuals - should be affirmed and considered to be gender variant, not suffering from gender identity disorders. These individuals include "bigenders, gender radicals, butch lesbians, cross-dressing married men, transvestites, intersex individuals, transsexuals, drag kings and queens, gender-blenders, queers, genderqueers, two spirits, or he-shes."

In fact, she argues for the removal of Gender Identity Disorder from the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The diagnosis of GID, says the author, "is a mechanism by which a major social institution (that is, medicine) blatantly enforces gender role conformity."

Labelling a person as male or female at birth, notes Burdge, "will have monumental implications for the course of a child's life" and is oppressive to humans.

Placing people into only two categories of gender (male or female), "spawns a hierarchy of gender categories in which the nonmale category is devalued. This misogyny fuels sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism."

"Queer theory provides a useful postmodern analysis framing the subversion and potential elimination of dichotomous gender constructs," said Burge.

The use of language is a primary target for social change, according to the author. She believes the use of language can help social workers and others to resist and subvert gender by refusing to conform. "... challenging oppressive gender structures and making gender rights a priority are critical steps toward universal freedom from punishment for gender nonconformity."

Burdge calls upon all social workers to actively work "challenge gender stereotyping unceasingly. Given the ubiquitous nature of gender stereotyping in our society, social workers need to be acutely perceptive and prepared to challenge gender stereotyping in any setting at any time. ... Whatever the forum, we must be capable of sophisticated conversations on gender if we hope to cure the social diseases of sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. In all our communications, we can intentionally inject the language of diversity and inclusivity into a gendered world. In doing so, we can begin changing the broader gender discourse, lessening its oppressive power."

About the Author from Manchester College Web Site:
Barb Burdge, MSW, LSW

Assistant Professor of Social Work, Social Work Program Director; 260.982.5365

I came to Manchester College in 2003. In addition to my role as Social Work Program Director, I teach senior level social work classes, including Social Work Practice I and Field Instruction. I have several years of direct social work practice experience in the fields of child welfare and mental health. My current areas of interest include diversity education for social justice, LGBT civil rights, and the implications of gender identity for social work practice. I am active with the National Association of Social Workers by working on the state GLBT Committee and Northeast Indiana (Region 3) Steering Committee. In addition, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Work.

Additional Reading: Gender Identity Disorders; Gay Activism In The Schools