The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Introduction: Outside The Box
Represent staff

Have stereotypes around being a boy, or being a girl, ever held you back? When we asked ourselves these questions at Represent’s summer workshop, the girls had more to say at first. They’d been called too emotional or into drama. They were told they couldn’t be good at sports or science and that they should do all the cooking and cleaning. And for reasons as random as the shape of their bodies or who they hung out with, they’d been called thots, sluts, and hos.

But as we read and discussed more, the boys realized that gender stereotypes hurt them too. They were afraid of being called “soft” or “p-ssy” if they expressed their feelings or chose not to fight. They felt self-conscious about doing arts like writing or acting. They’d been pressured to belittle girls in front of other boys.

We all felt limited, even imprisoned, by gender stereotypes.

In this issue, several writers explore how traditional gender roles play into sexual harassment, sexual assault, and abusive and unequal relationships. Other teens write about ways that they’re defining what it means to be a man, or a woman, for themselves. For instance, the author of “No Violence, No Silence” wants to be a man by expressing his feelings, instead of using his fists like his dad does. The writer of ““Love Makes a Man”” learns early that men leave their kids behind, until his Uncle Ruben sticks around and shows that taking care of your loved ones is a better model of manhood. And Selena Garcia writes about being a tomboy who loves playing basketball and rocking a cute purple crop top.

image by YC-Art Dept

The idea that there are only two gender roles—macho masculine or girly feminine—is also known as the gender binary. We learned in the workshop that the gender spectrum is a better way to describe how people really are. Instead of two completely separate boxes, there’s an infinite range of gender identities (what gender we feel inside, regardless of our bodies) and gender expressions (ways we dress or otherwise display our genders).

For example, transgender people have gender identities that don’t match the bodies they were born with. Transgender writers Chris Lee and the author of “The Long Journey Home” describe a lifelong discomfort with their bodies and with “gender-appropriate” clothes and behaviors. Both report that learning the term and concept of “transgender” was a revelation. “The Long Journey” author writes, “Suddenly it all made sense to me. My sense of self had a legitimate term.”

It is estimated that there are between 700,000 and one million transgender people in the U.S. Transgender teens get kicked out of their families more often, and they are murdered and commit suicide at much higher rates than their peers. The more they tell their stories, the less other gender-nonconforming kids will have to suffer alone.

And as we learned this summer, even those of us who are not transgender often feel constrained by the gender box. What feels “natural” or best to us may be associated with a different gender. We may all have more in common than we realize: Nobody likes being told what they are, and nobody is just one thing.

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