Dr. Greg Cason
Oregon mother Jessica Durtro fatally beat her 4-year-old son because she thought he was gay. She subjected little Zachary Dutro-Boggess to repeat attacks, with a final blow leaving his insides bleeding and his bowels torn, eventually killing him.
Jessica sent a Facebook message to her boyfriend, Brian Canady, saying she knew he was going to be gay. “He walks and talks like it. Ugh.” She told Canady he would have to “work on” Zachary “big time.” Work on him they both did. Canady admitted kicking the boy in the abdomen while wearing shoes, pleading guilty to manslaughter. But it was the testimony of Zachary’s 7-year-old sister that led to the mother’s murder conviction.
Many on the news asserted that no one could tell a 4-year-old child was gay. Sadly, they are expressing the same kind of ‘fake color blindness’ people claim they have when they assert they can’t see race. But most who are gay are not surprised this mother could tell. Many gay men weren’t the butchest of boys.
In 1986, UCLA Psychiatrist Richard Green, M.D., published a 15-year study of 44 extremely effeminate boys in the groundbreaking book The Sissy Boy Syndrome. These boys did many “gender-atypical” things that many gay men remember doing—donning dresses and heels, firing up an Easy-Bake Oven and playing with dolls and girls’ games (I always liked “Mystery Date”). These boys also had an aversion to sports and rough-and-tumble play. Many of them even said they were or wanted to be girls.
At first blush one might think this was a study group of male-to-female trans individuals. But it turns out that all of them grew up to eventually identify as gay or bisexual, with only one identifying as trans. This is in stark comparison to the “typically masculine” comparison group of boys where only one identified as bi and the rest grew up to identify as hetero.
This mirrored another study at the time—conducted by the Kinsey Institute with 1,500 adults—that concluded “gender nonconformity” in childhood was the most important predictor of homosexuality in adulthood. Paul Vitagliano lovingly demonstrates this with both photos and stories in his 2012 book Born This Way.
In fairness, this does not apply to all gay men. A full one-third of gay men recall typically masculine boyhoods. As a result they probably got to escape much of the bullying and rejection experienced by their gender-bending queer peers.
Escaping bullying and abuse is not something most effeminate boys get to do. In fact, they all but have targets written on their backs—targets sometimes used by members of their own families.
No child can control the family they’re born into, and sometimes a child is born into a family that is not only ignorant about sexuality and gender issues but is also homophobic and even violent.
If you are born with gender-conforming ways and can hide your sexuality, you may get to avoid a lot of pain. But if your voice, mannerisms and play preferences don’t conform to the norm, you are likely to get punished for it—leaving emotional scars that continue long after the physical scars have faded.
Unfortunately, little Zachary’s physical scars never got to heal. His mother saw his gender-nonconformity and thought it meant he was gay. If the old studies are correct, she was probably correct. But that’s not what killed him. It was her homophobia combined with a violent nature that led her to take fatal action.
Jessica Durtro’s homophobia did not develop in a vacuum. Our society has come a long way, but there are still churches, popular political figures and close friends and family members who express negative opinions about those who are effeminate and those who are gay.
Unfortunately, negative opinions regarding effeminacy don’t strictly come from outside the LGBT community. It is all too common to hear gay men reacting negatively to effeminate behavior of members of their own tribe. Online ads often say “no femmes,” and every year gays can be heard decrying drag queens in gay Pride parades while forgetting who stood up at Stonewall (drag queens, effeminate men and trans individuals).
Though our community continues to make great strides in equality and justice, we still have some work to do in accepting others within our own ranks that don’t quite fit into some masculine ideal. In rejecting effeminate boys and men, we send a message to the outside world (and to mothers of boys like little Zachary) that it’s OK to hate them. It’s not.
It’s time to stand up for all the sissies out there—past, present and future. Because if it weren’t for sissy boys standing up for the rest of us, we might all still be in hiding.
Dr. Greg Cason is a licensed psychologist based in West Hollywood, specializing in cognitive therapy with individuals and couples. He can be contacted at DrGreg.com.