The issue is, how do we conceptualize children and childhood as different from adults? Part of gender-conscious parenting is seeing children as independent beings.
Jessica Ann Vooris '09 was enjoying the productive quiet of an obscure academic field, but then things started changing. Her research, into parenting transgender, gay and gendercreative children, now is in urgent demand from parents in search of personal guidance.
"My backwater of a field has suddenly burst open," says Vooris, who is writing a book based on her research into a field that until recently was too esoteric to describe for nonacademics. But as the subject and question of gender gains public attention, she is hearing from strangers, friends and friends of friends whose children see their own gender as fluid, "creative," unconventional or simply optional.
"The issue is, how do we conceptualize children and childhood as different from adults?" says Vooris. "Part of gender-conscious parenting is seeing children as independent beings."
Vooris' career direction was the result of her own need to explore gender and identity. After some searching at Bucknell she settled on a major in women's & gender studies. "So much of it was that I was coming to terms with my queer identity - sexuality and gender are so intertwined," she says.
The study of gender was captivating: how knowledge historically passed from women to women, how birth became medicalized and the province of men, how sexual assault is not only an individual experience but one shared by many women. She was president of the campus LGBT club, joined a Vagina Monologues V-day performance and traveled with the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua.
The late Fran McDaniel, then director of the campus Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness, was a powerful influence, as was Coralynn Davis, professor of women's & gender studies and anthropology.
After Bucknell, Vooris earned a master's and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, where she teaches women's studies and LGBTQ studies. There she urges students to explore their experiences and identity questions.
"There used to be the idea that only adults could be gay or transgender. Now we have begun to recognize the gay child or trans child," she says. "We are moving towards a sense of that in-between, of living in the gray area."