There’s been quite a bit of talk over the past few years about transgender children. There was a 20/20 special on the topic, a Dr. Phil episode, any number of blogs, and people coming down for, against, and smack dab in the middle.
These stories have a, well… predictable flow.
Part 1: introduce little girl playing either a) in the waves in a bathing suit or b) with very stereotypically girly toys. Child is cute. It is “revealed” that, dun dun DUN, this child was born male.
Part 2: Introduce solemn parents sitting on couch. They talk about a) how happy they were to have a little boy, b) how at a very young age the child would try to mimic long hair, make frightening comments about his penis, and make some grown up sounding comment about God/The Universe hating him. They take child to doctor/run google search/see something on TV and realize that their kid is trans.
Part 3: The little boy is allowed to become a little girl which involves growing out their hair and buying a few dresses and coming out at school.
Part 4: Kid is interviewed and says that they are trans and they are much happier as a girl.
Part 5: YAY HAPPY KIDS, some vague talk about hormones/hormone blockers when the kid is older, cut to commercial and we’re out.
The Transgender Experience in 7 minutes!
The story runs pretty much the same if it’s about adults. Woman (it’s almost always a trans woman) tried to live as Very Stereotypical Male for her whole life, it didn’t work, came out to wife/children, is much happier now.
But for how many people does this rhetoric not fit? This “I was born in the wrong body” story that so many are now familiar with? It is what trans folks “have” to say if they want to get hormones from most any psychiatrist.
In the DSM there are two criteria for Gender Identity Disorder.
- Long-standing and strong identification with another gender
- Long-standing disquiet about the sex assigned or a sense of incongruity in the gender-assigned role of that sex
Basically you have to hate your own body, and covet the bodies of the other sex. And this better be a long lasting, inflexible thing in your life. It’s probably best if you tried to cut off your penis in the shower as a 3 year old.
This is the life story for a lot of trans folks – a huge discomfort with their assigned gender since birth, and a need to live completely and unquestionably as the opposite gender for the rest of their life. That’s fine. But that is not my story, and it isn’t the story of a lot of my friends. The trans and genderqueer folks who I know and love and talk with who are just as tired of this rhetoric as I am. Who don’t identify as either gender or DO identify strongly as one gender over the other but not so much that they hate their body. Who, well… like themselves.
It’s tricky to voice these feelings in trans communities – it sounds like I am saying that trans children shouldn’t be allowed to transition, or that the folks who don’t love their bodies are not as good or not as whole or not as spiritually advanced or not as something. That isn’t the case.
The problem is that those are the only stories being presented by any sort of mainstream media. And if that’s the case then what happens to the genderqueer kids? The little boy who may voice something about wanting to be a girl and the parents, being liberal minded and Aware Of Such Things, decide that the kid must be trans? What if that little kid is a girl… some of the time? Or most of the time? Or actually just REALLY likes skirts? Is that kid’s story less valid? It certainly isn’t being presented anywhere.
I may start hormones some day. I may not. There are good things and bad things to look at and, frankly, I’m actually not all that unhappy with who I am right now. I wish a few more folks who get the pronouns “right” but, seriously, it’s not that big of an issue until they are doing it purposely to be disrespectful. I certainly wish that more clothes fit me well and looked how I want them to but that wouldn’t change with hormones.
Accept your kids. If your kid really was born in the wrong body? Then let them take the steps to fix that – facilitate their journey as their parent. If your kid wants to wear sneakers and a skirt and a baseball jersey to school picture day? Fight like hell to make sure they can without teasing or stigma attached. If your kid identifies as a diehard lesbian all through high school, lives as a male for most of college, and grows up to be a high-femme bisexual woman who marries a cisgender man and has 2.4 children and a house with a white picket fence? Then that works, too.
We don’t keep one identity for our whole lives – almost every identity you have will shift and change and grow. That is OK. It’s all OK. It will all be OK. Breathe.