The Transgender Child
I am a cisgender female adult; that is the identity through which I am viewing this topic. I will most likely make mistakes in my wording, and please do call me out if I show my privilege. I need to learn as much as anyone else does.
That said, I was intrigued by a discussion that occurred on a status message (ah, Facebook, you source of blogspiration, you) about children who identify as transgender.
The main problem is the dialogue that is used to talk about the experiences of transgender children – it’s always about how they ‘feel’ like a person of the other sex identity and how they were noticed by their cisgender parents as enjoying what are traditionally seen as toys/interests of the other sex identity than that they were assigned at birth; the confusing use of the word ‘gender’ when it is about ‘sex’ (as in male/female) too.
The stories of transgender children speak about so much more than interests and play; roles and choice of toys. It’s about seeing your body and not recognising it as the sex that everyone is telling you that you are. It’s about having a penis and wanting to cut it off because it is alien, it doesn’t belong, it’s not ‘you’. It’s about not going to the toilet at school because you don’t belong in the boys or girls bathroom, and wetting yourself instead (an experience reported by many transgender children). In the same way I, as a cisgender woman, know that my vagina is very much a part of me and that my breasts belong on my body and that my womb is the correct organ for my body to contain (whether it operates correctly or not is another question and bears no relation to my womanhood), a transgender man knows they are not. Children can feel this too, and it can lead to intense and significant mental health problems.
Cisgender people view society through the privileged prism of knowing that we are in the physical bodies which are correct. We don’t feel the disconnect, or the disgust, that testimonies of transgender people do. Children know this, in the same way they may recognise their natural sexuality at a young age but have no way to express or understand it.
The medical profession has always viewed transgender identity specifically through the cisgender privileged lens, meaning that in order to receive any form of treatment they have to conform to what are gender-specific stereotypes to ‘prove’ their sex/gender. Often yo will then find they are castigated and abused for conforming to such stereotypes. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. When it comes to children, the parents have no other way of ‘helping’ their child other than presuming and explaining to themselves through such stereotypes. When adults, and post-transition (at whatever point the transgender adult feels they need to reach as transitioning is a many faceted, many layered process) you will often find the stereotypes fall away as their body becomes their own and matches the sex/gender always was.
I would far rather the gender binary was done away with completely and we had no gender-specific pronouns etc, and that children were simply children and adults simply adults. However, that’s not the world we live in at the moment, and transgender identity is far more about the body/psyche than it is about conforming to a gender stereotype. That conformity is that which is pushed onto the identity, not the other way around.
We simply don’t have the language to be able to express exactly what it is to be transgender; our language (and I am speaking about English, as that is the language I was born and raised to use and understand) is gendered, our understanding is binary. There is male/female, man/woman, and language is created to reflect that. We have patriarchal systems and ideologies which maintain the binary, and this can be seen in our pronouns, our stereotypes, our conforming ideals. We identify inanimate objects by gender (ships are ‘she’ for example). Feminism argues against gender stereotyping, and transgender identity is absolutely a feminist issue.
I find, though, that the vast majority of people who worry about children being pushed into declaring themselves transgender and seeking treatment from doctors and psychologists are those who do not have transgender children. It is very much not being a ‘tomboy’ or a ‘girly-boy sissy’, and isn’t it telling how both are derogatory names for non-gender conforming behaviour yet that applied to the boy child is far more damaging than that applied to a girl. To be ‘feminine’ is deemed a negative for males as a giving away of the privilege, but to be ‘masculine’ is only negative for girls in that girls shouldn’t seek to dominate the way a boy ‘should’.
My understanding of transgender identity is that it is about so much more. It’s about the sex of one’s body and how one ‘knows’ that one is not in the correct physical body. I cannot know how that is, I am a cisgender woman.
It is at this point as an ally who strives to be a good ally, I must listen to the voices of those who are transgender and those who are raising transgender children. They are the voices of experience. They are the ones who must lead in the struggle. My job is to support and speak out, and call out if I can, and be called out when I should be, and most importantly, to accept that calling out.
Testimonies of parents and children:
An overview of transgender identity in history can be found here:
http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php (also links to the other six parts of this series).
Or here (note: use of pre-transitional names in the article): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/02/brief-history-transgender-issues
Thank you for reading. Please share.