I have been debating for a while about writing a blog about transgender issues for parents. This article, Parenting a Transgender Child, which recently appeared in the Huffington Post, has pushed me into action. It’s about an eight-year-old boy who likes to be called by a girl’s name, and it made me thank my lucky stars that when I was growing up people just didn’t know the term ‘transgender.’
I am a heterosexual woman who lived most of my childhood wanting to be a boy; for a few years my sister and I would answer to nothing except our ‘real’ names: Bill and Mike. I entered puberty kicking and screaming.
The article above fills me with dread, not because we shouldn’t be aware of transgender issues (I’m all for awareness if it leads to more understanding and respect for trans people) but because we live at a time when children’s behaviour is relentlessly analysed, interpreted, diagnosed and pathologised; a time when any deviation from the non-existent ‘norm’ is medicated and corrected.
I am also aware of the increasingly influential trans activist lobby who insist that gender identity is an innate brain state irrespective of male or female biology or the effects of socialisation. This has become a politically correct truth, and is likely to be the information that parents find when searching for help and advice.
NHS information on gender dysphoria, for example, suggests that the brain may develop a ‘gender identity’ in the womb (let’s hope that turn-of-the-century babies in the womb understood that pink was for boys and blue was for girls in those days). Their information on diagnosis and treatment reads like a corrective programme for those who don’t know their place, and it makes me shudder to think of myself as a child being obliged to undergo ‘regular reviews to monitor gender identity development.’
Research in neuroscience has shown clearly that male and female brains are so similar that the differences that do exist are insignificant. Girls are not innately more empathic and boys are not innately better at maths.
So what is this ‘gender’ that these kids are supposed to be identifying with? It is only our culture which assigns a gender to personality and interests and activities.
If the eight-year-old boy in the above article likes roughhousing and tackling his brother, brushing the hair of his doll, hanging out with girls, being called a girl’s name and is really into science, where is the problem? Which of those things is ‘male’ and which is ‘female’?
What are we saying if it is so not-OK for a boy to enjoy playing with dolls and hanging out with girls, that we assume he must actually BE a girl? Boys can’t enjoy nurturing? Boys should be rough? It is wrong for boys to be sensitive and caring? In our culture it has always been more acceptable for a girl to do boy stuff (even if we do then have to label her a ‘tomboy’ rather than a ‘girl’), but for a boy to like girly things is totally unacceptable, a fact which exposes the underlying misogyny of gender stereotypes. We can allow our girls to reject society’s designated role for them without too much of a problem (as long as they become young ladies eventually of course) but it’s far less socially acceptable for boys to wear dresses or play with dolls; it reduces them to being ‘like a girl’ which, as we all know, is an insult.
Most gender non-conforming children (about 80%) turn out to be lesbian or gay, or they grow into society’s gender roles at puberty; girls typically start losing their confidence, boys grow in stature as they recognize their place in the world, and we all breathe a sigh of relief.
For children, ‘I’m really a girl’ or ‘I’m really a boy’ is the only language they have to understand and explain their personalities in a world that reinforces the correct gender behaviour everywhere they look. Society does a pretty thorough job of conditioning children into boy and girl roles as it is, can’t at least we parents feel and express confidence in our tough girls and sensitive boys? In jumping straight to the assumption of the statistically most unlikely outcome that a child is transgender, aren’t we just reinforcing those gender stereotypes, and in fact doing exactly the same as the parent who forces a child to conform?