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?
What a great article – you’ve expressed everything I believe much more clearly than I ever could! Thank you
Thanks Tessa! 🙂
Tessa’s right. It is a great article. Thanks for writing it.
I’m the proud mother of three fab children, none of whom (of course) fit neatly into any categories. My boy (9) is mad keen on video games, loves walking with his friends, find school uniform more comfortable than weekend clothes (!), and has lovely long, blonde hair.
He is the only boy with long hair at his school, and gets no grief from his friends, because he is who he is. But strangers constantly think he’s a girl (which he politely corrects). They also ask me if he minds having his hair long (as if I could hold him down and force him to grow it). Sometimes they don’t believe that he’s a boy and argue with him about it. He doesn’t mind the initial mistake but he does mind willful ignorance, and so do I.
My girls also mind when people call them princesses (they have long blonde hair too). Neither of them wants to be a princess, and neither of them want to talk about dresses. Other than those shared characteristics, they are very different people.
Thanks again. Loved this post.
Kids are fine if their parents are cool about things aren’t they? Thanks for your comment.
WPATH World Professional Association for Transgender Health did a study funded by World Health Organization (WHO) on gender non conforming children and found that over 80% stopped IDing as the opposite sex and that a significant number of gnc kids grow up to be homosexual. So what we are doing with these early transitioning of children is surgically correcting children that most likely are not trans but homosexual. Gays and lesbians who object to this program are labeled “bigots” and “TERFs”. The whole business is just shady.
Thanks for the link. I agree the whole business is shady, particularly when we get into the area of puberty blockers. The pharmaceutical industry just loves to pathologize childhood because parents will always want to do the best for their kids, so they’re more at the mercy of ‘experts.’
Thanks for the sanity check. The powerful drugs that are being used to delay puberty in gender-nonconforming kids are all being used off-label and have never been FDA cleared for that purpose. And the testosterone that people are feeding to their teenage daughters in the name of tolerance and progressiveness has just been the subject of a warning by the FDA. It clearly states that testosterone is to be used only for men whose testicles do not produce testosterone because of genetic problems, damage from chemotherapy or infection. These kids are part of a massive unethical experiment that is not being questioned because “transphobia” is considered to be more problematic than unnecessarily sterilizing children.
And I realise I’m taking a risk just writing about it, which is crazy. But I had to because everyone just seems to be going along with it. Thanks for your comment.
Thank you for writing this. While I realize that parents who identify their children as transgender – I’ve seen news articles about toddlers being diagnosed! – are motivated by a genuine desire for what’s best for their children, I am also concerned about the way difference is being treated as pathology, and the use of experimental drug treatments on children. (Lupron, for example, is considered dangerous for adult women because of the side effects – but it’s being promoted as a harmless “just in case” treatment for any child who might be transgender.)
It also seems to me that any concerns that are voiced about this topic are dismissed as prejudice. Personally I think there’s a very real difference between believing that transgender people should live their lives without violence and discrimination, and believing that children who like the “wrong” toys are candidates for drugs and surgery.
Great article. My eldest son wore dresses and said ‘Mummy, I wish I be a girl’, from age 2-4, then stopped. I remember having a boys’ jacket as a teenager & my mum earnestly asking if I wanted to be a boy. I remember cringing at her stupidity!
I grew up secretly dressing in my mother’s clothes. I used to cry myself to sleep praying that I would wake up in the morning as a girl. I stopped when I met my future wife for awhile but returned to dressing up in secret several years ago. My wife recently discovered and nearly left me. I feel I am a woman trapped in a male body but I have “conformed” to society’s expectations. I hate my body and contemplate suicide every day. Your assumption that most NGC children just “conform” is a quite dangerous one.
I’m very sorry to hear of your experience. I didn’t however ‘assume’ anything but looked at actual statistics. I didn’t state that most NGC children ‘conform’ – many may grow up and continue to question cultural expectations of their gender role, and many may live lives in unconventional roles for their gender according to society. There are also those who are comfortable with their birth sex but enjoy cross-dressing etc. and of course those who are lesbian or gay. My point was that being genuinely transsexual is by far the least likely option and we should not be assuming that outcome for children who are simply being children.
I am so happy to have found this essay. I am the parent of a teen girl who wants to “transition,” and I’ve started a blog about it that is very active and updated daily. One of my main goals is to connect with other parents who are questioning the dominant trans paradigm. There is power in numbers. Too many of us have been cowed into submission by accusations of “transphobia.”
Please see my blogs and participate if you can. I will answer any replies from parents, privately if you wish (more active on Tumblr, but most content also available on WordPress). Thanks for being brave enough to write about this!
I am so grateful to read this article and the comments. I despair for the Idgy Threadgoods of today.
I agreed with all you have said, til my 5 yr old son said to me that he “couldn’t wait to die, so God could put him back together as a girl”. We are not even religious but he was searching for an answer to his problem. He had clearly identified obsessively with a female identity since before he could speak…
I don’t want to minimise your experience, and obviously I don’t know all the facts. But children say things like that all the time, and they will express things very intensely, but we can’t take it literally. In a child’s mind, the only answer is to *be* a girl, but that is more to do with the fact that culture enforces such extreme specific gender roles; it is only culture that says ‘this is what a boy must be like’ and ‘this is what girls are like.’ Children also change completely through different stages of childhood, nothing is ‘fixed.’ If you give him the idea that he really is a girl he will believe you, and he will develop that self-identity the more it is reinforced. We need to let our children grow and develop freely and accept them and support them for who they are. If a boy identifies with things society says are ‘feminine’ it’s society that has the problem, not the child.
Children absolutely do not say things like that all the time!!!
I highly suggest you seek out professional help. A 5 year old shouldn’t feel like they want to die. Ever.
My son is 9. Since he was about 5 I’ve kinda thought he was gay. Never once said a word about it. When he was 8 he told me he likes boys and girls. Now at 9 he is growing his hair out, wants girl heeled shoes and tonight told me if he was a girl he’d want to be named Ginger. I accept him for who he is. I’m not going to jump on any transition wagon. If he wants to be a girl he’s more than welcome to act and dress like one. If he wants to be a boy then he can definitely continue to be one.
I do find it different when I see young children being allowed to transition, but these people know their children. If your child is so unhappy that they want to die, it’s really time to seek help. Your child can transition without powerful drugs. Aside from genitals there’s no difference between a 5 year old boy and a 5 year old girl.
Just let your child express how they’re comfortable. But don’t shrug off “I want to die”…Please
But it is very common for children to say things like that, I wasn’t intending to shrug it off, but just advise caution in taking children’s words literally – when they are upset/angry they will say the worst thing that comes to mind. If we think it’s literally true, we’re going to be very very worried about them and our anxiety then passes back to the child, who starts to believe he has a really big problem. As parents we need to listen to our children but we also need to be aware that when they are overwhelmed with feelings their words will not be accurate.
in my experience, ( a parent of three and social worker, working with children and their families for 20 years), children do not say this sort of thing all the time! I shudder to think! It took a lot of thinking and energy for my little fellow grappling with his feelings for years and his situation to come to this point and I feel honoured that he trusted me with this expression of his sadness (a beautifully happy child other than this). We have taken this concern seriously and “held” it gently – the first thing was to give him the “girliest” birthday and Christmas ever (previously we balanced gifts – dolls/trucks/neutral toys, to support him having choice). For his sixth birthday he got nothing but girl’s clothes and toys and was delighted, making the decision to be a girl all summer and return to school as a boy – and continue dressing as a girl at home.
My son has always been free to express his identity how ever he likes (gender and other) and currently (at 6) chooses to dress as a girl at home and as a boy at school. The school are supporting him to feel comfortable in integrating his identity (pink socks, girls shoes and pony tail in his lengthening hair) and so far his peers are very supportive / non-plussed – he is a very popular and social child. His teachers report that he is actually leading the way and other boys are feeling more comfortable exploring activities that are usually by this age prescribed as a girl’s activities.
We will not be seeking “professional” advice regarding our son unless he decides he wants medical support to transition to being a girl. Until then we will tenderly treasure his courageous, creative little self and follow his lead – his current choices and us supporting them are making him very happy currently.
I have worked with parents for over fifteen years (four children of my own) so I base what I say on what I hear – and I don’t know why you would shudder, because children exaggerate greatly with their words when they are upset so we should never take their words literally. I feel instinctively uncomfortable about all this emphasis on ‘girly’ things – do all the girls at school have pink socks and long hair? I doubt it. To buy him only ‘girly’ things is doing the same as buying him only ‘boy’ things – you are reinforcing a gender stereotype.
By far the most likely outcome for a boy who persists in liking stereotypically ‘girl’ things into adolescence is that your son will grow up to be gay. Or he may become a man who enjoys clothes and fashion etc. One thing he will not grow up to be is an adult woman. You are obviously seeing his behaviour through the lens of trans ideology and in doing so you are perpetuating an illusion. I’m sure you are doing what you feel is best for your son but I suggest you do some thorough research on what you will be setting him up for. This blog is good: https://4thwavenow.wordpress.com/
The best we can do for ‘gender non-conforming’ kids is accept their right not to conform to society’s stereotype for their sex. Accept who they are without bringing in an adult agenda. I wish you the best.
Stephanie, you accuse Jane of looking through a trans ideology lens, but it sounds as though you are stuck in your own paradigm. I am a sociologist so gender dysphoria is completely foreign to me. Like you, I understand that culture defines gender. However I cannot dismiss the studies done by those in the psychology paradigm that support the existence of gender dysphoria. I have issue with you stating, “children exaggerate greatly with their words when they are upset so we should never take their words literally.” What if a child was upset because they were sexually abused and tried to tell someone about. Do you think we should not take that child’s words litterally? And with suicide rates among transgendered children bring at over 40%, why would you not shudder when your child who is gender confused talks about wanting to die? That is a very scary situation for any parent given statistics. I do not disagree with your stand on supporting gender non conforming children. I absolutely think if it were my child I would support his interests but would not support transitioning until he has grown into adulthood. However that is my own personal belief. I would not have the arrogance to tell another parent who actually does have a child with gender disphoria that they’re parenting technique is in your words “perpetuating an illusion” Maybe you should take off your non conformist lens once in a while.
I do know that gender dysphoria is a real thing, and I know people who suffer it, so I am not trying to negate that experience at all. What worries me is that we are jumping to diagnose something which is in fact very rare, and in doing so missing the many and varied reasons a child may insist they are the opposite sex (emotional and psychological problems, previous sexual abuse etc) Plus of course all the children who just don’t conform to societal expectations and those who are gay or lesbian and don’t have a problem at all.
Parents are now pressured to jump to the trans explanation and in doing so will be conditioning the child into believing they are trans. That suicide figure is the one which is always trotted out, and will of course have the most impact on worried parents. But we don’t know what percentage of that 41% are actually trans – they are troubled kids, but there are all sorts of psychological reasons why a young person may feel disgust with their developing body, it is a common phenomenon (especially amongst young women) and the more we label young people trans the less we help them to accept themselves. We are in fact reinforcing the fact that their body is wrong. It is an illusion to tell a girl she can become a man, this is just reality – I’m not here to reassure parents into supporting a lie, that doesn’t help anyone.
Just a point about believing children – I absolutely agree with you that we should take children seriously when they tell us of sexual abuse, but I think the recent very public cases of children who were not believed have scared us into thinking we should instantly believe and affirm everything a child says. Even in the sexual abuse cases we have to be very careful to listen first without adding anything or steering a child into our own agenda. A child may just be repeating something they heard in the playground, or using words we interpret in one way, but which mean something very different to the child and may be innocent. This is not disrespecting the child, but just understanding that children are children, so we have to be cautious with our adult interpretations.
Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Great article. Someday we will look back on this Transcisman ideology with horror in the same way we look back on the McCarthy and Roy Cohn era. By then it will be too late for some.