Transgender Children: an Intersex Activist’s Point of View
July 12, 2011
I dropped back over to the Alice Dreger article on the medicalization of gender non-conformity in children (that I mentioned the other day here) to check out the comments. There were a few comments left by an Intersex person and activist named Georgina that were so thoughtful, well-researched, and well spoken that I am reprinting them here.
I get an awful lot of parents coming here to read and get perspectives on their sex-role noncompliant children who are so often pushed into a “treatment path” towards medicalized sterilization and lifetime disability by the trans lobby and by groups that claim to be supportive of children that reject sex roles but are actually pushing a medicalized gender enforcement. Groups like Trans Youth Family Allies, whose very motto “Trust. Accept. Confidence. Treatment.” epitomizes submission to sex-role enforcing and medically disabling “treatments”. For that reason I am reprinting a few of her comments to assist questioning parents who might otherwise miss such an important perspective left 60 comments down on a thread. Do feel free to read them on the original article comment thread if you prefer by clicking on the link to the article at the top of this post. Otherwise, for your convenience here they are:
“Actually this is NOT a trans issue, it is a human rights and children’s rights issue. Children should be accepted and loved as they are, and a societally defined “mismatch”of Gender and Sex should never lead to assumption that a child will need to or ought to change their mind or their body. Children should be free to explore and to be and to grow. We should start with the assumption that everything about them (body, mind, gender expression) is to be treasured as it emerges. The type of thinking that starts socially “transitioning” children in a pathway towards surgery at 5 or six hatefully pathologises the childs body in the same way earlier therapies hatefully pathologies hatefully pathologised childrens minds and identities. Intersex activists like myself have fought long for acceptance of diversity and against parents or mediocos making life-limiting decisions for children. This applies as much to children society (or parents or medicos) judges as having as miss-match of gender and biology as it does to intersex children with biological aspects that don’t match conventionally.
In adult life people chose gender expressions, sexuality and roles they never could have anticipated as children. We should not let parents or medicos limits life options for children by offerring sterilization and medical dependancy as part of package deal to “fix”gender/sex missmatch. The possibility that a child might grow up to be gay, genderqueer, or even a non-op transgender person is denied these children. While I am utterly against Dregar’s (former) advocacy of DSD terminology I believe she is that rare species of Academic who actually braves learning and changing her opinion to adapt to new understanding. This issue is really important human rights one regardless of your views on Dregar. And to the Academic [refers to Zoe Brain-GM] who has an astounding ignorance of the growing practice of transitioning children before they have the cognitive development to understand sex v’s gender (let alone the happy missmatches they might find as an adult) – please try to familiarise yourself with this very visible increasing trend (the topic of this article). Type “trans children” into you tube – and watch the multitude of interviews with children and the parents who descibe their 6year old’s genitals as birth defects and watch while parents tell lies to their children about the exciting surgical plans already made for them.
Posted by Georgina on July 8, 2011 at 6:35 AM ”
” Two Families’ Reactions to Sons who like Pink:
The program and article I’d like you to look at show two different ways parents might react to having a son who from pre-school age seemed to behave in non-gender conforming (“girly”) ways.
What if your preschooler son was “Girly”?
If your preschooler son asked for a Barbie doll, how would you feel? Would you give it to him? In years gone-by almost all parents would answer a resounding “no!” to that question and would probably add “my son would never ask for that” in a defensive or dismissive tone. These days many parents are more flexible. They allow children access to toys and even clothes of the “opposite” gender, seeing it as part of growing up and exploring. But what about families of boys who recurrently break gender norms, those who raise undeniably feminine boys?
Let’s look at two very different families who let their son’s “choose pink”, and how these families different assumptions about gender lead to very different socialization of their children, and, consequently a very different range of future possibilities for their children.
Family One : “My son the pink boy” – by Sarah Hoffman
This article “My son the pink boy” (published on the Open Salon blog on 21st Feb 2011) describes a mothers acceptance of her son’s gender non- conforming choices. She let her son wear dresses, grow his hair and do ballet instead of football. The mother “Sarah Hoffman” notes other parents mixed reactions to her son, but also describes his happy interaction with both boys and girls his own age. She still sees her son as a boy – but describes his shade unconventional gender expression as being a “pink boy”. Hoffman notes peoples assumptions that her son will grow up to be gay but asserts “Random Mom doesn’t know who or what my son is going to grow up to be, any more than she knows who or what her kid is going to grow up to be.” Hoffman asserts that gender expression doesn’t necessarily predict sexual orientation and gives her husband’s feminine behavior as a heterosexual example of a feminine man, but further states that she will embrace her son’s orientation whichever way it goes.
Sarah Hoffman defends her son’s right to self-expression, and embraces and accepts his choices and his right to determine and define his own identity and sexuality as he grows. She accepts him as a perfect and healthy variation of his gender and sex and does not limit what or who he might be in the future. Hoffman’s son is likely to internalize positive and accepting ideas about himself because of this positive upbringing
Hoffman’s article also provides an insightful analysis of hidden homophobia in both social and media reactions to non-conforming gender expression in boys. She describes how talk show Guru Dr Phil discourages feminine behavior in boys because of its association with homosexuality
In the 1970’s when feminine behavior in boys was widely ostracized, many feminine boys were diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. Researcher Zucker theorized these boys would go on to be surgery seeking transgender people. In a large scale longditudinal study it was found that these boys rarely ended up trans – usually ending up self-accepting homosexual men (roughly 3/4) or heterosexual men (roughly 1/4). This is important to consider when looking at the socialization in the following video, set in a cultural context where there is little tolerance for gender ambiguity.
Family Two – Real life: Transgender Kids – The Romero Family
This documentary details the journey of a number of children who are being socialized towards surgery intended to match their body with their gender expression.
Josie Romero was born male, but showed a preference for feminine toys and clothes. In Josie’s cultural context gender roles are still very traditional, with no room for ambiguity. Such cultures are usually also stridently homophobic. In such cultures men are masculine, and because homosexuality is seen as “sinful”, it is something you would avoid seeing the possibility of in your child. Boys in such cultures internalize the view that pink and sparkly is only for girls, so if they feel drawn to such things it compromises their gender identity. Socially unacceptable variations can sometimes be excused as blameless by re-conceptualizing them as medical problems. Here Josie’s family describes their child’s penis as a birth defect. They are blind to other differences in primary sexual characteristics. Josie is told by her mother she will get an operation that will fix her birth defect by turning her penis inside out to make it the vagina it was meant to be and hormones will give her a female puberty. When Josie asks “How?” her questions are brushed off. Science and medicine don’t offer Josie these possibilities. If she does not escape the path already plotted for her Josie will be sterilized and artificial genitals will replace her real ones before she even gets to try them. She will be medically dependent for life. She will never experience a live and responsive endocrine system, only a flat-line one delivered by pills. Josie is being socialized in a way that deprives her as self-determination and betrays her with false choices. The characterization of her biological self as defective, will likely be internalized in her self –perception, as will the lack of autonomy created by her dependence on medical intervention she has not initiated. Her experience of surgery and treatment might be expected to be closer to that of an intersex child who has had surgery chosen for them than the potentially empowering experience of a self-determined transexual who has chosen surgery for themselves. Josie’s parents say she has made this choice, but it is clear that an informed choice could not be made by an eight year old in this situation.
Josie has been socialized in a way that limits her future choices and autonomy. The drastic pathway planned for Josie at the tender age of eight is new and extreme form of gender policing, where if minds and behavior can’t be conformed, to sex –matching ideals then bodies are controlled to give the appearance of a match.
Henslin, J. M., Possamai, A. and Possamai-Inesedy, A. (2011) Sociology: A Down-to-Earth-Approach, Pearson Australia
Hoffman, S. My son the pink boy, Salon.com 2011, Feb 21st.
Zucker, KJ. Gender identity development and issues. Child Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics North America 2004, 13: 551-568.
Posted by Georgina on July 8, 2011 at 6:53 AM ”