Friday Philosophy: Trans Kids

The biggest problem a lot of people have with transfolk is that we know who we are because of what goes on in our minds…and nobody but us can truly see what that is.  There is often nothing measurable from outside other than a million tiny clues.

So too many people fear the worst and classify us as sexually perverse…as some sort of bizarre fetishists who would go to extraordinary lengths to pray on women and children in public restrooms (Nobody every worries about transmen sexually abusing men and boys in men’s restrooms).

What puts the lie to a lot of such crap are the trans kids.   In  Development, Risk & Resilience of Transgender Youth (2010), (pdf) Kimberly A. Stieglitz, doctor of nursing and certified pediatric nurse practitioner, has produced a gem.  I read the pdf’s so that you don’t have to.  

It is important not to mislabel transgender children as lesbian or gay. The reverse is also true: lesbian and gay children should not be mislabeled as transgender. A helpful distinction between transgender and lesbian or gay children has been offered by Mallon and DeCrescenzo (2006) who wrote that some gender [non-conforming] children may say they wish they were the other sex, but transgender children will say they are the other sex.

Gender non-conforming behavior can start as early as age 2 to 3…well before any child can have enough knowledge of sex to become perverted.  On the other hand exhibiting gender non-conformity at that age usually meets with parental and/or social disapproval as adults seek to mold us into the genders they think we should have.  So many of us “grow out of it”…perhaps until much later when we are adults with the wherewithal to reconceive who we are.

Running the R.A.C.E.

Recognition:

Be aware and supportive of how a child experiences or declares their gender identity.   Look for persistent and consistent gender identity expression rather than temporary, incident-based behavior or preferences.

Liking “boy” or “girl” things is very different from saying; “I AM a boy” or “I AM a girl”.

Acceptance:

Transgender children experience their gender identity as deeply and authentically as cisgender children. Understanding and accepting that will insure healthier outcomes for these children and their families.

Requiring or expecting them to suppress or conceal their internal gender identity will not result in a change to that identity.  It will only result in a loss of self-esteem, anxiety, depression… or worse.

Congruence:

Look for opportunities to follow the child’s lead in creating environments where their internal gender identity and external gender expression can be in sync.

This may include use of gender appropriate pronouns and perhaps, facilitating a social gender transition.

Empowerment:

Be open to a transgender child’s potential need for not only social, but also physical congruence.

This may include puberty blocking & cross-sex hormones once they reach adolescence.

Research shows that when raised in a supportive atmosphere, trans kids can grow up to be successful adults…in their self-perceived gender.  Then again, some of us who had no such supportive atmosphere also attain what might be classified as success when we reach adulthood.  But it was probably exceedingly more painful.

So how is gender-conformity doing while this is going on?

Strong felt pressure for gender conformity also is normative for young children, who tend to regard gender stereotypes as moral imperatives.

–Carver, Yunger, and Perry, 2003, Gender identity and adjustment in middle childhood.

Most two-year-olds know if they are girls or boys, and begin to correctly use gendered pronouns by age 3.  But children do not understand that their sex is constant and not subject to change until age 6 or 7.  Somehow, in those intervening years, people think that we transpeople become perverse…or that our parents caused it to happen maybe.

Parents are important in all this since society rewards parents who raise gender-conforming children (Mallon and DeCrescenzo, 2006, Transgender children and youth:  a child welfare practice perspective).  Quelle surprise!  Oh…and just so you know, boys are expected to be more conforming than girls:  “Sissy” is intended to be an insult, but “tomboy” is not necessarily so.

it is important not to mislabel transgender children as lesbian or gay. The reverse is also true: lesbian and gay children should not be mislabeled as transgender.  Transgender children may grown up to have any sexual orientation.

Transgender youth are first aware that their gender identity is not the same as their biological sex at an average age of 10.4, that other people labeled them as transgender at 13.5 and identified themselves as being transgender between 14 and 15.  By contrast, LGB college students reported becoming aware of their sexual orientation between 10 and 14 and came out between ages 15 and 18.

All adolescent youth are concerned with sexuality, but while cisgender hormonal urges may affect their sexual behavior, transgender kids are more likely worrying about what the hormones are doing to them physically.  So trans kids focus less on sexual behavior, not more, as society often frames it.

It is difficult for transgender youth to feel safe. Places that should provide safety for youth are often places where verbal and physical abuse occurs:  home, schools, after-school programs, health care centers, social service agencies, group homes, homeless shelters, and foster care homes…

Transgender youth fear that the constant verbal harassment and discrimination they faced might escalate into physical violence and sexual abuse because they found themselves being continually sexually objectified and regularly propositioned for sex.

–Grossman and D’Augelli, 2006, Transgender youth:  Invisible and vulnerable

Adolescents who find a community of others who share their interests may do better psychosocially than those who are isolated.  When the support comes from their families, teachers, schoolmates and/or coworkers, that effect is significantly magnified.

I see these kids and I see hope for the future…for our future.  At the same time, I wonder whether they will grow up to be just as discriminated against as we have been.  Hope we must.  The work must go on.  You can contribute here:  TransActive, founded by Jenn Burleton.

For more than forty-years the general public has gotten bits and pieces of information about the lives of some transgender and gender non-conforming people from television and radio talk shows, tabloid newspapers, autobiographies and dramatic, farcical theatrical portrayals. And because the media is first and foremost in the business of entertainment and ratings, they have focused the majority of that coverage on individuals and situations deemed to be at the “fringes” of mainstream culture.

These media representations result in marginalized and sensationalized perceptions of what it means to experience and/or express your gender in non-traditional ways – and no segment of the population has been more negatively impacted by these stereotypes than children and youth who are, or who are perceived to be, gender non-conforming.

Rejecting sensationalized, hyper-sexualized and marginalized expectations of who transgender children and youth are, or who they will grow to be is the first and most important step an educator, mentor, advisor or caregiver can take in providing a safer, more respectful and more nurturing learning environment.

The most recent video from TransActive is embedding disabled as of now, but can be viewed

here.

Some Resources:

2 comments

    • Robyn on July 31, 2010 at 12:01 am
      Author

    My surgery has finally been scheduled…but not until December 27.  Here’s hoping for no complications between now and then.

    Jazz:

    Musical accompaniment:

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