About 20/20

Posted by – June 30, 2007

So I’m still thinking about the 20/20 show that was on a few weeks ago about young kids coming out as trans.

& The thing I can’t quite get past is how many people who are gender variant grow up to be gender variant but okay with the sex they were born. A gay friend of mine called after the show was over & asked, “So what’s the difference between them & me?” because he went through most, if not all, of what one of the young MTF expressed. He did drag for most of his childhood, expressed the desire to be a girl as a child, and had a hard time dating guys who didn’t want to date a queen. I didn’t have an answer for him. I don’t know what makes some of us gender variant & some of us trans.

But I do know that talking about my own gender variance causes some trans people to decide that I’m trans, which is exactly what worries me. Were I younger and expressing my gender variance, & someone told me that meant I was trans, I’m not sure I would have had the ability or perspective to say, “No, I’m not.” I’m not sure my friend would have been able to do that, either. But both of us are quite happy being who we are, passing in & out of stages in our lives where our gender variance was expressed, hidden, or naturally waned.

There is a part of me that, like the director of The Gendercator, that is concerned that all gender variance is disappearing into transness, and that diagnosing gender variance so young will only affirm the binary, that our choices will become Mr. or Mrs. Cleaver, or even some 21st Century version of them.

Yet there is another part of me that says it’s great kids can at least say something, or that some of them can, to some of their parents, & that they don’t get kicked out of their homes or forced into therapy for doing so. That’s a good thing.

The other reality – that so many gender variant children grow up to be gay or lesbian – is also a concern. Homophobia is so huge, so unspoken, and it concerns me that most parents would rather have a daughter than a nelly, a son rather than a tomboy. While of course they might just step from homophobia into transphobia, I suspect that plenty of these parents will opt for raising their child stealth – with no one knowing their child is trans, and so will sidestep transphobia and homophobia – and the awful fear of gender variance – altogether. For some it will be too tempting to disappear into gender normalcy. & Of course, some would say, that’s a GOOD thing; everyone has the right to feel normal about their gender. I just don’t agree. I think instead people should be more conscious of gender, & the ways that gender delimits who we allow ourselves to be.

But mostly I’m still uneasy about early hormone use.

The cause for my concern surprises me the most, because what worries me is the child’s decision not to procreate. I’m surprised because I’m happily child-free and a Zero Population Growth type; the fewer reasons people have to have children the better, as far as I’m concerned.

But being who I am, I also know the astonishment people express when I say I’m happy not having children. We all know how much late-breaking couples will spend on fertility drugs in order to get pregnant at age 41. That is, having children seems to be a basic, undeniable component to most people’s happiness, and raising children gives many lives meaning it might not have otherwise.

Going on hormones at a young age means the child or teenager gives up the ability to procreate, & that is a huge thing to give up. More than one trans person has told me they’re quite pleased they didn’t transition younger precisely because it gave them the chance to have children. The thing is, I’m not sure that a 15-year-old can know, necessarily, whether or not they might want children in the future. I knew that I didn’t, and that never changed. But for others, it does; teenagers are notorious for growing up & changing their attitudes significantly, after all.

These are not easy issues, any of them. I don’t envy any parent with a gender variant child. At some level I distrust parents, for the most part, as I suspect most would want to keep their child safe, above all else: safe means fitting in, dealing with the world as it is, and not changing the world to make it safe for those of us who don’t fit in. Plenty of us, I’m afraid, would not be good at being gender normative men OR women, whether we transition or don’t.

6 Comments on About 20/20

  1. Donna says:

    Helen said: “Going on hormones at a young age means the child or teenager gives up the ability to procreate, & that is a huge thing to give up. More than one trans person has told me they’re quite pleased they didn’t transition younger precisely because it gave them the chance to have children. The thing is, I’m not sure that a 15-year-old can know, necessarily, whether or not they might want children in the future.”

    I am one of those trans people, and I agree with what Helen said. This is what I wrote on the mhb boards some time ago, commenting on a television documentary about a 12-year old MTF child transitioning in Germany:

    “I’m sure my views will surprise some people. Because, in so many ways, I would have been so much better off if I’d transitioned when I was 12. Or, for that matter, when I was 3, which is the earliest specific age at which I remember knowing that I was trans (not that I had a word for it, of course!). Looking backwards, there’s no question. But, looking forward, how could one ever be sure? I don’t buy for a minute the accuracy of that study purporting to show that most obviously gender-variant children turn out to be gay, but not trans. And I know I’m hardly the only person who’s questioned it. It’s not exactly recent, for one thing. But I still think there’s at least *some* percentage that would feel different after they reached puberty, and might actually begin to like being their birth gender….

    I, on the other hand, hated puberty when it finally arrived (ushered in by those years of testosterone pills!), and hated the manifestations of maleness it brought. It made my body dysphoria *much* worse, even though it had existed before. I would have been very happy not to go through male puberty; I have an extremely distinct recollection of being told at age 11 that I was being given testosterone pills, and fervently wishing it was estrogen.

    But, how would you know for sure, even about someone who was like me? If you gave people medication to prevent puberty, how the hell would you ever, ever know how puberty would have affected their feelings? How could you ever be sure? And, what percentage of “mistakes” would be acceptable, to allow the “right ones” to transition that early? 10%? 1%? one in a thousand? None? I don’t know the answer, but, to me, it isn’t necessarily that simple.

    And there’s an even more important issue, imo. Namely, reproductive rights. Which are, after all, a basic human right. If anyone forcibly sterilized a 12-year old child, or a 16-year old child, or any child, and deprived them of the ability ever to reproduce, it would be seen as a horrifying human rights violation. And nobody would think that the parents’ giving their permission would make it OK. Here, of course, there’s nothing forcible about it; the child not only gives consent but very much wants to start transitioning. But. Can a 12-year old ever truly give “informed consent” to giving up the ability to reproduce? I don’t think so. Nobody that age can possibly understand what they’re giving up…. I firmly believe that there is no twelve year old on the face of the earth who is mature enough to make an informed decision on something like that, or truly understand what they’re giving up in agreeing to potentially permanent sterilization.

    At age 12, I would have transitioned in a minute; I would have signed away my soul for that, never mind my theoretical ability to have a child someday. And I probably would have been much happier as a girl. And, at 18, I probably would have continued to feel the same way, and had surgery. But I wouldn’t have my son. And, given what I know now, I would go through all the pain and difficulty of all those decades of being trans, and desparately fighting against it, 1000 times, before giving up my son. So, I have serious questions about people medically transitioning that young, for that reason alone. At least until it’s possible to give trans people the ability to reproduce in their target gender. If that ever happens….

    Please remember that I’m not unalterably opposed to this kind of “early transition.” I was simply raising what I see as some important issues that, to be honest, I think sometimes get lost amidst trans people’s desire (which I share) to be supportive about this kind of thing. And are worth thinking about.”

    Donna

  2. thelemurgod says:

    I’ve always been a little leery of very early transition — administering of HRT at a very young age — for the reasons outlined here. And as much as I now wish I could have transitioned younger than I did (I started at age 27), I can’t help but think that perhaps it was for the best. That maybe there is some value in going through that gender confusion in the teenage years and young adulthood and only then coming to the conclusion that transition is the necessary path. Making that decision with the wisdom that (hopefully) comes with adulthood. I feel greater perspective has come from experiencing all that I have (good and bad).

    Procreating is another matter. My wife and I have always been keen on adoption. We can’t seem to bring ourselves to conceive our own child, knowing there are so many children (especially little girls) who are quite literally thrown away everyday in this world. Even before there was a notion of transition, we had decided that adoption would be preferable if and when the time came to have children.

  3. Phoebe says:

    I don’t disagree with anything that has been said here. I will say that by the time I was 13 I was certain of two (and only two) things about my future: that I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be a parent. So it is possible to have a settled opinion on procreation by that age, in that direction at least.

    I think it is right to have misgivings about early transitions. On the other hand, I don’t have enough knowledge or perspective to look someone in that situation in the eye and tell them that they’re wrong about themselves. The one thing that I learned in statistics is that past a certain point you cannot reduce the total amount of errors in the system, you can only influence what type of errors you get: allowing people to transition who shouldn’t, or preventing people from transitioning who should. Is one of these errors ‘better’ than the other, and does the age at which it occurs make a difference to that answer? I think that is the question to be answered.

  4. Ms. Donna says:

    Helen commented:

    “But I do know that talking about my own gender variance causes some trans people to decide that I’m trans, which is exactly what worries me….

    There is a part of me that, like the director of The Gendercator, that is concerned that all gender variance is disappearing into transness, and that diagnosing gender variance so young will only affirm the binary…”

    I’ve been thinking about this lately. I hang the label ‘trans’ on myself, but am decidedly ‘not trans’ in many ways: enough to make me consider ‘gender variant’ as a more accurate description of how I experience my life. There are, for me, far too many points of divergence from the common transgender experience for me to feel ‘secure’ in identifying as solidly trans.

    I applaud the parents of these children for allowing them the room to blossom. However, there is that strong binary undercurrent – that their children can only be ‘happy’ as either a man or a woman. Are these children transgendered or transsexual? Possibly – but early ‘transitioning’ effectively eliminates the possibility to explore and really discover the right answer.

    Perhaps they are simply ‘gender variant’ – occupying that murky middle ground between Cisgender and Transgender – possessing or developing an identity which the binary just obscures enough to render it invisible to all by a handful of like minded people.

  5. coltino says:

    H,

    Thanks for writing this. I agree with most of your post but I want to challenge the idea that all possibilities of parenthood are given up if one or both parents cannot biologically participate in the creation of a child. While that may be (very) important for some people, it is certainly not the only way to become a parent. Adoption aside, there are certainly still lots of other routes to make a baby in this world that may still be related to one or even both parents if related donors are available.

    -c

  6. renee99 says:

    I’m not so sure it’s a binary between puberty and early transition. For MTFs at least, puberty can be put off through administration of anti-androgens. Does a delayed puberty imply infertility?

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