Growing up trans

Not only is this blogpost extremely long, it is also another one of those posts that is bound to offend some people. I considered changing it up to make sure I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings but there’s no point in being disingenuous. This blog is supposed to help me figure out what I feel and think about things and if the conclusion turns out to be that I am a horrible person then… well… I’ll have to deal with that another day…

So, the other day I saw Hanna. Hanna, the movie I mean. I had seen it before but sometimes you need to re-watch a movie to truly let it sink in.

The part that had seemed sort of irrelevant the first time and that really stuck out to me the second time was the role of Hanna’s friend, Sophie; a slightly annoying British girl racing through puberty with hormones flaring all over the place, both confused and intrigued by modern day concepts of gender and sexuality.

I remember sort of rolling my eyes at the stereotypical girl Sophie represented, which ironically is something she does constantly as well (rolling her eyes, I mean). She’s the kind of girl that wears ass-showing shorts with an air of cluelessness that makes it both endearing and incredibly dangerous at the same time. The wise-beyond-her-years kind of adolescent that claims independence while sitting on her father’s lap. The kind of girl that sees an interview with Miley and decides she’s “gender fluid” and wants to kiss a girl to taste her cherry chapstick.

For a second I was tempted to say it’s “a thing kids these days do”, but as I was typing it I realized that’s not really true at all. Adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality. Is it more frequent nowadays? Or more evident? Or is it just the fact that we have all these new words like bi-curious, gender fluid, gender queer, lipstick lesbian, etc and that glossy magazines like throwing them about randomly when discussing the red carpet outfits…?

It confuses me if the above is good or bad for the acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream society. On the one side it is great that LGBT issues are being dragged out of taboo-constricted closets. That we are having these talks out in the open is great and hopefully it will help us all to feel comfortable with each other’s preferences and  most of all: ourselves. However, if people start declaring themselves bi-curious as a display of their rebel heart and naughty spirit I’m afraid the Michelle Bachmanns of this world will have a field day.

These ultra-conservatives will raise their intolerant voices, quoting scriptures and handing out tea party sponsored leaflets for their delusional “counseling center” to cure you of your abomination. And sadly, they could use these hipster bi-curious kids to back up their claim that it is not natural nor something people are born with. Worse even, they would say is a condition you can be cured for and have proof to back that up.

I can imagine it must be frustrating for those still struggling with their coming out to see youngsters play around with the concept of sexuality and gender and go back and forth as they please. Gays and lesbians must have been told “it’s just a phase” by friends and family (and themselves) a thousand times before they dared come out for the fact that these feelings are here to stay. The fact that there are people running around all the time demonstrating that for them it is in fact just a playful phase that you can laugh about later on in life, isn’t doing much good for true LGBT-ers.

mirrorsm-264x300And then yesterday I saw this Frontline documentary called Growing up Trans, that in turn made me feel like a conservative bag of bones. It startled me especially when I heard myself yelling “but it’s just wrong!” at my TV screen. That’s the type of thing an ultra christian hillbilly would yell at a picketing, right?

The premise of the documentary is that it is becoming more and more accepted for people to come out for their transgenderism and not only that, but the possibilities to actually do something about it are also becoming more easily available. The documentary follows a bunch of kids varying in ages, the youngest being about nine. These kids have voiced their unhappiness with their bodies to their parents and have been supported in this in different ways and degrees.

The documentary presents us with the dilemma: These kids have found their voices and are clearly much happier if they can dress and act as the opposite gender. In a child’s body it hardly makes a difference. But as puberty sets in, these kids are disgusted by their bodies that are transitioning into what they feel is the wrong direction. So do you start giving them hormones at such an early age, so that they don’t need to go through the trauma of growing breasts or getting facial hair? Or do you wait for puberty to pass and then check again when they are adults to see if they still feel the same?

At some point an expert in adolescent medicine says:

The majority of children with gender dysphoria will not grow up to be transgender adolescents or adults. But I think the challenge is that we are not able to definitively predict for whom gender dysphoria will continue and for those that it may not continue.

She adds:

Early intervention does make a huge difference. Once some physical changes of puberty have occurred […] they are irreversible. So really starting puberty blocking medications as early as possible is really important for some people who are really experiencing distress.

We slowly get to know several kids and all seem to know very well what they want and don’t want. They all describe their changing bodies as horrifying and want the process stopped before they become the one thing they do no want to be.

gender eye.jpgWe are introduced to Kyle, aged thirteen, that is on meds; anti-depressants that is. He has dealt with the psychological consequences of feeling trapped in the wrong body and not being supported in this by his parents, most of all his father. Kyle is past the phase of puberty blocking and wants to go straight to the cross sex hormone therapy.

Kyle’s father really struggles with the decision he faces and that is when I surprised myself a little bit, when I felt I actually agreed with him for a great part. During a meeting with a doctor about the testosterone treatment, he hears what all the consequences are of going down this road. The upsides and the downsides. The perks and the risks.

After the doctor’s explanation Kyle admits he does wish he could have kids of his own some day, something that shows you the immensely difficult decisions you are asking a thirteen year old to make. Decisions it is hard to believe such a young human being could grasp the full scope of. That is why I totally got it when his father said:

Up till now it’s been things that were reversible: we change your name, we refer to you as he and him, sure fine. But at thirteen […] you need to think a little bit more about that. And those are things that your parents should be there for; to help you be as certain as you can when you make a decision that later in life could have a huge impact. So there’s a lot to think about.

Contrary to the other kids in the documentary Kyle is lucky enough to have a friend going through the same process, John. It is endearing to see them talk and philosophize about their parents and the effects their decisions and feelings have on them, fathers in particular.

John is very eloquent and comes across as smart and very sane. He tells us how he came out as lesbian at the age of seven and then as a transgender in his freshman year. John’s father is not going along with the transitioning process at all. He wants to support his kid and he wants him to be happy but he is incapable of seeing John as a boy. He refers to him as “G”, the first letter of his birth name and has not changed the pronouns to male yet.

The dynamics in this family are what got me all fired up and what made me want to write a blog about it. Just like John, his father comes across as someone who thinks before he speaks and is honest and clear about his feelings. He is also very religious and fears John is choosing the path of eternal suffering. He hopes and prays for his child to find his way back to “what is right”.

Despite me not being religious I do see that the underlying sentiment this father has is one of pure love and care for his kid, even though his wife questions this at some point. It was really heartbreaking to see. The stakes are so incredibly high here it just blows your mind.

Imagine John’s father worrying about the fate of his daughter’s soul. How do you make a decision if that is on the line? Imagine having to choose between your child’s eternal soul and his happiness on this earth.

At the same time John expressed feelings of extreme depression and besides suicidal thoughts even homicidal ones towards his family. At some point he even asked his mother to check him into a clinic so he would do no harm.

That was the last drop for her. Unlike her husband, John’s mother let go of her faith and the biblical teachings she grew up with to fully support her child and provide him with any possible means to find the way back to happiness. In turn, this created a void between her and her husband. Imagine having to chose between your child’s sanity on one side and your marriage on the other. Your love for your kid versus your love for the man you made that child with.

The contrast in John’s family couldn’t be bigger than with the family of Ariel; a kid that completely rubbed me the wrong way, no matter what gender or sexual orientation se has. The high “like” frequency in her sentences, the vocal fry, the neurotic body language, the Kardashiany tears-on-demand… just annoying. Don’t get me wrong, she has enough to be nervous and teary about and I do see her life hasn’t been easy, but she’s just chosen the wrong version of girl puberty to go through, if you ask me…

gender-sexuality.pngAnyhow… After seeing the heartbreaking struggles in John’s family and then switching over to this kid… I guess that’s when I started yelling at my TV… Ariel was going to get her hormone replacement therapy, despite being only thirteen (instead of the usually required minimum of 16). Her therapist felt she was ready. I don’t know this kid. I have never met her. I know I have no right to judge. But… still… just seeing her and hearing her with that all-over-the-place energy really made me feel she was not done with therapy yet.

(If you are curious to see just this part of the documentary to understand what I mean, go to this link and fast forward to minute 54, and watch about five minutes from there)

Actually no, maybe that’s not it… I don’t think she needs more therapy. She clearly knows exactly what to say and what it all means, in theory. But she sure as hell is not ready to make decisions about cutting off penises and growing breasts. Her idea of transitioning into a woman consisted of picking out pretty clothes, playing with make-up and finally growing up and marrying prince charming. She may not need more therapy but she definitely needs to grow up and experience a little bit more of life before being allowed to say yes to this…

And when I heard the therapist going along with her clear inability to grasp the true and real consequences of the hormone treatment…

ARGH, it’s just WRONG!wrong1

And by golly, I hate extremely long blogs and this one has definitely turned into one, even though I still feel I have not fully explained my point of view… So I’ll just leave it at this for now and maybe come back to it on another day…

Feel free to bite my head off in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Growing up trans

  1. sorry for the response in Dutch, I couldn’t collect my thoughts in English.

    Wat ik grappig vind om te lezen is dat jouw conclusie naar jezelf toe is dat je conservatiever bent dan je gedacht had en dat je meningen zouden passen bij de streng Christelijke overtuigingen (zoals de vader van John)

    Wat ik lees in je argumenten is dat je je zorgen maakt over de jonge leeftijd van de kinderen waarop ze geacht worden een levensbepalende keuze te maken, met onherstelbare gevolgen. Niet een weerstand tegen het transgender zijn zelf.

    Wat me daarbij dan wel opvalt is dat je wel moeite hebt met Ariel die op 13 jarige leeftijd aan cross sex hormone gaat beginnen, maar dat ik niet jezelfde twijfels lees over Kyle. En die zou ik met zijn heftige depressies als meer keuze onbekwaam aanmerken dan Ariel.
    Bij Kyle kwam het meer op mij over als een wanhoopskeuze. Net zoals dat de vader van John toestemming geeft voor behandeling na een geweldsincident van John op school.

    Ik vraag me af, en voor een deel vind ik dit gemeen van me omdat ik voorkennis heb… Staat Ariel je niet tegen vanwege het girlygirl gehalte? Zou het je eigen allergie kunnen zijn voor de verwachtingen bij je opgroeien om girly te worden? Waarom is de girlygirl versie van pubertijd wrong? Het is niet jouw manier, maar het kan simpelweg haar karakter zijn. In hoeverre is het dan een keus? En wat is er verkeerd aan?

    Overigens deel ik je zorgen over de steeds jongere leeftijd waarop er met de cross sex hormone medicijnen wordt begonnen. Met de puberteitsremmers heb ik geen moeite, lijkt me goed ook wel, om de kinderen meer tijd te geven om te kiezen. Maar wat dan de haast is om toch ook al eerder met de hormonen te beginnen snap ik niet zo goed. Ik snap dat het laten verlopen van de oorspronkelijke puberteit ook niet terug te draaien gevolgen heeft, en dat je dat zou willen uit stellen. Maar waarom dan de haast voor de puberteit van de andere sekse?

    hug Zeefje

  2. I haven’t fully understood what Zeefje said, since Google translate is pretty terrible. So I hope I’m not repeating the same arguments. To me, the last bit of what you said is what made most sense of why this is problematic. Subscribing to these terrible gender norms we’ve prescribed for women and men does the opposite of what a lot of gender studies try arguing against. Wanting to be a man because of the notions of masculinity that is evidently more powerful and convenient, or be a woman, the fairer sex, and have the liberty to indulge in beauty or even be admired for it is something we should be wary of. Instead of the diffusion of gender identities, in this case we end up maintaining the sexes as opposites and continue speaking in binaries. And a 13 year old can’t be expected to grasp the realities of that, so I see what you’re saying there, and also why you’re concerned it might sound like you’re saying something else entirely.

    1. Yes, well said. the sexes continue to be binaries. I am working on a second blog to elaborate a bit on what I tried to say here and also touches on precisely that. I will also go into what Zeefje commented. 🙂

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