This morning I came across a touching Indian commercial:
It brought several things to my attention;
Apparently, Hindi does not have it’s own equivalent of “proud” or “sorry”, which I find interesting…
Feminism is still relevant, but it only counts if men get on board too (and no Caitlyn, you don’t count).
Sharing the load when it comes to laundry would be way welcome in my book as it is one of my least favorite chores (and one that I always tend to postpone a bit too long)
Oh look, it’s Ariel… where have I heard that name before… water…. bubbles… mermaids… princesses… Oh wait, didn’t I get all worked up about an Arielin my previous blog on transgender kids? Time to go back and get that follow up blog done!
So let’s go back to that previous blog of mine and summarize it, real quick. The issue I discussed there was transgenderism in kids, illustrated by the examples given in an interesting documentary I saw. The fact that these kids declare that their body’s gender does not coincide with the gender they feel they truly are, is not a choice. Everything from that point on, however, is. And they’re big choices, too.
Some of the dilemmas I faced in the face of theirs:
Is it cruel to let a child go through puberty and feel their body change into the thing they dread or is it a necessary thing they must experience in order to be sure this is not what they want?
Should we block puberty for a while so the kid and its family have more time to make up their minds?
How do we know we aren’t blocking other forms of development in the process?
Should these kids be allowed to make this decision at all?
When has there been enough psychological help and can there actually be determined that crossing over is the only way forward?
From what age should cross hormones be made available?
In a conversation I had in regards to all of this with my great friend and champion in thought provoking remarks, Zeefje, she asked me straight up if I had something against transgenderism in general or just the fact that children were being allowed to make decisions about their gender at such an early age. It is a question I have not really found the answer to yet either, or perhaps I haven’t really dared ask it. I’ll see if I can come up with something resembling an answer in the course of this blog and if we’re lucky maybe even put it into words in an understandable way…
So, imagine a kid; 5 years old, without being burdened by notions of what society expects or how gender roles are divided in the world, but very clear about the fact that they may have been born one way, but are most certainly the opposite.
And then as they edge closer to those pre-teen years they become self conscious. They realize what they are feeling is actually very odd. They are, as I have now learned, in the phase of “gender-non-conforming”. They may already have run into a bully or two. They change. They were bound to change anyhow, because puberty is on the doorstep.
Puberty is turbulent enough as it is. It is a phase in life when we all doubt ourselves as we start to form our own identity and claim our spot in the world. Our bodies change. Our emotions change. Our relationships change.
Kids struggling with their gender can now take hormones blockers to stop the process of transitioning into their biological gender. This is obviously a temporary solution. I guess it buys time. It gives the gender-non-conforming child the chance to witness the changes in the bodies and behavior of gender-conforming peers and decide how they feel about this.
Boxes and gray areas
And now I’m getting to one of the things that bugs me in all of this. I guess I feel that the real curse is the fact that we have certain expectations of a girl and other ones for a boy. These are often opposite and not supposed to be mixed up. I feel that if the box labelled “boy” and the box labeled “girl” weren’t so sharply defined some of these kids would have a lot more wiggle room to figure out who they are and may not feel the need to cross over at all.
I have this feeling that these boy-girl labels are weighed down more by stereotypes in American society than on this side of the pond. No, I have no hard evidence to back this up. It’s just a feeling.
My point is that if you grow up in a household and society that is laden with taboos, where “that’s just the way it is” is a legitimate answer, I can imagine a subtle feeling of discomfort with your own body can get out of hand real quick. You may feel that if you don’t fit in box A, that your only choice is to transition into whatever box B is.
Don’t sell your soul
I can go on about this for a lot longer and I do feel there is still more to say about all of this but Zeefje already talked me through a lot of my frustrations and confusion and I think I’m not doing anyone any favors by elaborating more.
To conclude this topic I want to go back to Ariel. The girl in the Frontline documentary gave herself that name and I though it was ridiculous at first. I saw it as an another sign she was just a confused child, trying to live a delusional dream. She chose the name of a Disney princess… Silly silly, right?
Wrong. It is actually the strongest and most symbolic name a child in her situation could ever choose and it gave me chills when I finally figured it out… You go girl. Find your feet. Spread your wings. Just make sure you don’t lose your soul in the process.
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.
And 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.
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.
We 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…
Anyhow… 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 linkand 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!
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.