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Transgender Children

January 29, 2010

We don’t call boy’s dolls dolls, we call them action figures… -Whoopi Goldberg on “The View”

Many people do not know that transgender children exist, or at least pretend that they don’t exist. It’s probably because the subject is quite an uncomfortable one for many parents. Living as a transgender person is difficult enough; let alone being a child who has to endure childhood, puberty, and adolescence all the while changing genders at the same time. But yes, there are transgender children out there. Many are hiding, because the children and their parents are afraid.

Despite the truth, our society tells us that there are only two genders: man and woman; boy and girl. One woman, Rita Arens, writes about her encounter with a parent of a transgender child:

I’d love to tell you that I’m the world’s most open-minded person — that I came out that way. But I didn’t. I get messages every day from the media, from my life experiences, from friends, neighbors and family. I grew up thinking boys were boys and girls were girls and everyone was either Lutheran or going Straight To Hell. Nobody tried to brainwash me — it was just the environment I grew up in. As I’ve traveled through my life, I’ve tried to stop and listen before making assumptions. I’ve tried and continue to try to let new facts filter in and shape my perceptions.

We still live in a society where gender stereotypes plague our everyday life. In fact, take this video, from the TV show The View, about transgender children:

“If the boy is wearing a dress the whole day, it’s probably a conversation you should have with him.”-Whoopi Goldberg, The View

While I am in no way implying that the hosts of The View are experts on transgender children, I show this video because many parents share those same opinions voiced by The View hosts. After all, boys don’t wear dresses and girls don’t play with guns, right?

Gender roles have played such in an important part of children’s lives. For example, a few weeks ago a school punished a four year-old boy for toting long hair. This consistent enforcement of gender does not bode well for transgender children. In fact, many transgender children experience violence because of their gender.

I did hear a lovely segment on the NPR radio show, This American Life a few weeks ago. The show originally aired on February 13, 2009 titled “Somewhere Out There,” about the odds of two people being a match out of the six and a half billion people in the world. One act of the show, called “Tom Girls,” was about two transgender children.

The two transgender children, both born as males but now identify as girls, are Lilly and Thomasina, both 8. Their parents talk about when their children admitted that they were the other gender. They also talk about the children getting picked on, in and out of school, and the efforts that the parents made to accept and support their children. It’s a beautiful story, because despite the trials and tribulations that Lilly, Thomasina, and their respective families had to go through, they end up instantly becoming friends at a conference for parents of transgender children.

Fred, Thomasina’s father, said that it would be so much easier if his child were gay because people would understand what that was. Because being gay is so simple to understand. Given our binary gender construction in the U.S., this is not surprising.

Throughout the segment, you can hear both of the girls desperately wanting to be normal and to have a normal childhood. They feel connected not just because of their gender, but because of their gendered experience. They can truly understand what the other is going through, how their parents feel about them, how their friends feel about them, and even more, they know what society thinks of them.

It’s heartwarming to see two children like Lilly and Thomasina connect and to hear their personal stories. More stories of transgender children must be told, so that we can support and understand the experiences that they go through. We must not forget: these are children, after all.

Click on the articles below to read more about transgender children:

Apologies for not being able to obtain a written transcription of the audio and video segments.

  1. Jessica Mack permalink*
    January 29, 2010 7:06 am

    I LOVED that NPR segment on This American Life which featured Lily and Thomasina. I thought it was amazingly illuminating about the intimate experience of a transgendered person. Children have such an unassuming way of being more articulate and lucid than many adults could ever be. Great post!

  2. Erik permalink
    January 29, 2010 12:44 pm

    I was honestly torn when I heard this over the weekend on TAL (should also note that this story – which was, no matter what your opinion on the topic, a fantastically produced and illuminating radio doc, was awarded a prize from the Third Coast Festival). And I still haven’t exactly figured out what my view on this is, however, I do question the intelligence of any parent who says things like “I thought I prayed too hard for a girl so this is what happened…” Hmmm…

    It only starts to get really very bothersome, at least in my opinion, when parents start giving their children hormone treatments before puberty.

    • Kyra permalink
      January 31, 2010 3:38 pm

      Erik—the point of starting to fuss with the hormones before puberty is that puberty sort of “sets” one, in many ways, into the body’s gender—puberty brings out secondary-sex characteristics that are difficult or impossible to reverse—things like lowered voices, facial hair, prominent adam’s apples, breasts and wide hips, and this makes transition more difficult or less believable by getting the kid stuck with markers for the wrong gender.

      Delaying puberty makes the best sense, asit avoids creation of the need to deal with those unwanted characteristics.

      This is a point where the status quo works against the child, because the status quo is moving in the wrong direction, and the child may end up stuck, more stuck, in a much more gendered (the wrong gender) body before they are old enough to be allowed autonomy TO transition.

      If a child is legitimately too young to make a decision with these kinds of consequences, the best thing to do is to preserve as much choice as possible for when they are older. Delaying puberty does this. Going through puberty entrenches a result that is highly likely to be the wrong one, its consequences resented by the child throughout life.

      • Don permalink
        January 31, 2010 5:30 pm

        I agree w/ you Kyra. It should be done prior to puberty for the reasons you pointed out. When boys have it done prior to puberty you cannot even tell that they were male at all. They always look extremely feminine.

  3. Don permalink
    January 29, 2010 10:57 pm

    If it was accepted by the public there is no doubt that more boys/men would go through with getting a sex change. Unfortunately, the only reason why alot of men/boys don’t go through with the process is because they are afraid of how they will be treated. However, I am sure that as society becomes more accepting of it, the number of men/boys that go through sex reassignment surgery will increase dramatically.

    • January 31, 2010 7:37 pm

      1) Trans men exist, too.
      2) Trans women are not “boys/men” who “go through with getting a sex change,” we are women.


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