31 May 2012

A Fine Article About Trans Kids And Their Parents

Jesse Green's S/He, in the most recent issue of New York magazine, is one of the more interesting articles I've read in a while.

It's also one of the fairest and most nuanced pieces of writing about transgenderism I've seen from someone who isn't trans.  

Specifically, it's about transgender children and the choices their parents face in raising them.  On one hand, we don't want kids or parents making decisions they might regret later on.  On the other hand, we also don't want to see those kids (or any other) commit suicide or do any harm to themselves.  All of the research done on the topic indicates that transgender teenagers have, by far, the highest suicide rate of anybody. The research also confirms what almost any of us can tell you:  Those of us who kill ourselves don't do so because we're trans.  Rather, we do it because of the ostracism and even violence we face too often.

So, some parents realize that starting a hormone regimen before, or just as, their kids reach puberty might save their lives.  And, as one parent of a male-to-female kid said, "I'd rather have a live daughter than a dead son."

What really makes Green's article stand out, in my mind, is that he understands that transgender kids aren't crossdressing or "experimenting" in any way.  He also realizes that it's not a form of "rebellion" or "pushing boundaries."  Instead, he seems to realize--if he doesn't state outright--that a person's gender is subconscious and will surface sooner or later in much the same way a bubble held underwater will rise to the surface.  

What that means--again, he doesn't state it, but from reading the article, I think he understands and intends--is that notions like "gender is performative" and other such nonsense taught in Gender Studies classes simply won't work for the parents or kids.  The parents seem to understand their kids' gender expression is not a "performance" (as if the kid were in a Broadway show), but a natural expression of what he or she is, or at least feels at that time.  This means, of course, the parents have to be as open to the idea that the kid might decide, at puberty or later, that he or she is not really transgender, or may simply decide (for whatever reasons) that he or she doesn't want to go through surgery and other advanced parts of the transition.

Also, the article shows that "liberal" parents wouldn't actually be helpful for such kids.  The parents who believe in the fluidity or ambiguity of gender simply aren't going to be helpful to a kid whose birth certificate is marked "M" but insists on having her bedroom painted lavender and festooned with Hello Kitty and Hannah Montana memorabilia.  In fact, the parents Green interviewed come off, in some cases, on the conservative side--both politically and in their view of social mores.  

Some of the comments that followed Green's article were thoughtful.  But there were others, predictably enough, that expressed ignorance or even hostility toward the kids and their parents.  But what really bothered me were the stupid ones--namely, the ones who carped on Green's pronoun usage and other such details.  I think he did the best he could and tried to follow the wishes of the kids and parents as much as he could.  Almost anyone who's gone through a transition can tell you that, at least early in the transition (which is where most of the kids are), they'd rather hear the wrong pronoun but be treated decently otherwise than to be called the right pronouns by someone who is otherwise untrustworthy.