I feel honoured to welcome a colleague and friend of mine, Emily Sors, to write a two part guest blog series on Trans 101 and Gender Variant Children. Please remember to read carefully and with an open mind. I also encourage people to feel comfortable respectfully asking any questions you may have in the comments. I understand this topic may be far out of your frame of reference.
It looks like with all the talk about Baby Storm and Aias’ recent photo, there’s a lot of conversation and (mis)understanding about gender, transgender and gender-variant children. I’m a trans woman who grew up with these issues all her life, and have been active in educating people about trans issues for over half a decade. I’ll start by going over the basics of transgender issues, and then I’ll go a little bit into what you can do to see that your gender-variant and/or trans child receives the best support from you.
Most people don’t give a second thought about their gender. To most our gender comes naturally to us. But for a few of us, our sense of self can become discordant due to our inner sense of gender not matching with who we are on the outside. This can manifest itself in many ways, though the most common way this happens is through a sense of anxiety, depression and social awkwardness. This is what is known technically as Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in psychiatric circles and the DSM-IV. That inner sense of gender (and we all have it, whether we’re aware of it or not) is what’s called gender identity, and the discomfort one feels from having a gender identity different from their physical sex and social gender is called gender dysphoria. Now, the term GID is really a big misnomer, because it’s not the gender identity of the person that is disordered. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with having a different gender identity than what is reflected by your body and social presentation. The ‘disorder’ comes from the (sometimes extreme) discomfort experienced by such people. It is important to realize, however, that this is not a mental illness* - it is, in reality, a natural variation in the way we feel our gender identity, much the same way as gay and lesbian people experience a natural variation in their sexual orientation.
Many attempts have been made to ‘cure’ trans people, but the only ‘treatment’ that has successfully relieved the discomfort is transition. Transition is the physical, emotional, medical and social process that a trans person goes through to shift their outward gender and physical sex characteristics to match their gender identity. For trans women (people assigned male at birth, but who identify as female), this can include estrogen therapy, electrolysis or laser hair removal, voice retraining, breast augmentation, and genital surgery. For trans men (people assigned female at birth, but who identify as male), this can include testosterone therapy, chest surgery, hysterectomy, and genital surgery. Each trans person chooses for themselves which of these processes they wish to take, according to their individual gender identity. Not all trans people choose to undergo genital surgery. In addition, trans people become resocialized in their preferred gender.
People who undergo the transition process described above are commonly referred to as transsexuals. Transsexuals are only one way a person can be transgender, which is an umbrella term that refers to people who have a gender identity that does not match their birth sex. Transition is a process for people who cannot get rid of their dysphoria any other way. Other transgender people are able to find comfort in other ways, such as an alternate gender expression. In fact, gender is not binary, but rather is a spectrum. People may identify as very feminine, very masculine, or anywhere in between. Most cisgender (non-trans) people identify as typically feminine, in the case of women, and typically masculine, in the case of men. Many transgender people find their gender identity lies somewhere in between male and female, or simply as neither. These people often identify themselves as genderqueer. Some people enjoy crossdressing, either out of comfort, or for sexual purposes.
|Beautiful photo taken from http://womenscollaborativecircle.blogspot.com/|
Occasionally, a child is born with a condition where they have some ambiguity about their biological sex, either externally with some genital ambiguity, or internally (with either hormone issues or ambiguity within the reproductive system). These children are intersexed, and is another normal variation. In the past, doctors used to try to correct genital ambiguity through surgery soon after birth, often without the parents’ consent, or even knowledge! However today is it recognized that intersex children are better off growing up being able to choose their own gender, and if desired, have their condition modified surgically later in life.
Ultimately, no one is harmed and no one harms others by their gender variance, and they deserve acceptance. On the other hand, the social stigma associated with gender variant behaviour can cause great psychological damage to people who exhibit gender variance, and can cause people to conceal their gender variance, or frequently by denying it entirely, in both cases increasing their dysphoria. Trans people face many struggles in today’s society due to transphobia, which is the unjustified hate of trans people. Many people display a discomfort about trans people and gender variance, and some cloak it in religious justification, though there is little actual basis for this. Trans people are normal people trying to live their lives as comfortable as possible, just like everyone else. One unfortunate myth that persists is that trans people are sexual perverts, though this could not be further from the truth!
Trans people deserve to have their identity respected, and the easiest way to do so is to treat them as if they were a cisgender person of the gender they identify as. Ungendering a person by using incorrect pronouns or by other means is highly disrespectful, and unfortunately is all too common, especially when a trans person is in the middle of transition and does not pass as their identified gender. Ungendering is a form of projection, where one’s individual views are non-consensually imposed on another who may or may not agree with such a view. Projection is at the heart of oppression theory. Another common way trans people are ungendered is by being barred from using washrooms assigned to their identified gender. This can become a safety issue, especially for trans women, as they can potentially be subjected to violence for using the washroom of a gender they do not appear to be.Come back tomorrow to read Kids and Gender Part Two: When your child is trans or gender-variant.
*mental illness is defined as “a psychological or behavioural pattern generally associated with distress or disability that occurs in an individual, and which is not a part of normal development or culture.” (Wikipedia)
Emily Sors has been active in the trans community ever since she began her transition at 20. Since then she's been the Vice President of the Vancouver Pride Society, and today she is starting her own company, where she does web development and social media marketing for small businesses. In her spare time she volunteers to educate people about transgender issues and plays board games with her partner. Check Emily out at www.handyhedgehog.com or www.emilysors.com
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