***Trigger warning: If you are transgender, you may not wish to see some of the comments that will be quoted in this article. If you love someone who is transgender, you may not wish to see them either. But unfortunately, if you run in public circles on the Internet, it is probable that you already have.***
Sex and gender identity are not typically high on my priority list. I am not transgender myself; I am happily cis-female (that meaning that my gender identity is “cis,” which is chemistry lingo for “on the same side,” as my body).
But some things I cannot ignore.
Those things are the sickeningly horrific public reaction I have repeatedly seen in recent months to families with transgender children.
When it became public knowledge that Bragelina’s child, a biological girl, prefers to go by the name “John” and dress in boy’s clothes, public reaction was shocking.
People called it “child abuse.” People demanded that Child Protective Services be called, and the child removed from Bragelina’s custody. “There’s no way,” people said, “that that little girl wants to be called John. Her parents must be forcing their own agenda on her.”
Why do we have this reaction?
I can see how it could be difficult for a cis-person to understand what it is to be transgendered. For someone who has always woken up and felt like the gender in the mirror, you probably think that gender is determined by what’s in the mirror.
When roughly 99% of people feel the same way, and the 1% that doesn’t are often forced to hide the fact that what they see in the mirror does not match the way they feel, or are called “mentally ill” for feeling the way that they do, it’s easy to see how one might not understand transsexuality.
But why become enraged by it?
Why have opinions so fixed about a subject because it is unfamiliar to you that you are not willing to consider new sources of information?
I have seen this syndrome many times with people who don’t believe that gender reassignment should occur. “These people,” they say, “are sick. They need help. Being surgically mutilated or subjected to dangerous hormone therapy is bad for them.”
One person described their approach to transgender people as “frustrated compassion.” She just wanted what was best for them, you see – but they refused to accept what was best for them.
How dare you tell another person what is best for them?
And if your only concern is for their well-being, why become enraged when transgender people, after going through psychotherapy and hearing out your point of view, fail to change?
Why do they threaten you?
Why force your child to continue going to a therapist who tells her there’s something wrong with her, and isolate her from anyone who tells her that her gender identity is okay? This describes the behavior of Leelah Alcorn’s parents leading up to their daughter’s decision to walk into incoming traffic on the freeway.
She left behind a suicide note citing her parents’ inability to accept her and their forced isolation of her from anyone who did accept her as among the reasons she decided to end her life:
“When I was 14,” Leelah wrote, “I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong.
“If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.” – Leelah Alcorn, 2014
Would that behavior be preferable to Bragelina’s – that, or the behavior of CeCe McDonald’s family, who told her to “pray out” her love of wearing women’s clothes in early childhood, and then resorted to beating her when they became aware of her attraction to boys during her early teen years?
Instead of praying to stop feeling like a girl, CeCe prayed before bed to wake up in the female body that she was sure God intended her to have.
Why punish your children and tell them they’re wrong for any sign of acting the “wrong” gender?
When I was a teenager, two of my friends recounted how their parents had become very angry with them as children once when they helped their brother to dress in girls’ clothes. My friends said that “now they understand that what they did was wrong, because they might have confused him.”
How fragile is gender identity, that a substantial portion of parents seem to think that allowing a boy to wear a dress will leave him irreparably damaged?
If gender identity is so fragile, then why do so many people report having felt like the wrong gender from a very early age; and why is it that for many of these people, neither years of therapy nor violent beatings and threats of death cause them to feel that they are in the correct-gendered body?
A transgender friend once described her situation to me as “It’s like you’re wearing your coat upside down and backwards. Except instead of your coat, it’s your body. The right things just aren’t in the right places. And it’s tremendously uncomfortable.”
We don’t even need to discuss the medical and scientific soundness of gender reassignment surgery to understand why our society has a huge problem.
People don’t need to be getting surgery or hormone therapy to be considered “sick” because they live as a member of the opposite sex to that of their body.
Apparently, allowing a boy to wear a dress or honoring a girl’s request to be called “John” is enough to be accused of abusing them.
This issue was brought up for me again recently with the publication of an article about an ordinary family – no celebrities here – whose choice to allow their four-year-old biological boy to live as a girl per her wishes was apparently sensational enough to make headlines.
And again, the reaction was the same:
“That’s child abuse!”
“Someone call Child Protective Services!”
“These people should not be allowed to be parents!”
As someone who has watched several friends come out as transgender only to be greeted variously with rage, disbelief, exasperation, and general denial of legitimacy by their families, these comments made my blood boil.
After having seen people cry with happiness the first time their parents called them by their proper pronoun, I couldn’t believe we were accusing supportive parents of abuse.
“What kind of world are we encouraging?” I asked, “By so severely punishing parents who dare to let their children be themselves?”
Another concern: “Now, you say you blame the parents for mistreating the poor child, who you believe needs right guidance.”
“How would you react if your child came out to you as transgender?”
“Transsexuality is a mental disorder,” I’ve heard it said. “It’s just like anorexia or bulimia. You don’t let someone cut off their body parts because they hate them. You get them psychological help.”
That virtually all transgender people go through psychotherapy to address any body dysmorphia they may have before starting hormone therapy or getting sex reassignment surgery seems irrelevant to these critics.
That some teens kill themselves after being forced through years of “reparative” therapy by non-mainstream counselors who don’t believe in gender dysphoria does not seem relevant to these critics.
That constantly being called sick and wrong is probably a leading cause of suicide among these people does not seem relevant to these “compassionate” critics.
“Transsexuality is new,” the I have heard the critics say. “Until the last few decades, no one had even thought of something so unnatural.”
Except that those claims are not true at all. Societies around the world and throughout history have had examples of transgender individuals; many even had formalized social classes of transpeople, such as the fakalaties of Tonga, the “two spirit” male-female people of the Native American tribes, the hijra of India, the burrneshas of Albania, or the five different genders recognized by the Bugis people of Indonesia.
One very, very old archaeological site is thought to be the grave of a transgender cavewoman; the bones bear the marks of developing under the influence of male hormones, but the person was buried with female implements for cooking and sewing, facing the direction in which females were typically buried.
I would ask: “If both genders are okay, why is it essential to stick to one or the other?”
I would ask: “If both genders are okay, why is it so important to society which one a person is?”
I would ask: “What do you have to fear from the idea that transsexuality is a real thing that happens to a tiny percentage of people?”
Perhaps someday, someone will answer my questions.
But until then, consider this: if you have a problem with something that doesn’t hurt anybody, what is the motivation for your rage?
To put it another way, are you loving, or controlling?