Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Transgender Kids

By Susan Esther Barnes

CNN recently published a story called Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are. It’s about kids who insist, at an early age, that they are the opposite gender from the gender of their anatomy. These aren’t kids with malformed or unusual anatomy – they are just boys who insist they are girls, or girls who refer to themselves as a boy.

As the article explains, on the one hand, there is anatomy, and on the other hand, there are cultural things attached to gender, such as clothing (skirts or pants), toys (dolls or trucks), color preferences (pink or blue), etc.

This article caught my attention for two reasons. First, I know a couple with four kids. Three of them identify with the gender that matches their anatomy, and one does not. I’m not going to use names here, to protect their privacy. The one child, who insists he is male, is known to his friends and schoolmates as male, and I’m certainly not going to “out” him.

This couple has had to navigate a unique path, as they try to accept reality at the same time that they try to support their transgender child’s feelings. At times, they have had to deal with people who have not been helpful, such as when one of the child’s siblings said to his friends, “He’s not a boy. He’s really a girl.” Fortunately, in this case the friends thought this was just normal sibling teasing, and they didn’t believe it.

Then, there are others that are too helpful. For instance, someone changed the transgender child’s medical records to read “male” instead of “female.” The child’s mother insisted they change it back. Unless and until the boy has surgery to become male anatomically, having “male” on his medical records could cause problems.

For instance, what if the child is rushed to the emergency room, and his medical records say “male” but he is anatomically a female? The hospital will think they have the wrong child, and won’t know whose parents to notify. Similarly, what if he goes to the school nurse complaining of abdominal pain, and they’re thinking appendicitis, when maybe it’s actually just cramping because of a first monthly cycle?

The other reason this story caught my eye is that, although I have always identified myself as a female, and have never wanted to be a male, I show a lot of male tendencies. In elementary school, I didn’t want to wear a dress. I started wearing pants as soon as I was allowed, and instead of playing with the girls, I played kickball with the boys.

In high school and college, at the annual Super Bowl party I attended, I went outside and played touch football with the boys while the girls stayed inside at halftime. I cared so little about fashion that I won “Most casually dressed” in my high school yearbook. I’ve been told I run like a guy, give directions like a guy, and even to this day I prefer video games that are mostly played by men.

So what differentiates me from transgender people? Why is it that my tendencies skew strongly toward the culturally male, yet I am confident in my identity as a female? To me, the difference feels like a razor’s edge. There but for the grace of God go I, and my heart aches for the struggle of those who feel they have somehow been assigned the wrong body.

At the end of the CNN piece a transgender kid named Mario is quoted as saying, “Just be you and be happy.” If only life were that simple.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Gender is so much more fluid and so much more constructed than we think. Gender can be a wonderful way of self-expression in which we can feel 'at home' but it can also be very reductionist and alienating. It's good to keep that in mind.

    It seems counterproductive to me to focus on what makes us 'male' or 'female'. I think it shortchanges our individual gifts and talents. We humans just *are* first and foremost and gender is secondary to that. If only we could create a culture that is a little more understanding, then transgender kids could more easily find their way.

    Bivrachah, l'shanah tovah,
    This Good Life

  2. we (you and me) know someone else with a kid who is genetically a boy but identifies as a girl.

    i agree that gender (and sexuality) is much more fluid than we think. and people just need to lighten up already.

    shana tova,


  3. I think we need to be careful, especially with youth in this area.

    Freud's concept of the "over-determination of symptoms" taught us long ago that those experiencing the same symptoms (let's call them thoughts, feelings, and behaviors instead of symptoms), may being doing so for completely different reasons.

    We also know that trauma can trigger all sorts of radical changes in the way we think, feel, and behave, including identification with one gender or another.

    IOW, it is possible that some of these kids may not actually be transgendered. Even if its only one in a 1,000 who really isn't but on the surface appears to be, I believe that a thorough investigation should be made before determining a course of treatment.

  4. This is a real tragedy for a person to be born in a wrong body. This phenomenon is a very unusual one because we can't know for sure if it is connected with human brain and it is a result of traumas or if it is a real spiritual conflict between the body and the soul. I feel for such people and hope that sooner or later they start living in their perfect harmony.