Monday, May 5, 2008

When is it too early for a child to realize that they are transgendered?

In comments to one of my more recent posts, FranIAm wanted my thoughts on this post by Quaker Dave. And since it was Fran, I wanted to oblige, but I wanted to do it here versus there only because my thoughts are more complex and I wanted to have my own space to discuss this. Also, this is a discussion that I seem to keep coming back to at this blog, sexuality and children.

The article is about a 9 year old boy who wants be be able to dress as a girl and be called by a girl's name. The parents went to the school and asked for their help in transitioning this child into a school that they were already attending, but now as a girl. The school was very supportive and sent out letters to parents saying they would have a discussion with the 100 children that were in the same grade as the transgendered child about what this meant and how they should "be nice" to the child. Although, I have no experience at all in this area of feeling like you are the wrong gender and hence I have no idea if this is too young for a person who is transgendered to realize that they are in the "wrong body". I know I have read of other individuals who have said that they are aware of feeling wrong for a long time even as early as being a young child. I am glad that the parents are being supportive of the child and that the school is also trying to be supportive of the family and the child. There are, of course, other parents who have their concerns and do not feel like the school should be allowing a boy to dress as a girl or have asked that their child not attend the discussion about this child. I would like to say that these parents want to be able to discuss this with their own child in a way that is more tailored to their own child or that they are afraid how their own child will handle this so they want to protect them as only a parent can. But I know that more likely the negative comments and thoughts are born out of just plain ol' prejudice and fear. They are somehow afraid that their child will get teh gay or that this will make their own child want to dress as the opposite gender. This of course will cause mass chaos, not. This is one child and in all honesty I would guess that most of their friends already know what is going on. I would guess that the transgendered child has talked to some of their friends or at least their friends know that the child is not comfortable in their own skin. So the parents are the ones freaking out while the kids are just handling it.

So I guess now it is time to get into my own thoughts on this. I think it is good for a child to be able to explore their own sexuality. I have said many times before that just because the child is playing in the dramatic play area and may even be wearing a dress while they are playing does not mean they are transgendered or even gay. I see nothing wrong with this child wanting to find a way to be comfortable in their own skin and if that means that they feel as though they are the other gender and want to dress and be called by a new name, that may work. The child is not undergoing any surgery, that is where I would get concerned. I would say that a child is too young to be able to know that they want to have a surgery that will drastically alter their body in that way at that young of an age, but wanting to dress differently and feel more comfortable, I think is good. I applaud the school for handling the situation in the manner in which they did. It would have been very easy for the school to say that the parents are on their own, that they could not tell the child they could not change their dress and name, but that they would also not call an assembly about this situation either. The school could have said that the child can use whatever name they want, but the teachers will call them by their birth name. The school could have said that this would be a violation of the dress code and not allow it. There are a myriad of things the school could have done and they didn't. They did what was the most supportive to this family. As a teacher how would I handle this situation seems to be the next step in my thinking and I think that in the age of children I am working with 3-5, this may not be an issue, not that a child may feel like they are the wrong gender, but that the parents are still dressing the child and they are not yet choosing their own clothing, so they are at the mercy of the parents. But if I was working with older children, I would try to be supportive of that family and child and help them in any way I could.

Now as a parents, of course I would be supportive if my son or daughter felt like they were the wrong gender and wanted to find a way for them to feel more comfortable. I would want to talk to them about the issues they were having and work with them to find a solution. If this solution included having them dress as the other gender or have a new name or however they wanted to express themselves, I would want to support them. Another thought I had on this issue was that this is still enforcing the gender roles though. This child is choosing to dress like a girl, which would seem to me to mean that they are wearing dresses, or pink or maybe makeup and yet not all women wear makeup or dresses or other stereotypical female attire. If my child wanted to wear a dress or makeup, I would ask them why, not in a disapproving manner, but as a why do you have to wear dresses or makeup to be considered feminine. I am not sure of the answer to this and I am not sure what else can be done for a boy to feel like they are more feminine, but I am also not sure that I, as a parent, would want to stop my child from expressing themselves.

The final thought as I thought about transgendered children is from two different shows that I really like that have transgendered children in them. First, The Riches, the youngest boy in the show happens to like to dress as a little girl and has even at times used more feminine names, I believe. The irony to this is that Eddie Izzard plays the father and he happens to be a cross-dressing comedian, but the idea for the son to be a cross dresser was born before Izzard got on board according to most reports. As to one of my earlier points about the other children, in the most recent episode, Sam, the son, is caught listening to some girls talking about "cute" clothes. Later one of the girls comes over to his house and helps him to do his makeup and find an outfit, she just accepts that this is Sam and wants to be their friend. The girls parents might flip if they found out that their daughter was helping a boy cross dress, but the girl has no issues with this. Here is a brief film clip from the show which emphasizes Sam and cross dressing.

The second show is My So-Called Life. In this show, which I loved when I was in high school especially as the characters were all supposed to be around my age, one is the characters is gay, Ricky. Which is not the same as cross dressing and I know that, but the point I am making is that he was in the girl's bathroom and would put on makeup and none of the girls thought anything of it. So again, the kids are more accepting than the adults.

This school did the right thing and I am glad to hear that the parents are being supportive toward their child, but it is sad to hear that the parents are having an issue with this, when in reality I doubt that the kids will be as worried as the parents. And maybe the ideal thing to have done was not to make a big deal out of it, not hold an assembly for this issue, but if you don't than you are only asking for trouble when the parents do find out. As my mom would say, it is a "dammed if you do and dammed if you don't" situation. You can't just be supportive to the parents of the transgendered child and help the faculty to adjust and know that the kids will be fine because parents will flip and yet you can't send home a note saying that you will be talking to the kids about this because the parents will flip. So the school did the only thing they could, they were supportive to the parents and did their best.


FranIAm said...

Boxer, you awe me. I am so overtired and just got off the phone with a client so I can't say too much more.

Since I am heading out of town for a few days I did just want to say something.

I did not want to put you on the spot, but your expansive mind and your insights about kids and gender made me think of you.

Paper Dolls For Boys said...

Hi - I was thinking you might want to substitute GENDER in place of sexuality. They are 2 different things and what you seem to be writing about strikes me as GENDER issues. Like when a child is born they have a "gender" not a sex. That's a common mistake.

And sorry to be kind of nudgey on my first post. I agree that your heart tells you your gender, not your body!