Recently I had quite a surprising conversation with a middle-aged couple I know about transgender people. The couple, who had been together for well over 15 years in a very happy marriage, came out as somewhat tolerant, but highly critical of the transgender community, and typified the transgender lifestyle as a charade masking larger psychological problems. While this may not seem to you like an unexpected sentiment coming from a middle-aged couple in America, this couple was hardly the stodgy conservative type. Bleeding heart liberals, crusaders of same-sex rights, and gay proud to the highest degree; this couple found the transgender community objectionable, in part, because they felt the transgender identity weighed negatively upon the larger gay and lesbian agenda, in both a social and political way. The fact is, while the gay and lesbian community is experiencing some of the widest acceptance, tolerance, and support it has ever seen, the transgender community is still largely regarded as an oddity and, in some corners, something to be feared and held in suspicion. They just can’t get a break.
Say, or think, what you will about the transgender community (comprised of those whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth) the fact is that contending with transgender issues is a tough road for anyone, especially children. As any parent of a transgender child will tell you, no one would have wished for this path for their child, but still many parents of transgender children overcome their initial resistance, step up, and support their child’s journey (and of course, some sadly do not). According to a recent CNN report about the trials and travails of transgender children, transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities. When children insist that their gender doesn’t match their body, it can trigger a confusing, painful odyssey for the family. And most of the time, these families face isolating experiences trying to decide what is best for their kids, especially because transgender issues are viewed as mysterious, and loaded with stigma and judgment. Despite how some parents and relatives may react to a “trans” child, the American Psychological Association warns, “It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.” When children, who are working through issues of gender dysphoria (associated with transgender and thought to be gender identity disorder) or simply gender nonconformity (not an indicator of any disorder, but just an unwillingness to conform to gender “norms”) are made to conform, they often resist, fall into depression, and may experience suicidal urges.
The aforementioned CNN article, with accompanying video (see below) profiles a handful of families and children who have been struggling with gender identity and the acceptance of a transgender reality. One child, who seemed to show signs of gender dysphoria as early as 4-years old, is now an adolescent and electively being given by his/her parents hormone blockers to stall puberty (a hugely contentious issue within and outside the transgender community).
To be certain, the transgender reality for both children and their parents is one of tremendous challenge, requiring equal parts bravery, resolve, and compassion. While thousands of children in the United States struggle with gender identity, very little is known about the specifics of such struggles. While everyone may agree that such gender issues originate in the brain, experts debate whether it’s purely psychological or physiological. What is your read on such issues of gender identity? How would you handle a child or loved one with a transgender identity? Is this a population that needs our support, our help, or both?