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A Boy/Girl’s Life: The Challenges of Transgender Children

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A Boy/Girl’s Life: The Challenges of Transgender Children

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.


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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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5:56PM PST on Jan 14, 2013

To learn more about the effects of enforcing gender stereotypes, read:

12:02PM PST on Jan 14, 2013

If unsure seek counceling.

Remember to "click to donate" every day.

12:18AM PDT on Apr 22, 2012

Thanks for the info

9:05PM PDT on Mar 19, 2012

I'm honestly not sure how I'd handle it as a parent. People break gender roles all the time without actually being trans. How do you actually help a kid figure out if they're just a rather feminine boy/masculine girl vs trans? And how young is too young to make those kinds of major decisions?

1:06AM PST on Mar 3, 2012

Thanks for the article.

1:54AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

thanks for an imformative article.

I agree with Becky S' comment to a degree.

2:44PM PDT on Oct 8, 2011

The transphobic public and religious right will never understand the hell they put us through. They'll get theirs some day if not on this world then the next.

9:22PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Spread the love! Not judgement and hate!

2:02PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

i think one of the problems is that children are not given a chance to just be and grow up to figure things out after a few life experiences.why does the gender have to fit any specific role.i remember many years ago when i bought my house,i got a kick of doing plastering and painting,and real dirty work during the day and then at night showering and prettying up in a skirt and was enlightening to bridge both aspects of my being .i use to love wearing ties,and sometimes if i don t find the right shoes ,i go in the men s department.i am not gay,but am very accepting of differences.i don t see why men could not wear a skirt if they so desired.the scots do,and the romans wore togas,why would the cloth make the should be allowed to grow in the body that they where given by life and then in their twenties if they still feel they need to fit the gender with the aspiration then they can get an some cases hormones set in later than why rush the process.

10:41AM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

I agree with Becky S. Why must we label?
I remember loving to climb trees and to play "rough" when I was a kid. Of course, I was labeled a "Tom Boy", and I realised many people frowned upon Tom Boys, including people I loved. I was fortunate enough to have a mother that would understand that, support my choices, and more importantly, made no big deal when I refused to wear a dress, or anything that was pink. It helped me a lot.
Today, I still enjoy playing "rough', climbing trees, tossing the football around with my spouse, and I'm proud when he says I'm a physically strong woman. And I don't let anyone call my daughters a Tom Boy, when they ask for toy trucks for their Birthday, or when they go to school looking more like a football player than a cheerleader.

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