We don’t call boy’s dolls dolls, we call them action figures… -Whoopi Goldberg on “The View”
Many people do not know that transgender children exist, or at least pretend that they don’t exist. It’s probably because the subject is quite an uncomfortable one for many parents. Living as a transgender person is difficult enough; let alone being a child who has to endure childhood, puberty, and adolescence all the while changing genders at the same time. But yes, there are transgender children out there. Many are hiding, because the children and their parents are afraid.
Despite the truth, our society tells us that there are only two genders: man and woman; boy and girl. One woman, Rita Arens, writes about her encounter with a parent of a transgender child:
I’d love to tell you that I’m the world’s most open-minded person — that I came out that way. But I didn’t. I get messages every day from the media, from my life experiences, from friends, neighbors and family. I grew up thinking boys were boys and girls were girls and everyone was either Lutheran or going Straight To Hell. Nobody tried to brainwash me — it was just the environment I grew up in. As I’ve traveled through my life, I’ve tried to stop and listen before making assumptions. I’ve tried and continue to try to let new facts filter in and shape my perceptions.
We still live in a society where gender stereotypes plague our everyday life. In fact, take this video, from the TV show The View, about transgender children:
“If the boy is wearing a dress the whole day, it’s probably a conversation you should have with him.”-Whoopi Goldberg, The View
While I am in no way implying that the hosts of The View are experts on transgender children, I show this video because many parents share those same opinions voiced by The View hosts. After all, boys don’t wear dresses and girls don’t play with guns, right?
Gender roles have played such in an important part of children’s lives. For example, a few weeks ago a school punished a four year-old boy for toting long hair. This consistent enforcement of gender does not bode well for transgender children. In fact, many transgender children experience violence because of their gender.
I did hear a lovely segment on the NPR radio show, This American Life a few weeks ago. The show originally aired on February 13, 2009 titled “Somewhere Out There,” about the odds of two people being a match out of the six and a half billion people in the world. One act of the show, called “Tom Girls,” was about two transgender children.
The two transgender children, both born as males but now identify as girls, are Lilly and Thomasina, both 8. Their parents talk about when their children admitted that they were the other gender. They also talk about the children getting picked on, in and out of school, and the efforts that the parents made to accept and support their children. It’s a beautiful story, because despite the trials and tribulations that Lilly, Thomasina, and their respective families had to go through, they end up instantly becoming friends at a conference for parents of transgender children.
Fred, Thomasina’s father, said that it would be so much easier if his child were gay because people would understand what that was. Because being gay is so simple to understand. Given our binary gender construction in the U.S., this is not surprising.
Throughout the segment, you can hear both of the girls desperately wanting to be normal and to have a normal childhood. They feel connected not just because of their gender, but because of their gendered experience. They can truly understand what the other is going through, how their parents feel about them, how their friends feel about them, and even more, they know what society thinks of them.
It’s heartwarming to see two children like Lilly and Thomasina connect and to hear their personal stories. More stories of transgender children must be told, so that we can support and understand the experiences that they go through. We must not forget: these are children, after all.
Click on the articles below to read more about transgender children:
- ‘I’m a Girl’ — Understanding Transgender Children from ABC News
- A Boy’s Life from The Atlantic
- Research Shows Lack of Support for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Youth in U.S. School Systems from Student Pulse
Apologies for not being able to obtain a written transcription of the audio and video segments.