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reading tiger

more blah blah on gender and kids and stuff

Thanks to Mike Honda, transgender kids are in the news. I caught a KTVU segment on a child at North Oakland Charter School today. (Link here.) The segment was nice, respectful, and hopefully enlightening to some folks.

However, the first question after the segment was, to paraphrase, "how can you tell when this is real and how can you tell when it's just a phase?"

And here is where I would like to clear my throat a little.

When last we discussed the gender identification of my children here, Simone was mostly a boy. April was entirely a girl. The school was coping, we were coping, people on the bus were coping, and overall life was going as smoothly as it could.

Things have changed a little.

Simone is deep into exploring her femme side. Whether she is a femme boy or a femme girl depends on when you ask her, but she's wearing dresses and accessorizing her hair and she is totally OK with being perceived as a girl in these moments. This year she is using the girls' bathroom at school (after discovering it's cleaner). She asks her class to use "he" as a pronoun but it OK now if they forget, and she is still OK if I call her "she." She is still a boy and a girl, but right now anyway, girl is ascendant. Sometimes she is a boy in a dress -- because that happens in our world, after all -- but she's much less insistent on that point in general than she was even last year.

Meanwhile, April has decided she is a boy, although she does not care about pronouns. She will occasionally wear a dress or a skirt but mostly prefers pants, which is a radical change from last year when she was all about skirts and dresses and sparkly. (She still kind of likes sparkly.) She wants her hair pulled back every day because it looks more boyish that way. She is very frustrated that people have not instantly switched over to treating her like the boy she is. She is not a girl and a boy; she is all boy.

(She also signs all her homework "Bruce Wayne" unless she is wearing a bat-signal t-shirt, in which case she signs it "Batman.")

And so let's return to the question, "is it a phase? How can you tell?"

My answer is, you can't tell. Nobody can predict the future. You only have right now. Take them seriously *right now*, because *right now*, it's real. It's real even if it's a phase. It's real either way. It was real when Simone was getting into verbal altercations at preschool about her gender identity, and when she was learning to pee standing up. It was real when April wore nothing but skirts and dresses for several years in a row, and I finally started telling people who couldn't tell my kids apart (eh?) "if she's wearing a dress, that's April. If she's wearing pants, it's Simone." How this rule of thumb has blown back in my face! Oh well. We'll adjust.

So right now, it's complicated. And that's hard for people who like one simple rule and one set of pronouns for all occasions and one state of being, please. But just as before, I am letting the kids lead, and I am following and making adjustments accordingly. Phase or no phase. I suppose as we get closer to puberty we will have to have some discussions beyond the "right now." But we're not rushing it. We'll wait. We'll see.


One of the reasons I love you so much is your ability to simply let your children be, to take them seriously as they are right now. It's the soundest investment you can make in their future.

[tangent: It disturbs me that there's a trend out there to force trans children into rigid gender identity: people going so far as to give their children hormones to alter their bodies' growth, which will have bad effects on their health as they grow up.]

And yes, a thousand times yes, the phases of children's lives are exquisitely real, no matter how much they change.
FWIW, my understanding is that current medical practice is to use hormone blockers to delay puberty, which is easily reversible by simply stopping the medication and seems to have few adverse side effects. Hormones per se are usually delayed until adulthood.
Hormone blockers are hormones. And, for example, if you block a child's estrogen, you are impacting, among other things, bone development. Not to mention a whole raft of thjings involving the circulatory system. For that matter, the endocrine system.
OK. They are not sex hormones. And I'd rather have loss of bone density vs. suicide, so I am very much OK with the protocol as it stands.
I think I am influenced rather strongly by the fact that *I* had a very supportive family, and I flirted with teenage suicidal ideation in part b/c of gender stuff, so. (Because you have to leave your family sometime.)

Anyway. Yes, no black-and-white. I am grateful that there's a tool, I think it is a useful tool, it is not a tool without risks and it it not a tool to be used in all instances.

And, of course, the kid should have some say in it too.

Edited at 2015-02-20 06:16 pm (UTC)
Deleted my comment here to protect my kids' privacy when I saw this was cross-posted on FB.
I think I could have screened it for you, but understood.
No worries. I'm rusty with my LJ skills. Didn't even think to check to see whether it was a public post or not. :-)
Whoah there, puberty blockers are pretty much the OPPOSITE of forcing children into rigid gender identity, blockers buy time to decide.

Puberty blockers are never given until tanner stage 1 has been reached (i.e. puberty has actually started) we aren't talking about little children, rather tweens and teens who are old enough to have a voice in this discussion (usually the voice asking for blockers) -- and also be often suffering from significantly increased dysphoria when their body starts much more noticeably transforming into the gender they do not feel themselves to be. If with the greater clarity of age, they decide not to transition/fully transition, you just stop taking the blockers and puberty starts as it was going to initially.

In studies where puberty blockers after tanner stage 1 is the default treatment, and the youth then have time to figure out without the emotional chaos of puberty where their gender is going and whether they wish to continue medical transition, the suicide rate and general mental health is the same as the general population, which is *amazing*. (Transgender youth have the highest suicide risk of pretty much all populations, with 50% attempting.)

As an adult, someone who wants to present in the traditional binary categories is far more able to pass, and has to go through a lot fewer surgeries and medical interventions, if they only had to go through puberty once, not the wrong one first and the correct-for-them one second.

I always love hearing about your kids.

I've always thought: if it's just a phase, there's no harm in indulging it, and if it's not, there's great harm in not taking it seriously, so either way, acceptance is the best policy.
That perspective -- who might be harmed if I believe what this person says about themselves, vs. who might be harmed if I don't believe this person -- has served me well in so many different situations. The answer usually has been that I would do much less harm by believing what the person says about themselves.

Seeing things in that light really helps me take a step back, let other people live their own lives, and give them support and compassion even when they make choices that I don't understand or wouldn't have expected.
Reading about your kids does make me wonder how fluid more people would be/ have been about their gender if they had been given such choice and support.
I love hearing about how your children are growing, learning about themselves, and learning to interact with the world around them. Gender identities and all.

This reminds me of the time I came over to your house bearing a bunch of sparkly tiaras, wands, and feather boas. As I remember it, you had just spent the day discussing Disney princesses (or something similar) with other parents, so you raised an eyebrow at my sparkly tiara collection. The twins were around two or three years old at the time, and they had their own ideas about what to do with a bunch of tiaras.

Simone put one on and declared "I am the king!"

April put one on and said "I am a king too!"

Simone said "No, there can be only one king, and I am the king."

April said "Okay. I am a dinosaur with a crown!"
I love this story and I did not remember it, and it sounds so much like my children that I am tickled all over again. And if I raised an eyebrow, it was probably just at the Universal Coincidence of it all.