Recently, I played the excerpts from the Dr. Oz show that dealt with transgender youth to Alex. I was curious to know what his reaction would be to seeing other "identified" transgender children.
He watched intently. At the moment when Dr. Oz said the word “transgender” he quickly piped up, “What’s that mean?”
“It’s when a person’s mind doesn’t match the body they were born into. Like if your mind is a girl and your body is a boy.”
Then, Dr. Oz spoke about hormone blockers—medications provided to children to inhibit puberty.
“What’s what? Puberty?”
“Well, everyone when they’re around 12 or 13 goes through a change that either turns boys into men, or girls into women. Boys get facial hair and girls grow breasts. And when they give this medication to children, it prevents that from happening.”
“Oh! I want that!”
I made no comment or gesture to this latest revelation, and the show went on to introduce Josie (born Joseph). Alex watched with rapt attentiveness. I could see his gears spinning: Boy? Girl? Looks like a girl to me. So why is she on this show? Then he asked, “Is she a girl who likes boy things?”
“Nope. She’s a girl on the inside and a boy on the outside. Only her body is a boy. She has a penis.” Alex retreated into thought again.
Finally, I asked him, “Do people ask you if you’re a boy or a girl?”
“And what do you tell them?”
“I ignore them.”
“Because. I don’t know what to tell them.”
“You know it’s ok not to know, right?”
He nodded. I continued, “No matter who you are on the inside and outside, we love you just the way you are. You are perfect to us.”
Most of us take it for granted that our gender identity matches the anatomy we were born with. But what if it didn’t? How do you explain that to someone who has no concept of what that discrepancy actually means? How do you truly justify and quantify and qualify your inner gender identity? I can’t fathom how painful it must be to have to go through that process and explain to the world that the core identity and soul have been mismatched with your body. Guilty until proven innocent, in a manner of speaking.
When I receive comments that suggest that I should force Alex to comply with societal standards of proper gender expression, I find myself at a loss for words. These are the people who truly do not understand the turmoil going on beneath the facade. These are the people who, if they only knew Alex and walked a mile in my shoes, might have a different perspective. These are the people think that “children are too young to make these decisions” and “he’s too young to know what to think.” I would like to believe that they are well-intentioned people, who are simply not educated or are misinformed on the subject. No one wants to be invalidated. Surely even these people can relate to that.
So, in the interest of trying to provide better insight and clarity to these people, I ask only this: if you forced your 6-year-old gender conforming boy to wear a dress to school, even in the first grade when he apparently supposedly doesn’t have the wherewithal to form an opinion about such matters, would he protest? And would you force him to wear the dress even knowing how much anguish it caused him? Would you stop and reflect and say to yourself, In the bigger picture, how important is this really that I let him wear what he's comfortable in?
Some battles should be picked. Ones in which bodily or mental harm will be inflicted to self or others, or ones involving the debate about whether it's ok to only brush your teeth once a day, and whether the human body can subsist on donuts alone, for example.
But in my world, there is plenty enough to take on without the overhead of forcing Alex into an identity that does not reflect his inner self. Denying him that self-expression is to deny who he really is on the inside. How he presents himself is how he sees himself. Not allowing would be the same as telling him that he is somehow not ok. And quite simply, I disagree with that. Not only is he ok on the inside, he's brilliant!