Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Transgender at five" article

Washington Post article, published May 19, 2012

Summary: Jean and Stephen's little girl, Kathryn, told them over and over, from the time she was 2, that she was a boy.  It's more than just being a tomboy- she might be transgender.  They finally made the decision to let him (okay I'm switching the pronouns to male at this point in the story) live as a boy, sign up for kindergarten as male, etc.

But seriously, read the whole article.  My summary doesn't get the whole feel of the article.

So this is definitely an unusual situation and I don't know what to make of it.  It's real though, and it's good to learn about other people's experiences so we can understand each other more and have compassion etc.

Questions/musings I have (with the disclaimer that maybe we don't have answers, and they really don't need parenting advice from people on the internet):

What does a 5-year-old kid know about what it means to be a boy or girl?  The article uses a lot of caricatures like "the parents who ban baby dolls or toy guns see their little girl swaddle and cradle a stuffed animal or watch in awe as their boy makes guttural, spitting Mack truck sounds while four-wheeling his toast over his eggs, then uses his string cheese as a sword."  And references to Barbie dolls.  Too many mentions of Barbies.  Geez.  As if that's what it means to be a girl.

Dude, when I was little, my sisters and I had tons of Barbies (oh btw I am a girl) and we played that some of them had been kidnapped and enslaved by the bad guys and the rest of the Barbies had to come up with a secret-agent-style scheme to break in and get their friends out- because they were totally not going to get tricked into paying a ransom.  My Barbies had a strict policy of never negotiating with terrorists.  Sorry if I'm not feminine enough. O_o

No but seriously, what does it even mean to a 5-year-old kid to be "a boy" or "a girl"?

At that age, boys and girls are more or less physically/psychologically the same, right?  Oh, except that boys have cooties.  Lol.  But seriously, I'm having trouble understanding the idea that a little kid can be transgender.  Like really, what is the difference between boys and girls at that age?  (All the times the article mentions pink and glitter and dresses and playing with dolls... dude, shut up.)

Does it matter if their daughter wants to say she's a boy?  Kids say silly things all the time.  Maybe she/he really is transgender, or maybe it's just a weird idea she got from somewhere and "it's just a phase".  Who knows.

It's not the same thing as being a "tomboy" though- the article says it's much more extreme than that.  When discussing how his (pronouns?  I'm trying my best here, people) body is anatomically female, he asks his mom "why did you change me?"  For some reason, the kid thinks he is supposed to be a boy.  Is it just because little kids get weird ideas, or is he right?  No one can answer that except him.

But if the kid is transgender, and lives his whole life as a male- well that's hard.  People aren't going to understand, people are going to mock him, there's discrimination, etc etc.  A little kid doesn't know about how hard life is as a transgender person.

So yep. Tell me in the comments if you have any musings/ questions/ awesome insights.


  1. Hi there,

    I just ran across your blog on a link from a Rachel Held Evans' Mutuality synchroblog post. I thought I'd check out your older posts.

    I guess I'll be the first person to comment on this one. :)

    I don't think that it makes sense for a child of that age to have the level of sexual/gender comprehension that they claim (s)he does. From what I've read and studied about child development that just doesn't jive. Does a five year old *really* understand what it means to be female or male? I have trouble believing that. Obviously I don't know a lot about this situation other than reading about it but if I were to guess I'd wonder if Kathryn ran across some aspect of sexism such as "boys get to do this but girls don't"(boys get perks) or "only boys like such-and-such" and so became convinced that (s)he *must* (or needed to) be a boy. But like I said, that's a guess from very little info.

    Can I ask a semi-related question that could be offensive? (Please feel free to delete if you don't want to post this)

    What is the difference between a guy who believes he's Obama, or a woman who thinks she's an alien in a person suit, and a person who thinks that he or she is actually another gender? I'm sorry- I don't know how to say this without it sounding rude- but in each case physical reality doesn't match what the person believes. We say the first two are suffering from delusional thinking but in the third case it's different.

    One explanation for people being transgender is that the person/soul is in the wrong gender body. But doesn't that necessitate the person being a separate thing from his or her body? My understanding of Christian philosophy/theology of the body is that we are an embodied soul not a soul *and* a body, ie. that we can't be divided into a soul and the body that we "wear". Our gendered bodies are as much a part of us as anything else; they don't exist separately. So how would that work if someone believed they were a man but their body was female? This is something I really don't understand. I'd appreciate any insight you (or other commenters) could offer.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I also thought it didn't make sense for a kid that young to be transgender- how can a little kid really understand what it means to be a boy or girl? But obviously we don't know enough details, and we don't know why the kid is saying that, so, yeah can't really make a conclusion.

      For your other question- yeah I'm also kind of worried about being offensive when I write about this stuff, because I don't know enough about it. Anyway, I've wondered that too- there has to be a limit to how people are allowed to identify themselves, or definitions just don't mean anything. I would say in the case of transgender people, they're not denying the physical reality that their body is anatomically male or female, but it's their mind that is different. But I'm not an expert or anything.

  2. Back issues, yay!

    Many (but not all) adult trans* people describe their experience as having known for their entire sentient lifespan that they were assigned the wrong sex. Human sex differentiation is not at all as simple as XX -> woman, XY -> man; apart from the chromosomal issues (there are X0, XXY, chimeras, and several other possible variations), hormone levels have lots more to do with the development of external sexual characteristics than chromosomes. I'd tend to trust the kid; it won't matter medically until puberty, anyway, when you'd make the choice to go to hormone treatment to delay puberty until the person is of an age to decide what zie wants to do with hir body. Recommended reading: -- a transwoman who writes about various aspects of the trans* experience, among other things.

    1. Yes, I've heard before that many trans people knew it their entire lives. I don't understand how that works, but I believe them. Also thanks for the link to that blog- I definitely want to read more about transgender issues.

  3. My understanding (which is not an expert understanding) is that being transgender requires that the desired change not be due to perceived social advantages- i.e., it can't be because boys get more opportunities in science, etc. It also involves some kind of body dysphoria-in this case, "why did you change me?". Gender is more who you are in your soul/mind, and sex is what you are anatomically and chromosomally. What doctors recommend is that the kid be allowed to live as they want, be put on hormone blockers (originally used to delay early puberty, so they're 100% reversible) at puberty, and put on the hormones of their target gender at 16. I don't know why 16 specifically, but that's the official guideline. Probably because it's considered a good age of consent for a non-reversible procedure. The whole thing can be kind of weird for those of us who've never had to deal with our gender being different than our physical sex, but most people seem to know their gender from a very young age. If they are allowed to transition, they seem to do better in almost every respect. There was one trans girl (male to female) at my school, and she went from Jack, who was a social outcast, to Jackie, who everybody was friends with, because she wasn't depressed anymore.

  4. there is also estrogen pumped in the water because of the massive amounts of birth control now being used, people ingest it and that can cause some boys to be more feminine....maybe thats why they always "feel" a part of the wrong gender? i know its probably extremely complicated but things like this can usually be environmental factors.
    there was an identical twin study in where one twin turned gay, and the other didnt. (they grew up apart in different environments). obviously there were environmental factors be it trauma, abuse, extreme rejection or maybe just more estrogen that caused one twin to turn could be a similar case here perhaps?