How You Can Actually “Think of the Children”
Ah, Tumblr. Both the place I discovered the nuances of and realized my identity as an asexual person, and the home of these outstanding Hot Takes.
Yes folks, today we’re talking about the exclusionists yet again. I’m just as excited as you are.
But with the recent news about the Trump administration changing the definition of gender to exclude trans people, and its supporters using this same “won’t someone please think of the children???” defense, it’s worth breaking down this sort of argument so you can update your Bullshit-O-Meter accordingly.
Because it comes up A LOT.
Song as Old as Rhyme
So if you’re trans or familiar with transphobic arguments, you might have seen a glimmer of something familiar in those posts I showed. In both cases, the label itself is seen as damaging to these kids. They argue that, essentially, it forces kids to grow up too fast, considering ideas and ways of seeing themselves that they shouldn’t have to worry about at X age and only serving to confuse them at best and exploit them at worst.
Remember that bit I underlined, where that person argued that being asexual is inherently sexual? Yes, it’s a ridiculous thing to say, but it‘s something every member of the LGBTQIA+ community has heard directed at their identity at some point. Time and again we get told that our identities are inherently sexual, that we’re trying to “indoctrinate” kids into some kind of sex cult. Whether it’s your gender or your orientation that’s being put under the microscope, that argument keeps popping up.
And that’s because it works, on some people. 99.9% of people don’t want bad things happening to kids, so when we’re told something is hurting them, our hearts go out immediately, and some people rush to defend them without even understanding what the threat is in the first place. It’s worked for transphobes, who managed to write tons of legislation limiting trans people’s access to restrooms on the basis of a “think of the children” what-if scenario of assault that literally never happens. Is it any wonder that someone, grasping at straws for why silencing ace people is the morally right thing to do, fell back on an old standby despite its inherent contradiction?
Of course, when they say, “think of the children”, they’re only talking about certain children.
“Think of the (cisgender heterosexual heteromantic) Children
All of this hand-wringing hardly ever takes into account the safety of kids who identify somewhere within the LGBTQIA+ community. For the sake of this discussion, let’s zero in on young trans people and young ace people (acknowledging, of course, that some young people are both).
For young trans people, these bathroom bills obviously aren’t doing them any favors, as countless news articles will tell you. They feel ostracized in any kind of public space, including their own schools. And all some adults can say is “Well, hold it in until you get home” which is not only insensitive and dismissive but can also literally put the child more at risk for infections. And that’s just the effect of a few very specific pieces of legislation (which, by the way, they legally can’t vote on).
For young ace people, the term “asexual” is still fairly new, so many of them don’t even know how to describe their experience, which can lead to increased isolation, depression, and anxiety. If they go to a therapist about all that depression and anxiety, though, and they bring up their ace feelings, they can either have their experience condescendingly rewritten for them or find themselves straight in conversion therapy. And when they do go to places where they find community and acceptance, like Tumblr, they also have to deal with posts like the ones I showed you. Everywhere they go, someone is gaslighting them, denying their existence, dehumanizing them by calling them plants or cells, and generally harassing them. All of that, for quite literally doing nothing.
Notice something about those posts, by the way? “You can’t know your sexuality at 13–15.” “You shouldn’t label yourself.” “Wait until you’re older.” “Don’t let THOSE people brainwash you.” If you fall anywhere under that big alphabet soup umbrella, you’ve heard this song before. Trans kids are silenced by the bullshit diagnosis of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”, which is a fancy way of saying “transtrender”, which is a fancy way of denying a young person’s transness. Ace kids are silenced not only by medicine, but by condescending adults. “Of course you’re ‘asexual’, you’re( X age)! You’ll feel differently when you’re older.” Some people even take this argument to its extreme, claiming that letting kids identify as ace encourages pedophilia.
First of all, once again, heard this song. Gay people are pedophiles, trans people are pedophiles — apparently, the line goes “If I can’t understand it and therefore want it to go away, it’s a pedophile.”
But how can a sexuality literally based around not being attracted to ANYONE be seen as preying on children? Follow me on this logic loop.
The bigotry goes as follows: “If kids are allowed to identify as asexual, that means that some kids don’t identify as asexual. This implies that kids can feel sexual attraction. This implies that kids can consent to sex. This implies that pedophiles aren’t doing anything wrong. I don’t agree that pedophiles are doing nothing wrong, therefore I don’t agree that kids can identify as asexual and anyone who says they can is a pedophile trying to groom their victims.”
I hope you saw the which one was the gigantic leap. Being able to feel sexual attraction doesn’t automatically mean consenting to home base. Many young people don’t understand what‘s happening the first time they experience sexual attraction. Many young people discover masturbation completely independently before they even think to ask where babies come from. If you’ve read my piece from a few days ago, you’ll also remember that arousal and attraction are different things, so those two discoveries aren’t even directly related.
So yes, young people can experience sexual attraction at younger ages than you might think. THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY’RE READY TO HAVE SEX, OR THAT THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO CONSENT. It means just that — they are capable of feeling the emotion known as attraction. Sexual attraction is an unconscious feeling. You might be able to identify the feeling more easily once you know more about sex, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel it until then. That’s like saying a baby can‘t feel familial love until they grasp the concept of family. A baby that can’t speak still knows their parent is the one they want to hold them when they cry, and a young person might want a hug from their pretty classmate really, really badly before they learn about the birds and the bees. That child is no more ready to have sex than that baby is ready to host a TED talk on the difference between agape, phileo, and storge. They’re just humans feeling things.
Similarly, kids can have an inherent sense of their gender before they learn “the rules”. This video highlights the experience of a trans man who, when he was a toddler, asked his mom if he was going to have breasts like her when he grew up. When she told him yes, he immediately started sobbing and couldn’t be consoled. He may not have fully understood what being a “man” and being a “woman” meant, and most likely had no idea what it meant to be trans, but he still understood that he didn’t want to have the same body his mom did when he grew up. Saying any child is too young to “transition” is ridiculous, especially since most doctors won’t give out estrogen or testosterone until the patient is 18 and transitioning before then only requires using the right name, letting them express themselves, and possibly puberty blockers that are 100% reversible.
But let’s say all of these fears are true. They’re not, statistically, but let’s pretend. Let’s say that the young person in question is actually not trans or ace, but a cisgender heterosexual person who was going through a phase, just like all these pearl-clutchers feared.
In that case, consider the following:
Who Fuckin’ Cares?
So what if they were wrong? So what if they were just “following a trend”? So what if they tried something on for a while and found out it didn’t fit?
Isn’t that the whole goddamn point of growing up?
No one is born knowing exactly who they are. People may know some things about themselves without a lot of thought, but most of the time, you find things out by experimenting. And I’m not just talking gender and orientation, here, I’m talking EVERYTHING.
We all have at least one haircut that made us go, “What was I thinking?”. We all have that one outfit that looked so us on the rack, but looked so wrong when we actually wore it. We’ve all taken steps outside of our comfort zone and found that, no, actually, the comfort zone was just fine.
But through all that, we learned about ourselves. Mistakes teach us a lot more about ourselves than successes. That hypothetical person who identified as trans or ace and later realized they weren’t would now have a stronger sense of self. Before, they were cis and straight because it was what was expected of them. But they questioned that expectation, and started to explore. When they came back, they found they really were cis and straight, but now they’re much more comfortable in it, because they are confident it’s who they are. It’s no longer an identity born out of default, conformity, and a bit of fear; but out of self-awareness, understanding, and love.
Why the hell aren’t we celebrating that?
If you really want to “think of the children”, think of how much growing they have to do. Think of the space they’ll need to do that growing. And really think about if limiting that space is for their benefit, or just so you don’t have to put yourself out and dig up anything to clear that space for them.
Trans people are real. Ace people are real. You can write all the dictionaries you like, but when you’re done, we won’t have gone anywhere.