Trans kids & the people who hate them
“Let kids be kids” a tweet read. Another said “it’s child abuse.” “Irresponsible parenting, kids are too young to know”. The internet is full of people who think they know exactly how to respond to a child saying “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl” (or visa versa). And most of these opinions involve punishing the parent for not shutting down the child’s thoughts and feelings and enforcing a rigid gender stereotype on the child.
My child was 5 when he told me he wanted to be a girl. I have no attachment to my kids being a particular gender, but it was yet another moment where as a parent I was thrust into a new experience.
“Ok.” I said. “No problem. I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl. I love you no matter what.”
My child smiled at me happily. My older daughter asked her if she wanted to borrow a dress. My son asked her if she wanted to use a different name. We asked her questions, “Do you want us to call you “her?”, she said yes. She has been a girl ever since (it is years later) and it has not harmed any one of us to call her “she” or by her preferred “female” name. Nor has she hurt anyone else. She says she IS a girl. That’s good enough for me, I don’t feel a need to force my child to pretend to be something she says she is not — especially since gender is a social construct. Gender it is not inherent — there is no such thing as a girl brain or a boy brain. The idea that we live in a gender binary world was made up by someone and has been viciously enforced ever since.
I’ve seen small children angrily rebuked for expressing an interest in a toy that their parent felt was “too girly” or “too masculine”. A child is a child and a toy is a toy. Toys don’t have genders, children are unique and individual and their interests are too. Why are people ok with an adult being abusive to a boy who expresses an interest in Barbies but not ok with a parent’s loving acceptance of a child expressing who they are? Don’t you think that’s a bit weird and extremist? Also if you believe that being transgender is not a real thing then why would you have any concerns about your child playing with a range of toys?
Toys do not make a child ‘decide’ to be transgender. Nor does how many siblings they have or how their other siblings define, or where they live, or if their parent works away from home or many other of the ridiculous reasons that have been suggested to me. Being trans isn’t “trendy”, it’s fucking hard. It is HARD to go up against a world that beats and bullies people for being different. No one chooses to make life more difficult for themselves by ‘deciding’ to be trans (you don’t ‘decide’ anyway, you just ARE).
Likewise no parent thinks “Hey, I’m a liberal hippy dippy idiot who hates my kids so much that I want to make life infinitely more difficult for them by forcing them to be a different gender.” And I say this as someone who knows a lot of parents of trans kids. Nearly all of us had a moment where our hearts sank at the thought of how difficult our children’s lives are going to be just by being trans. Not one parent would choose this for their kids — if only because of ignorant douchebag bullies (many of them adults) who are ok with bullying trans children.
Research (Mental Health of Transgender Children Who Are Supported in Their Identities, Olson et al. 2016) has shown that children whose preferred gender identity is accepted by family and friends have no worse mental health outcomes than other children. But those who are not accepted are much more likely to have mental health issues, self harm or take their own lives.
We can take from this that acceptance causes no harm, but non-acceptance causes harm — so why are so many people angry with parents for accepting their trans kids? If these people were genuinely worried for the children’s well being then they would look at the research and conclude that parents who are supportive are indeed doing exactly the right thing and these parents would be lauded rather than abused and insulted. Could it be that people would rather have their own biases confirmed and feel entitled to spout hatred at already vulnerable people rather than listen to the evidence?
Humans are messy and complex, we have never before and I doubt ever will fit neatly into compartments. There are many whose desire to see the world in a black and white way out-weighs their compassion and empathy for other people. As one of the parents being attacked it makes me very angry. My sweet, kind loving child should be able to have a happy childhood where her being is affirmed and she is empowered to be herself. Every medical and mental health and parenting professional I’ve encountered has affirmed that accepting and loving your child is far more important than how they dress, what pronouns they want you to use or what their name is. It really is that simple, love and accept your kids.
Another common argument I hear is “My kid said they were superman for 3 months” or similar. One of my older children loved to pretend she was a dog, they would jump around the floor and woof instead of talk. It was harmless fun but my child kept it up for about 6 months — importantly though my child was not being a dog the whole time. Sometimes she felt like a dog, other times she didn’t. Also her desire to be a dog did not cause any other issues in her life, she wasn’t distressed when people called her by her name, she wasn’t worrying about how could she have puppies when she’s older, she was just a child make-believe play acting and expressing her love of animals through play-acting. I didn’t make a big deal of it, just went along with it and my child eventually decided to be “human” all the time again. There is a BIG difference between trying on and play-acting personas and saying “my core identity is this, please respect that.” Being and living as the opposite gender to the one you were told you were is extraordinarily difficult and challenging — it is not something any child does for “fun”.
To the woman who said on twitter yesterday “Let kids be kids” I say yes, you are right, but not in the way you think you are. I am letting her be herself, a kid who is also a girl. Because I love her and know her. So trust me, as her mum to never do anything that would harm her. If she tells me at any point that she is a boy I will likewise be loving and accepting. I do not have an attachment to outcome, I just want a happy, healthy, loved child. I do not know if my child is trans, I just know they are telling me they feel like and want to be a girl, and this has been the consistent message from them. When I first sought professional advice I was told never to encourage my child in being another gender, but to support them and follow their lead. That is what I have done, followed my child’s lead.
I’ve spoken to the professionals, I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve listened to and supported my child — and all of this has cost me nothing. It does not hurt or harm me or anyone else for my child to be a girl. But it harms and hurts her when others deny her very being. It is literally killing our trans kids.
More than half of all trans people will attempt suicide at least once. We know from the evidence that lack of acceptance causes suicide. Refusing to accept trans people actually causes some of them to die. As I recently said to a transphobic relative who refuses to accept my daughter, “I’d rather have a trans child than a dead child”. Because when they are the two options on the table any loving parent would chose a living child.
Confront your biases, meet some trans people — listen to them, hear their experiences, talk to the parents of trans kids — they are the most open, loving and kind people I’ve ever met. Not one of us takes this lightly. We all just want what is best for our kids. Help us make the world safe for our children.