Please Stop Saying You’re “Worried” About Trans Kids
I hear you, fellow parents and countless other adults. You pose this question to me a lot, and for the record, I want it known that I fully agree with you, on at least this one point. So let me say it loud and clear: wearing dresses or playing with dolls should be okay whether you have girl or boy parts. Period. The end.
Unfortunately, our society isn’t quite there yet.
My three kids all defied traditional gender roles and stereotypes to some degree. My oldest, a cishet male (now age 20) played with dolls as a child, and sometimes proudly wore a tutu while doing so. My next oldest, a cishet female (now 19) played with her big brother’s toy guns, and for a long while, she hated wearing anything girly. Even at the age of 2 she’d rip out the hair bows I’d so lovingly placed on her little head, lobbing them to the floor with no mercy.
My third child, my youngest — assigned male at birth (now almost 15) — was something different altogether.
Liking (or not liking) particular gendered toys/clothes/items is not the problem. The problem is with our society, which fails to appreciate the beauty of the gender spectrum, or to recognize the gift of gender diversity, including all those who fall under the trans umbrella. Contrary to popular belief, these people are not a new trend either. Gender diverse people have, in fact, been around for all recorded history, and on every single continent, celebrated. Revered, even. Across all kinds of cultures and religions.
The point is, you’re right about this: toys and clothing preferences don’t make someone transgender.
I’d add one other thing: there isn’t something “wrong” with a little boy who only likes “girly” things, for example. But, in this same child, having an intense despair over all “boys stuff” and gendered things stereotypically associated with one’s presumed gender can be one of many symptoms that manifest in transgender kids that, along with a host of other symptoms, form a constellation known as gender dysphoria.
Granted, not all trans people say they experience gender dysphoria. Others may not realize that what they’re experiencing is gender dysphoria, instead, referring to a vague feeling of being “wrong” somehow, even if they can’t articulate what that means. Others may only experience gender dysphoria in short bouts, or may live many successful decades with it suppressed or gone altogether.
The whole topic of gender dysphoria can be somewhat of a slippery slope since it’s not the one definitive thing that makes a person trans. But it is, generally, a required medical diagnosis for those who intend to seek gender confirmation/transition through any number of medical options and/or hormonal suppressors and supplements.
As a spectator, not someone who lives it myself, allow me a moment to at least offer this: for those who do experience it, gender dysphoria is a beast.
And parents who’ve dealt with children experiencing this firsthand absolutely know the difference: gender dysphoria isn’t “a phase.” Even if it disappears for a while or seems to go away completely. Even if it ebbs and flows over time. Even if it doesn’t manifest until adolescence, or later.
We aren’t talking about a preschooler’s affinity to “be” a kitty cat— a role the child takes on in a developmentally appropriate game where the child knows they’re playing a game or pretending. With trans kids, we’re talking about a child who is not pretending, not playing a role. We’re talking about a child who’s just trying to be themself in an unaccepting, unforgiving world.
In light of this, I want to address the comments I’ve received online over the years, from total strangers, telling me how “worried” they are about my trans kid. Worried about all sorts of things…
Worried that I’m not the one who’s being “the parent” in this situation; that I’m allowing my kid to call all the shots.
Worried that my child is “too young” to understand the complexities of gender (though I’d beg anyone to consider how old they were when they first knew their own gender).
Worried that mine and my husband’s allowance of our child to socially transition in 5th grade was the biggest disservice of all, telling us, “you’d better sign that kid up for karate lessons! You’re making your child into bully bait!” (As if our child weren’t already bully bait, being an inherently feminine boy in the south, living in a culture of toxic masculinity and thinly veiled misogyny).
Over the years I’ve also questioned the validity of these claims. Like, exactly how “worried” some of these strangers actually are, primarily because so many of them who aren’t raising trans kids also express incorrect and misguided sentiments that go exactly like this:
“The main thing I worry about is how all these kids are demanding surgeries and destroying a perfectly fine functioning body, and demanding these life altering drugs like puberty blockers and hormones that will do irreversible harm… this generation is going to grow up terribly confused!”
First, this comment uses the phrase “do irreversible harm.” Let’s just unpack that real quick. From experience raising a trans kid, I (and just about every trans person who’s walked the face of this earth) happen to know just the opposite — that these so-called “life-altering drugs” don’t destroy — they actually save lives. Whether a trans person uses them personally, or only knows other trans people who do, all trans people know exactly how life-saving something like puberty blockers and hormones are.
Second, with comments like these, I have to wonder: does it really worry you, dear reader? Is worry even the right word here? Because that’s what I really want to unpack.
I mean, people all over America alter, as you might say, “a perfectly fine functioning body” all the time. They do this through various cosmetic procedures and plastic surgeries, for example. Like, breast augmentation (male or female), rhinoplasty, lip implants, Botox injections, liposuction, face lifts, hair transplants, tummy tucks, butt lifts, dermal fillers, fat transfers, brow lifts, neck lifts, etc. Are you equally worried about them, dear internet stranger?
Likewise, people all over America take hormones, hormone replacement therapy, testosterone therapy, etc., for any number of reasons. Are you equally worried about them, dear internet stranger?
Sometimes, teens as young as 16 have easy access and available funding for cosmetic procedures. Sometimes, 13-year-olds need hormones for reasons you may not be familiar with. And puberty blockers, which merely place a “pause” on puberty, thus giving the gift of time — with puberty resuming within a year, as normal, when blockers are stopped (unless the individual moves to cross sex hormones) — are life-saving for many trans individuals entering the Tanner stage II of puberty. Again, life-saving. Literally, life-saving.
Since our trans nonbinary child went on blockers for several years, my husband and I were particularly scrutinized by strangers and non-strangers for this very thing. As if people thought we hadn’t done years and years of our own research, plus struggled through our own adult fears and worries, plus haggled with insurance, plus attended medical and psychological consultations and therapy appointments and gender clinics, and on, and on, before ultimately allowing our child to go forward with this. Don’t folks realize that parents of trans kids do our homework? That we are literally trying to save our kids’ lives?
It’s worth noting that puberty blockers have also been used safely since the 1950s for precocious puberty. In longitudinal studies, both past and ongoing, the primary negative effect from gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs (puberty blockers) is the *possibility* of less bone density later in life.
It’s also worth noting that this is something that’s closely monitored in the lab work of trans youth, and these possible affects can be largely avoided under the close care of an endocrinologist (the specialized doctor who prescribes puberty blockers for trans youth). Where vitamin deficiency or loss of bone density may be suspected, measures are immediately taken to address and correct that — speaking here from personal experience on the matter of puberty blockers.
At any rate, as most trans people will tell you, they’d gladly accept the risk of something like potential bone density loss if it meant they could be spared the beast that would otherwise plague them for the rest of their lives: gender dysphoria.
So, I guess my question comes down to this, dear worried internet strangers:
Is it that you’re genuinely worried about altering (what you perceive as) “a perfectly fine functioning body,” or, is it only a concern to you when that body happens to belong to a trans person?