Loving parents and transphobic parents

The phone rings: its from the local Beeb, asking me if I’d like to pop back onto the radio and give everyone an update following my recent encounter with the surgeon. Of course, I agree.

And? Oh, yes. They would like a view on the Worcester case: this is the story about the child diagnosed as dysphoric and being allowed to pause puberty and to grow in her identified gender from age 10.

Sure. Though personally, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. And if you aren’t likely to be listening to Radio Lincoln tomorrow morning, here’s roughly what i’ll be saying.

The dysphoria dilemma

The first and only big point to make is that I don’t know any of the people involved. Which means that I can sympathise, but offer no direct advice. Sympathy, because cutting thru all the headline-grabbing stuff, this is a fraught decision by the child’s parents and one I do not believe has been taken lightly.

Unless you can confidently predict the future, you have no way of knowing whether your diagnosis is right or wrong. Only a best guess.

Diagnose dysphoria where there is none – and you possibly expose a child to embarrassment, ridicule and an extra difficult teenhood. On the other hand, fail to diagnose it when it is present, and you condemn that same child to years of torment in which every day, every developmental step towards growing the wrong body, is slow soul-crushing suicidal agony .

What was it that one mum in this situation told researchers? “Better a live daughter than a dead son”.

In the end, all that this child, her family, the experts have done is to put puberty on hold. That gives her time: time to be sure, time to decide. Crucially, if she does opt for a full transition, her body will not be twisted into a detested alien masculinity. It gives her the best possible chance of an adjusted adulthood.

Don’t forget to involve the parents

Otherwise, there is the very slight faux pas that kicked this issue off into the national media. The school were supportive: perhaps too supportive, as the head teacher welcomed his pupil’s transition process by putting on a couple of special assemblies to tell her fellow pupils…and forget to warn their parents in advance.

Big mistake. Even if not a single parent is remotely transphobic (a big and unlikely if), that’s a bit of a PR error. At tea time: “So, Johnny: what happened at school today?”

“Well, the head called us all into assembly and told us that Robert is now Roberta…”

Nah. I can see how parents might throw a wobbly at that. The golden rule must be: involve, involve, involve. We did that at our son’s school: informed all parents by letter before I began my public transition, and I agreed to be available to answer any direct questions and that seemed to work well.

A pity, because otherwise, this seems to have worked OK.

Instead, what did some of those parents who hadn’t had advance warning do next? Oh. They ran off to the local press, complaining and issuing dire warnings.

Or as one unnamed parent is quoted in the Worcester News: “The headteacher told all the kids that there was a kid at the school who was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

“The parents we spoke to are absolutely outraged that they weren’t consulted about this.

“This kid is just going to be bullied now. Why didn’t the school send us a letter?”

Huh? Consulted about what? The family’s decision? Or the likely bullying to follow? And if they were really concerned about bullying, intrusion and the like, what the hell are they doing running off to the local press?

And the transphobes gather…

No. Its not hard to spot transphobia when it raises its ugly head. It has a most particular stench. Its there in those oh-so-thoughful comments on some of the national rehashes of this story which bleed with faux pity for the “poor boy”, whose mum probably forced this on him by insisting he play with girls’ things as much as in those vile posters who think it OK to call the child a “freak”.

Utter, utter morons!

Besides, I do wonder if any of those coming out with such garbage have ever dealt with real children.

I know my son. Trying to buy him a pair of jeans with even slightly pink-ish stitching was enough to spark a mutiny: the very idea that I could “trick” him into feminity is just laughable. So, too, it seems to be with other peoples’ children. They mostly tend to be what they will be.

Sadly, I suspect that all of the above is second cousin to the story I posted a week or so back, about the US student whose classmate shot him. It was all his fault because he was gay. Or effeminate. Or something unnatural. So, it was “only natural” for tensions to rise in the school…and presumably only natural, in a US setting, for someone to die.

At base, this is not about the child, who seems to be surrounded by positive helpful people and sensible adults. It is about those poor, sad, insecure folks who cannot envisage a world that is not slotted irrevocably into the gender binary – and whose reaction to anyone who dares to shake the cowardice of their convictions is to bluster, insult and threaten.

The real story is about a child and a family doing as well as they can: the anti-story is how, in 2011, a bunch of bigots still peddle their hatred of what they do not understand – all the time sugar-coating their transphobia beneath a thin veneer of concern.


P.S. All credit to the Worcester News write-up of the main story: sensitive and as far as i can see, they got it right. Unlike some of the national press (the Metro, for one!)


8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Evelyne said,

    Yes, I liked that story and I liked the mother’s interview. I saw it on the BBC and that led me to your interview and to search for you on the internet and find your blog for which I am very grateful. As a mother of a transgendered child, I feel for her and the child. There are so many difficult issues to think about and fret about. But, as you say at the beginning of your piece, one of the worst is the idea of a mistake in diagnosis. Might he/she change her mind later? I wonder what intangible thing it is in the brain of my child that make them think they are not what their body says they are?… why is it treated by some as a mental illness but not by others?… why are some behaviours which seem obviously of the bodily gender still happening when the child transitions?… why does a child who never wanted to choose (for instance) pink shirts, play with girl’s toys, learn girl’s activities, suddenly decide he is really a girl?..
    As a mother I was never aware of putting any kind of pressure on my son to be masculin. I warned him about flapping his hands when he ran because I was afraid that would lead to bullying but that’s all… I think.
    Anyway, hopefully more good reporting of these cases will help more people understand better.

  2. 2

    Jane.. just thanks x x x

    I saw a tabloid piece on this child and it’s been blown up into a grim drama, completely unnecessarily. Well done to this youngster’s parents for supporting their child through such a difficult time. Well done to the young lass concerned for holding her head high. Seems she can’t win either way: bullied if she does – bullied if she doesn’t. Schools need decent advice about how to manage these situations. As for prejudiced parents? Nothing will ever be to their taste, so putting their views first is not needed. The school are right to expect inclusion for ALL pupils, and should use the same procedures they use with young disabled people, there’s plenty of expertise out there about including people who don’t fit the standard. Just for some contrast.. a conversation I overheard between two kids who have already been enlightened that some people grow away from their allocated sex and it’s demands and adopt their own gender:

    Twin1: What high school am I going to?

    Mum: Either the girl’s school like your sister, or to the mixed school with your twin brother.

    Twin2: I want to go to high school together!

    Twin1: I want to go to the girl’s school.

    Twin2: OK.. I will just become a girl and then we can both go. 🙂

    Twin1: Alright then.

    The things twins say!

  3. 4

    PPS I don’t think anyone should have to notify everyone by letter, nobody is owed that information about someone’s private business. I think the press should have grown out of this crap by now and treat them as the police/social services no doubt would, with distain and amusement at their ignorance.

    It’s a person’s private health info and I don’t think it’s any more of anyone’s business than usual because it’s a trans issue. The parents will educate (or not) as they do in either situation, I suspect.

    I think parents can only hold themselves responsible for sheltering their kids from reality. Trans people are part of the real world. If people choose to ignore this until they can;t ignore it any more it’s their own lookout. Our genders are none of their business.

  4. 6

    eclectic chicken said,

    I can’t see where Jane said it should be expected procedure to send a letter… what she did say was that involving people is the best bet.

    In our case that did mean sending letters out to parents via the school, so people would understand the issues and know it was ok to ask questions and who to ask… it broke the ice and made us more approachable I think…. it was right for us, felt right for the school and I think the head and staff appreciated our openess.

    We could just have gone for it and expected acceptance….as everyone has a right to…. but it felt that giving people the information made that acceptance easier to give. (or in the case of those who don’t accept…at least they come at it from a position of knowledge as opposed to total ignorance – but theres never been any overt signs of non-acceptance at school… perhaps the letter also let people know the culture of the school was one of acceptance in the very fact that the issue was addressed so openly)

    Personally I find a letter home that can be discussed and something maybe in individual classes would be preferable to a whole school assembly..which to be honest sounds a hideous way of dealing with one persons personal life.

  5. 7

    absolutely agree with that! the assembly was a bad move I think. definitely different things work for different people. I thinkit’s a sign of the times that schools are prepared to expect inclusion.. certainly wasn;t possible when I was at school! I almost got expelled for trying to be one of the boys.. aged just eight.

  6. 8

    Angela said,

    There was no way I could change my parents. I told them when I was 21 and it did not go well. I had felt this for years and the testosterone was ruining my body. It was horrible. I was really pretty to start with and watched that nasty hormone turn me into a 5’8″ 125 pound man thing.The only thing my parents were concerned about was that people would find out and they would get embarassed. The physical change was so ugly and so horrible and these nasty people only cared about being embarassed in the small town that we were living in. The testosterone turned life into a living hell. Took me another year to save up money to move out and a ridiculous year of gender therapy with a horrible gender therapist that mad me wait and another 2 months to get in to see the doctor. I had completely mutated into a man by this time. I wish my trip to the endocrinologist had been happier but I wasn’t happy at all and I never have been since. The testosterone was nasty stuff. My hatred I’m sorry to say for my parents grew. I haven’t seen them in almost 7 years and don’t want to. I waited a long time to tell them and did so out of desperation. Insecure transphobic parents really suck!

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