Thoughts and links on transgender issues
Notes are by Sandra Dodd unless otherwise credited.
In January 2017, it was brought to my attention that there are unschoolers who feel that because of the principles of unschooling, the parents are required to say yes to whatever a child wants. That was a misunderstanding on their part, or is being used as an excuse, or they're confused, but when that confusion intersects some of the kinds of transgender ideas linked or quoted below, they might be too quick to jump too far.
The idea that unschooling might be a factor in parental hesitation or logic is the purpose for my creation of this page.
Some of what is written below is by unschoolers (Joyce, Meredith , Jenny C. and others) and some is from outside, brought because I thought it could help people clarify without it being personal.
Sandra Dodd, site owner, February 5, 2017
May 2017, something beautiful, written anonymously by an unschooling mom for a discussion linked below it.
I am grateful for this conversation. The Sit-down-and-Shut-up and Apologize for honest questions and observations! nature of the discussion around this topic is upsetting to me-I don't want to feel like I can't converse openly with people, and I REALLY don't want my kids growing and learning in an atmosphere where exploration is taboo. I think that last is what worries me most-that they will feel pressure to conform to social norms of discourse that are narrow and constantly shifting. Social change towards greater acceptance of everyone's unique journey is a positive, but substituting one set of rigid rules for another is not growth.
When I was a child, "Free to be you and me" was the ethos. When I am with a person, I want to just be with them. If they are trans, or queer, or any other designation, or anything *not* related to sexuality, for that matter:) I am listening and honoring their experience. But if a child wants to change their body, I want to know what's underneath that. What does it mean to be a woman, or a man? How can a person know what it means to be any of the things, on anyone else's terms? Are we talking about aesthetics, sexual desires, social roles, personalities, types of intelligences? If I am highly analytical and have to work harder at empathy, am I more male? Or is that just a more masculine trait? Would I need a different body to go with that mind? Can a 9yo really, truly understand what it means to turn herself into a man? I don't have any way of answering these questions with certainty, and it is challenging if even *asking* them is taboo.
I want kids, and all people, to love their bodies. To love their minds. To know that they are just right for their path and have a purpose in the world. When I was growing up, I was the beneficiary of a social upheaval that had led to greater acceptance for women and girls as who and what they are born as, and what they make in the world, rather than just the more narrow social roles that had applied to previous generations.
I have no way of knowing whether gender transition is right for someone else. But why wouldn't I dig deeper if my child wanted to make dramatic and irreversible changes to his or her young body, just as I would dig deeper if they made any other declaration of certitude about what specific things they would do as an adult, for work or for play? I don't understand why this particular area of growth an exploration is different from any other, with respect to unschooling.
Gender issues and unschooling on the Always Learning Discussion, beginning January 27, 2017.
The four paragraphs above were posted by me (but written by another mom) on January 28, there.
There are more links and videos below, but here are some things by unschooling moms in a discussion on Always Learning in January 2017:
I’m sure this has been addressed but it’s been buried by other issues.
All of what’s known about transgender and the effect it has is known about people who have been or are in school. Most transgender people don’t have supportive parents or environment.
The psychological effects on someone who is questioning their gender will be heavily influenced by that. When they enter school, if not before that, people don’t merely feel seen as their assigned gender but locked into it. They’re put into a box that they can’t explore outside of without confronting waves of negativity.
Being transgender doesn’t lead to suicide. It’s pressure to conform. That pressure can be about sexuality, gender, life path, expectations.
It seems that people have come to fear that unless children get total support — in gender and so on — that they’ll be damaged. And that’s just not true. The first, most helpful thing children need is to be free of humiliation. That’s a human need, not something exclusive to transgender children.
Now that fear is causing some parents to overreact. If a child questions, they want to take them out of the gender assigned at birth box and put them into a transgender box. It seems to make more sense that there are people who strongly feel their gender matches their bodies and some who strongly feel their gender doesn’t. And then a whole spectrum in between. The spectrum in between needs the freedom to question and explore not be shoved to one end of the spectrum or the other.
And there is science indicating that the brain structures of transgender people bear out their gender identity rather than their biological sex -- that they're not making this up, in other words.
"Gender identity" is a fraught term, in and of itself. I say this as someone who identifies as queer and genderqueer and has a trans partner. There's a lot of debate about what comprises "gender identity," whether it exists as anything other than a social identity, how it relates to gender conformity, gender presentation, sexuality, and biological sex. There's a fairly substantial portion of the trans and non-binary "community" that works with the idea that "gender" is a social narrative we're all in the process of constructing together. That we are, in fact, making it up all the time. And yet, to paraphrase Professor Dumbledore, that doesn't mean it's not real.
The idea that "this is real, we're not making it up" is, in large part, a political position that derives from the broader cultural assumptions about "authenticity" and core identities. That's important! Because people do grow and change - including their relationship to gender and sexuality - but in political terms that very growth and change can be a setup for discrimination and outright oppression: You're just playing around. It's just a phase. It's all in your head. And therefore you're wrong and bad and need to stop. That's a common experience still, among people who don't fit comfortably into traditionally normative categories of "gender" and "sexuality." Insisting that "gender identity" is fixed and biological is a political reaction to that discrimination and oppression. It may be a political necessity, but it's still problematic. It's part of the narrative that pushes people to be "sure" no matter what cost to personal growth or integrity.
Watching tv and playing video games changes people's brains. Studying philosophy, or yoga, changes people's brains. That's something we discuss not infrequently in regards to unschooling. I haven't seen studies on trans brains in particular but there's at least one study showing that some gay men's brains aren't like some straight men's brains. There's no evidence that this difference is not a result of living under a different set of social and cultural expectations - expectations that include a wider range of psychological and emotional expression on the one hand, and on the other discrimination and the need to adapt to that. Maybe, if we raised our sons differently, they could all have "gay" brains, regardless of sexuality. Maybe, if we raised our kids differently, they could all have "non-binary" brains and we wouldn't need to dance around a social construct that conflates whether one is allowed to open doors and lift heavy objects with a preference for My Little Pony or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There are medical conditions that predispose people to be trans, especially mtf - my partner is a good example of that. Does that invalidate the experience of non-dysphoric trans people who don't want surgery? Does it invalidate the experience of non-binary people [sic] entirely? If you're making the case for trans brains, then yes. They're a bunch of posers trying to gain some privilege or win the oppression Olympics. I don't think that's the point you're trying to make! But it's one of the dangers of that argument.
I know enough transgender folks, youth and adult, to know that denying the existence of real transgender people causes a lot of pain for them and the people who love them.
So do I! Which is why I think digging in to the question of "what is gender identity anyway?" is so very important. Too many people act like it's solid or obvious, when it really isn't. That's a big part of the problem. At this point, the most thoughtful and nuanced discussions I'm seeing are in non-binary circles—but there's also the same kind of confusion and misinformation in that area as there is about unschooling. There are pockets of good stuff and a lot of fluff - and most of what people run across is fluff on the order of: "You have to do what feels right for you." And just like with unschooling, sometimes what "feels right" is what you've been culturally indoctrinated to believe - that kids need rules, that parents can't be friends with kids, that there's a clear difference between men and women and we all know what it is on a gut level.
One of the growing sources of non-binary theory, if anyone's interested, is nonbinary.org—and it's a mix of gender critique and less critical fluffiness, for sure. There's a nice panel discussion entitled "Beyond the Binary" which gets into some of the complex, enmeshed issues:
Note December 18, 2017:Nonbinary.org has closed. The link above leads to an archived page with working links. Thanks fo Joyce Fetteroll for finding it, and The Internet Archive for saving a copy.
Jenny C, to the top quote:
"If there is a huge wave of kids being given a menu of problems and identities they might adopt, and being told “If you’re the Least BIT unhappy, we can tell you why, and can FIX it!”"
Last night I was discussing the gender trend with my oldest. She's 22. Her age group is the one that first started seeing this. My youngest is 15 and is caught up in it.
I was telling her that about how her sibling was very upset and crying after a discussion we'd had earlier. To which she said, "what's wrong with that?" Her point which she went on to explain is that it's ok for kids to cry and even ok for kids to dislike their bodies to the point of tears. She said that it's normal and that she felt that way also and grew out of it.
Then we went on about what helped her grow out of that. Moving past self helped. Seeing the larger world and being in the larger world helped. Recognizing that kids go through identity crisis in teen years and that it's normal, helps keep it in perspective. Kids change their appearances in attempts to be different or find something that feels right. In some ways, for kids, this idea of putting on a while new body and identity is like that and can feel like that so it appeals. Except it's dangerous because it's permanent and kids don't understand permanence well.
The best thing I saw during the week we discussed this so hard was this video:
I transcribed some of it for the Always Learning group, and sent some of my own comments the first time I saw it:
I hope everyone will watch this video. It’s quiet and soothing. I’ll quote some from it below.
FtM Transgender: Why I Quit Testosterone (above)
People say that we’re gender confused, and they say that we are de-transitioning, and they say that we’re a disgrace to all the real transgender people out there.
Exploring who you are and what you think should never be referred to as confusion. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates said that. Don’t stagnate. Don’t shut yourself off from learning, exploring, examining more. What you think you know, it SHOULD shift minute to minute. Experience it fully and honestly and shamelessly.
. . . .
That doesn’t make me a disgrace to the transgender race. It doesn’t mean I’m detransitioning. It just makes me a spokesperson for equality.
End of quotes.
“The transgender race” should not be a phrase that exists. It does seem, the more I read, and the more defensive people are—thoughtlessly, reactionarily defensive—that there is a mob mentality of martyrdom and of magical thinking (or rather acceptance of the offers and promises of magical solutions), and it can go nowhere good.
Please watch that video, and look at other female regrets of the use of hormones or of surgery.
NOTHING can change a man to a lifelong woman. No chopping or patching will keep him from being a man who cut off part of himself and injected false hormones. I was told some men who “identify female” are “having their periods” by faking some sort of discharge made with a recipe. That’s not what women do.
I saw that some women and girls who “identify male” are sticking fake penis and balls into their pants to have a bulge. That’s not what men do. The most they can do is be women who have sacrificed their health and still aren’t really men.
Will there be “a race” of victims of a huge social scam, in a few years? As with cults, you can’t really know the situation by hearing the surface come-on advertising. Listen to people who have been inside and then left, to know what damage can be done.
Or use your own learning, exploring and examining. Think clearly and don’t be swayed by life-ruining nonsense, if you want to be the strong parent your children need to have.
On Youtube where that video was are some irritating comments, but I want to bring two that are not just fluff or meanness:.
I think this video should come with a trigger warning. To some it may be inspiring; to others the fact that you say "I will never be a cis-male" could make them feel terrible. Not everyone wants to discover the purpose of their existence (and to me, the existence of spirituality beyond physical existence is debatable). Some people just want to look like they feel and there is NOTHING wrong with that. Testosterone and surgery might be masking the birth anatomy, but it can do it really well!
One response to that:
its a hard truth to face that transitioning is really just a band aid, a very good one, but you are still biologically whatever you started out with at birth. A lot of Trans seem to think that once they start HRT they really are the other gender when in fact what they become is TRANS male or TRANS female, not cis-gender ever. That's very disillusioning for many. Its all about doing what we think will make us happiest and hoping we don't regret it. Cutting off any body parts is a horrible thing to do to your body - it absolutely isn't what your body wants, and hormones really aren't great either, but looking at life as the finite experience it is- that we all die - why not do what you want to your body if you truly believe it will make you happier? Its your body to do with as you please. But no surgery or HRT will ever make you cis-gender, but you may be able to pass. And that may be enough.
People are supporting things they know nothing about other than it makes them look hip and liberal and virtuous to be an "ally." Since when did supporting the sterilization of young (often lesbian) girls become hip and virtuous?
—Brie Jontry, November 2017
Lisa Marchiano, who was an unschooling mom at one time, and who is a counsellor and Jungian analyst, wrote of this December 2016 video:
"This powerpoint presentation outlines some concerns about the rush to affirm a young person's self-diagnosis as transgender, encouraging them down a road toward permanent, drastic medical intervention. There is no scientific basis to the notion of innate gender identity. We ought to try other, less invasive methods of supporting gender nonconforming youth before suggesting that they become life long medical patients."
Hour-long program on Gender and the Brain, from the Canadian program The Agenda with Steve Palkin, with several guests.
MEN WHO BECAME COMFORTABLE IN THEIR BODIES AS ADULTS:
Chad Felix Greene:
"Had I been born a generation later I would have been dressed as a girl by age 9 and taking hormones or hormone blockers well into my teens. I would never have found the peace I know today because I would not only have continued struggling to create a new identity that functioned in society, I would have had an entire media industry behind me telling me I was a brave victimized minority doing so. The connections and self-awareness I am grateful for today never would have been realized."
‘I really wanted to be a girl,” Everett told the U.K. newspaper, The Sunday Times, revealing he had always dressed as a girl as a child. “Thank God the world of now wasn’t then, because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15 I never wanted to be a woman again.”
the London Times is a paid site, so I can't leave a link to the original; sorry
Eddie Izzard: I don't have a quote but in an interview available at Audible.com, he was asked why he didn't have surgery, and he said he could have, but would have wanted to change it back. [If anyone has or wants to make a transcription of that section, please send it to me at Sandra (at) SandraDodd.com .]
In his book Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens", Izzard speaks of being transgender, and also of football and marathon running. I listened to it and don't have the physical book so can't quote it, but it seems he is living a strong, healthy life and not wanting surgery. (He reads the audio book himself, and adds extensively to it with extra stories. It's fun.)
Brie Jontry (in a longer discussion on her facebook page here) wrote:
This weekend was the inaugural USPATH conference, the US version of WPATH (World Professional Organization for Transgender Health). They're responsible for defining and shaping best practices for transgender individuals. I'm tired of hearing that medical transition is difficult to get approved and/or is only available to the rare few who "really need" it and would die otherwise. That's a lie. Hormones and surgery are being offered as a lifestyle choice—as an accessory, like a piece of clothing, by the very people who we're supposed to trust to help us make sense of our kids' distress. Here are two slides shared with me from a WPATH presentation at the conference yesterday that suggest "medical pathways" ie: hormones and surgery are acceptable for fluid gender identities that don't cause distress In other words, USPATH is saying that hormones and surgery should be available to those kids who simply say they want them.
If you're on facebook, click images to see commentary.
I've used the identity of male to gain more trust and power in the past. And it worked. Why? Because to be male in this culture means to have more knowledge, confidence, and stability. If I had just pushed through those times as honestly female... And just demanded fair wages, did the work without complaint, and made a point to master my craft... I would've brought more of the same trust/respect/power men get into the field for women to obtain as well.... This balancing out the issue a bit better.
But instead I was a facade. And incidentally while people may say that dressing like a boy was empowering- it was likewise dis empowering to women. We should not have to appear as men to gain privilege.
Some people say "fake it til you make it."
No. Not anymore.
If I look like a handsome boy, a sexy lady, or a being of ambiguity... appearance has nothing to do with my gender. I'm showing myself... My rawest in the moment purest version of self. And however you feel when you see an image of me... Just know that you are simply looking at RAIN DOVE....whatever that may mean to you.
No one should have to appear as anything other than themselves to gain anything.
EVERYONE DESERVES INDIVIDUAL JUDGEMENT, RESPECT, LOVE, POWER BASED ON THEIR OWN PERSONAL ACTIONS IN THE WORLD. Not based on their appearance.
This may seem cliche. But it's real.
You don't need to be LIKE anyone else. You don't need to pretend to be ANYthing else. You just need to be YOURSELF demand a better world for YOU. Fair wages, equal voice, trust, truth, love, respect. JUST F***ing GET IT AND GIVE IT.
In January 2017, the BBC ran a documentary as part of its series called "This World."
It can be viewed (perhaps only temporarily) here: Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?
You will need this password: waldronuk (November 2017, it's gone.)
There is a part of this one I started to balk at (unschoolers will know it when they get there), but within the context of this problem, IF it applied to an unschooled teen girl, I would step back and not object. Several of the suggestions are about school and mainstream parenting, though.
Guidance for Parents of Teens with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria
"What's My Agenda?" is Lisa Marchiano's reponse to why she is looking into and writing about gender identity and she tells the story of a family she has known since before the birth of a particular daughter who had a trauma, and a desire, and opportunities, and regrets, and relief. It's a good read.
This starts off awkward, but he has some important ideas.
At 5:45 he talks about grotesque mutilation.
At 5:45, about a young boy saying he "feels like a little girl," and applying some logic to that idea.
"Mutilation is not going to fix this feeling that you have, this depression. Growing up is hard no matter what."
"Transgender reinforces gender stereotypes."