When I was growing up from the ages of four until seven Skipper, Barbie's younger sister, was my favorite toy. When the kids who lived in the same hollow as I did in Eastern Kentucky played house, I was more than happy to take on a traditional female role in the game making tea and dinner for my husband. Even when I played video games my favorites always had the option of letting me select a female character to control while navigating the worlds contained in Nintendo cartridges.
Alongside this attraction to things traditionally associated with the female gender in our society, I have always liked my body. When puberty started I was thrilled with the physical changes in my body. This seems to be where my gender expression separates from my gender identity. When I first started dating and later developing friendships with people who identified as transgender in one way or another I often heard stories like the one below from them or their parents.
At age five, the discord between her identity and body seemed to take its emotional toll. At times she would play recklessly, and at other times, seem withdrawn and preoccupied. Marty's parents took her in for a psychiatric evaluation, and she was prescribed antidepressants. She told Margaret that if she had to be a girl, she'd rather die.
This quote is from an article about transgender youth and hormone blockers. Despite my gender bending tendencies as a kid the narrative above and ones similar to it don't resonate with me. They just don't reflect the ways that I interacted with and understood my body when it started developing secondary male sex traits. Although I have never been too happy with my male pattern body hair growth, I would blame that on gay beauty culture and not gender identity.
A mother I work with in TransYouth Family Advocates tells the story of finding Ashley, her five year old affirmed (male-to-female transgender) daughter, with a pair of scissors at her penis in the bathroom to illustrate to audiences how gender variant kids experience their bodies. Ashley explained herself by saying that she would prefer death to not being able to be a girl. In that moment a young girl was affirmed in her gender identity and an activist was born. Stories like theirs seem be becoming more common or at least more commonly covered by mainstream media.
The article goes on to say,
"Advocates say the treatment saves kids the anguish of continuing to develop into a gender they don't identify with -- reducing the risk of everything from depression to self-mutilation to suicide attempts -- as well as later surgeries to undo what Mother Nature has done. By sitting out the irreversible changes of biological puberty, patients will pass more easily as the target sex, protecting them from potential discrimination and even violence."
The idea that transitioning at a younger age or at least holding off unwanted puberty has the potential to ensure a healthier and safer adult life seems to be a reasonable one. As the suicide rates of queer youth shows us, this is literally a matter of life and death to the kids that it affects.
An interesting thought from the article is sticking to my thoughts on the issue of younger transitions,
If medical technology keeps advancing, are we going to eradicate transgenderism?" Rivera asks. "The younger the transition starts, the younger you start socializing a biological female as a boy, they're not going to have that transgender identity. They're not going to have to walk this earth as their genetic sex."
Perhaps, science will enable us to revision and rearticulate what gender means in ways that are more open and accessible eliminating the need for an identity category titled "transgender." Instead this rearticulation of gender might eliminate the silly assumption that a two-gender system defined by biology alone is sufficient for anyone.
If you read the article please let share your thoughts about it in the comments section.