Whether it’s a Barbra Walters special on the recently unveiled phenomenon of transgender children and how they cope, a Nightline primetime view of families trying to navigate a world they never dreamed they would have to or a Dr. Phil panel of families and experts hashing out the issues, religion usually always comes into play. Christians in particular tend to lump transgender people, those who feel they were born in the wrong body, born the wrong sex, in with gays, lesbians and bisexuals, all things they view as abominations according to the bible, because you are to like the opposite sex, not the same one and not both. This categorizing them with all the rest of the “deviants” is not helped any by the number of alliances, equal rights and support groups who include transgender persons in their bylaws and outreach, owing to facing similar prejudice, scorn, discrimination and benefiting from many of the same tools aiding those with differing sexual orientation than most of society. As a result many transgender individuals are also inundated with religious rhetoric, telling them they are going to hell, telling them that their wish to have gender reassignment surgery, hormone treatments, changing their name is against God, creating one more devastating dynamic for vulnerable people already in such an uphill battle to live lives as who they believe they were meant to be.
However transgender is highly different than homosexuality or bisexuality; in fact it has nothing to do with sexual behavior or who you choose to be with, instead being more about who you are, boy or girl, man or woman. And unlike the disputes over whether or not gays, lesbians and bisexuals are making a conscious choice in who they become attracted to, the problems that lead someone to be transgender have a clearer scientific, medical basis. . Preachers are fond of saying that God doesn’t make mistakes; no but nature can, just ask the hundreds, if not thousands, born with ambiguous genitalia that can baffle doctors, authors of books like Middle Sex loosely based on the life of a person born with a deficiency giving him traits of both sexes. Outside clear medical disorders linked specifically to gender, there can be in utero mistakes in brain chemicals, brain development, something that varies based on gender, causing the body to possess one set of sex organs and the brain to feel and behave as the opposite. Bringing transgender onto the same medical playing field as males with the chromosomal designation XX, usually denoting female gender, females with the chromosomal designation XY, usually denoting male gender or those rare individuals with an extra sex chromosome designated XXY. While there is no evidence a chromosomal error causes gender identity confusion, it is no less a medical condition than someone missing a limb since birth, born with organ or limb malformation, a genetic disorder, a blood disorder or other neurologically based dysfunctions like cerebral palsy or autism, and though these type of issues used to be seen as punishment from God, a sign of disobedience or other such unfounded reasoning, the majority stopped believing like that after the middle ages.
Further unlike teens exploring, defining their sexuality, people who have had one gay/ lesbian or bi experience in their life and no more, older persons who experiment with their sexuality later in life, transgender encompasses so much more. And unlike gays who may feel different but not be able to put their finger on the difference, gays/ lesbians who don’t discover what fills that intangible void until far into adulthood, nearly all transgender people know what gender they are from an early age, even if they feel differently than their outward genitalia would suggest. Often parents see it as early as the toddler years a boy interested in Barbies, wearing dresses, having a favorite color of pink, perhaps purple, a boy who rejected Tonka trucks at Christmas but screeched in delight at dolls, so it was with Jack who prefers to be called Jackie and whose family put her on hormone suppression therapy to keep puberty at bay. Another eye-opening case of gender identity awareness is the case of Richard who changed his name to Riley and of course refers to herself as her; her mother describing her then as a sensitive boy, who would always be that way. But startlingly Richard began saying he was a girl, proclaimed he was mad at God for putting him in the wrong body, who passively threatened to throw himself out the window, all around age 4. At age 4 his mother caught him with a pair of nail clippers holding them to his penis looking very innocently at his mother and saying emphatically “it doesn’t go there mommy.” As Richard started and progressed in school things got more difficult refusing to go to school dressed as a boy and his parents fearing his psychological state, he was allowed to dress as a girl, grow his hair out, eventually changed his name to Riley, but was also forced to use the teacher’s bathroom, felt isolated from his peers and was abjectly terrified of puberty. What solidified the struggle for Riley’s mom was seeing her child in the shower washcloth covering the genitals they were born with and utterly ashamed of their body.
Several key things manifest themselves in these two stories; very young children not just paying dress up but almost always going for clothes of the opposite gender, even outside of dress up, boys in particular, showing zero interest in gender typical toys rather pleasure and bliss at gender opposite, girl toys. And the big one say experts, transgender children saying from an early age not just that they want to be a girl, similar to the way any child might say they want to be a fireman, a doctor, a famous person, instead saying they are a girl or they are a boy. Added to that is the fact these traits were seen almost from birth instead of, in the case of some gay or lesbian individuals with a history of, most notably, sexual abuse, where their turning to the same sex for not only sexual gratification but the intimacy and closeness of a relationship could be interpreted as rejecting the opposite sex out of fear of their abuser. Still transgender people are persecuted, if not by religion then by society having clear gender expectations and displaying obvious alarm when those are challenged particularly by boys. The president of a popular magazine coming under fire for painting her son’s toenails pink and using it for the cover, one mothers struggle and advocacy for her son who proudly and determinedly calls himself a princess boy, a young man who prefers dresses, pink, butterflies and shows budding signs of being the next great fashion designer. A boy who clearly identifies himself as male, perhaps only for now, but who also has a clear sense of self, who he is, what he likes and who must endure endless scorn more from his friends and peers parents than the peers themselves. Male children scorned for stating they like butterflies too, yanked away from a potential friend because of how he dresses and what makes him happy, adults who assume he is gay, who suspect the parents of being freakishly indulgent with their child.
Here too parents get scorned for letting their children be who they are, to function at their best, be their happiest; experts clamoring that the parents have put very adult words into their child’s mouth. Such was the case of a 6 boy year old who dressed as a girl and used the word transgender after several conversations where the young man proclaimed he was a girl; he then asked his mother if there was a word for what he was, what he was feeling at which time she gave him the word transgender, but only because he asked. Other onlookers, some from the religious community some not, purport this gender confusion displayed by children comes from a lack a clear gender modeling, i.e. showing a child how to be male or female how to enjoy their interests in gender appropriate ways; the example given was a young man who wanted to be in ballet, wanted to wear the traditional girls uniform, dace like them. The observer saying it was the parent’s job, not to keep him from ballet, but to show him the male uniform, let him see the male parts in a ballet performance, allow him to participate in those. Unfortunately the observer and expert behaviorists, sociologists and so on fail to understand how forcing gender onto this type of child frustrates them, annihilates their self-esteem, turns every day into a battle over clothing, school activities, toys, friends, leading to depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide in very young grade school age kids.
So far we have discussed cases where as time went on parents quickly came to accept who their child was and allowed them to be that at the very least in the comfort of their own home, allowed them to take the relatively new hormone suppression therapy to prevent puberty in a body they feel isn’t theirs, yet for those who don’t find that acceptance or it takes longer, say into adulthood, the consequences can be devastating. Alluded to above, suicide rates among transgender persons, especially kids and teens, is sharply higher than the average, as is no doubt the number of alcohol, drug abusers, self-injury and sufferers of a myriad of other psychological issues, particularly when their family doesn’t accept them, doesn’t try to understand what they are going through, forces them to wear gender specific clothes, play with gender specific toys, calls them gay or queer, disowns them or just plain don’t get it. The public is familiar with the story of Chastity now Chaz Bono; people are now aware of his feeling he was born in the wrong body, his stint as a lesbian, his struggles with weight and substances take on a new meaning factoring in his gender identity issues before the world really knew what that was. It takes on a whole new dimension when he talks about his mother’s reaction and that desperate craving for acceptance, how hard it is for transgender people to finally put a voice to this is who I am. Unlucky transgender individuals and those from poor families, just starting out, lacking the funds for surgery will resort to desperate measures in order to get the body they believe they should have always had; such was the case with a transgender girl working as an escort to afford real breasts, plastic surgery to feminize her face, shave down her Adams apple, going to Mexico to afford the procedures, ecstatic when the surgery was complete but desperate for so-called bottom surgery that would turn her penis into a vagina at last. To achieve this goal it was back to being an escort. Others can’t take the scorn and separation from their family, so after living as the opposite gender will go back to what they were born with to appease loved ones; such was the case of a guest on the Dr. Phil show telling the story of her son aghast at what some of the parents were doing, failing to comprehend she was the reason why he remained the sex he was born with, not that he actually felt that way.
Again alluded to above, hormone suppression therapy is relatively new there are a whole host of transgender kids and teens who have lived in the body of a girl feeling they were a boy, having to deal with their period, people who felt they were a girl dealing with the deepening voice, budding muscles and growing penis that comes with male puberty, leaving its own set of psychological scars. And finally if we ever needed proof that transgender is not an abomination of anything other than nature’s screw ups, in nearly every case the moment they have surgery and are no longer looking at breasts where they shouldn’t be, are able to burn their bras, or to wear one as it was meant to be worn, enjoy pink and nail polish and dresses fully in the body they have always wanted to have, transgender people over and over remark how easy things suddenly are for them, say with a certain amount of awe things like this is where everyone else starts out. Parents who let their children live as the gender they believe they are almost instantly find their child is happier, more outgoing, has more friends and far less of the telltale signs of distress seen before. Sometimes the signs, the evidence we are looking for isn’t in the bible, though it has been called a living book, it isn’t in a booming voice of God or in a modern, progressive preacher applying morals and values of that age to the current one, guiding people to clean and holy living in a world seemingly so not. Sometimes the proof really is in the things we can see and understand clearly a tortured person who is less so after having this done, who appears as if a burden has been lifted, a child who is at peace and happy, as only children can and should be, maybe these are the small markers of divinity’s blessing, response to natures error not God’s.