Supporting Boys or Girls When the Line Isn't Clear - by Patricia Leigh Brown
OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 — Until recently, many children who did not conform to gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.
But as advocates gain ground for what they call gender-identity rights, evidenced most recently by New York City’s decision to let people alter the sex listed on their birth certificates, a major change is taking place among schools and families. Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.
Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.
“First we became sensitive to two mommies and two daddies,” said Reynaldo Almeida, the director of the Aurora School, a progressive private school in Oakland. “Now it’s kids who come to school who aren’t gender typical.”
The supportive attitudes are far easier to find in traditionally tolerant areas of the country like San Francisco than in other parts, but even in those places there is fierce debate over how best to handle the children.
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”
As their children head into adolescence, some parents are choosing to block puberty medically to buy time for them to figure out who they are — raising a host of ethical questions.
While these children are still relatively rare, doctors say the number of referrals is rising across the nation. Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the rights of transgender students, and some schools are engaged in a steep learning curve to dismantle gender stereotypes.
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I do not know how this fits into my world-view. I mean, first, at the foundation, is my belief in God and the Bible. And in these beliefs is the sense that gender plays a big part of faith and life. In how I relate to God, in how God relates to people, in how I relate to others.
But when there are children out there who question their gender at such a young age, I have to wonder why God did that. And I don't mean it in a judgmental way, but it does chip away at my fundamental belief that, while God may be genderless, God does choose to relate to us as a "father." I could try and explain it away - maybe these kids were exposed to images in the media at an incredibly early age that somehow short-circuited their gender identity. While I will blast popular media at the drop of a hat, I somehow think the struggles of the children and family featured in the article cannot be trivialized into saying, you shouldn't have let your kids watch television when they were babies. So the conclusion I am left with is that the kids were born this way. Which gets me back to my original question, why, and how do these kids fit into God's plan? Or, more specifically, my world view and belief system?
Speaking of gender, lately I've been trying to assess how I relate to guys. These thoughts are rooted in my mistrust of guys with very close female friends. If I am romantically interested / involved in such guys, I have a very hard time trusting that their relationships with these women are purely platonic. (Except that one time...) Part of it is lack of information, and I think that if I knew more, I would worry less. But I'd really like to able just not to worry.
Anyway, outside of this speculation, I think it has to do with *MY* inability to have purely platonic friendships with men. I think that I have very few single, straight men in my life who I wouldn't get romantically involved with. But I did in the past, in college. And maybe the supply was greater, and it was easier b/c there was less booze and more living together involved, but I also think it's a personal thing. Like, somehow I have changed and my attitude has changed, and my behavior has changed. And at the root of it all is that stereotypical emotionally closed off relationship with my father.
I want this to change. I don't want to look at every single straight man in my life as a potential love object (or something dirtier). I think that break I was going to take from boys sounds pretty damn good right now.
Well, I don't really have a choice. Hello, finals! But I think this change in attitude should come from the inside, and not just from external circumstances.