Recently an article was published in Santa Barbara on transgender teens. Written by a cisgender person — someone who identifies with their birth sex — and including the perspective of two trans kiddos, a therapist, and a couple parents, the article suggested our transgender youth have a “dialogue” about their gender identity and noted that most people don’t have any idea who they are when they’re 14.
Which is like telling a teen who comes out as gay that they should think about it and maybe try to be hetero for awhile? Don’t rush into being gay! Maybe you’re actually straight!
What if you never felt comfortable in your body, never felt that you were the gender assigned to you at birth? Do you really think any person who comes out as transgender hasn’t already been “trying” to be the gender they were assigned? Do you really think, at the point that someone, at any age, is brave enough to say, “I know you’ve always thought of me as a (girl/boy) but I’m actually a (transgender identity)” that that person hasn’t already been through a huge struggle?
While you might like to think it’s a phase or an experiment, the reality is that to come out as transgender means risking friendships and family. It means being ridiculed, ostracized, and sometimes targeted by people you know and people you don’t know. It means risking your safety. It means struggling to know which bathroom in public is safe to use. It means, for my agender kiddo, not wanting to fill out forms because my child doesn’t want to choose between two genders. It means having people constantly challenge and question an integral part of your identity that you know to be true.
I can’t imagine if everywhere I went, I had people challenging me to prove my gender. What I say my gender is should be good enough. No one has ever asked me to prove that my genitalia matched my declared gender. I would be appalled if they did. And worse, what would it be like to not fit neatly into male/female, either/or? What if you are “both” or “neither”? And really, what is the big deal about that anyway?
I feel for my kiddo, having to try to explain using “they/them/their” pronouns and having to have the same conversations over and over:
• Yes, “they” is commonly used as a singular, nongendered pronoun.
• Yes, I know it’s hard for you to remember.
• Yes, it’s okay if you make a mistake, as long as you correct yourself and move on.
I have taken all of this for granted because I’m cisgender. But I don’t anymore, because my kiddo isn’t. Their struggles and issues and obstacles are now mine, too.
I want my child to be who they really are. I want their identity to be respected. I want them to be able to have a conversation about pronouns and the person they are talking to not make it all about them. I want my kid to be able to get a job and a drivers’ license and be able to use their preferred name and their appropriate gender identity. I want them to be able to pee in public restrooms without being questioned, challenged, or assaulted.
I want people to get over their own discomfort and put themselves into the shoes of a transgender person for awhile. I want people to stop asking my kid if this is real, or if they’re going to eventually pick a gender. I want people to stop acting like this is a phase. I want them to respect my kid’s gender identity and stop making it all about them, what they are comfortable with, and what would be easiest for them.
I know that’s a lot to ask … people tend to focus on the impact and hardship to themselves over the impact and hardship for others. So let me end with this.
My kid’s gender identity has no impact on you. Why do you care if another person has a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth? There is no deadline for gender identity. There is no requirement that you always have to be the same gender. We are autonomous human beings who should be able to choose the pronouns and name by which we are addressed, if the pronouns assumed at birth or the name given to us at birth don’t fit.
If you don’t get this, or if you are uncomfortable, then that is about you, not my kid. They know who they are.
Also? The labels liberal or progressive don’t apply to you if you aren’t willing to accept that others might have a different experience than you, even a different experience of gender.
The biggest challenge for my kid’s acceptance aren’t the conservatives who spout hate and fear; we know those enemies, and they are open with their opposition to accepting anyone who is different from them. Our biggest challenge are the wolves in sheeps’ clothing, the so-called liberals and progressives who somehow understand that sexuality lives on a continuum but can’t understand that gender does, too.
Gender does, too.
So stop focusing on what transgender means for you; I ask you to bear the minor inconvenience of using pronouns that feel uncomfortable to you, or asking someone their preferred pronouns. It’s a small price to pay for my kid to be accepted, respected, and honored for the gender and person that they really are.
For more information on local support groups for transyouth and their families, please visit our website for the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network: sbtan.org.
If you are seeking information regarding hormone replacement therapy for transgender adolescents, please visit the website for Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, at the Center for Transyouth Health and Development, located at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: chla.org/the-center-transyouth-health-and-development
If you are a transgender person in crisis and are really struggling, or are contemplating suicide, Trans Lifeline (translifeline.org) provides 24-hour hotline assistance, and is 100 percent staffed by transgender people. If you are in crisis and need urgent assistance, please call (877) 565-8860 to speak to a trained representative, call 9-1-1, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Please know that there is a thriving and vibrant community of transgender people and their families here to help you, and that you are special and valued, and there are many people here to help.
You are not alone.