What would you do if your child was confused about their gender identity?
This was a question posed to a group of college students, and I found their responses to be quite interesting. Answers ranged from “I don’t know” to “I would love them no matter what,” which is quite refreshing. Some of the more compelling arguments were about the nature vs. nurture controversy that continues to rage in both biology and sociology.
The question becomes even more complex when the concept of “intersex” comes into the equation. For those who do not know, intersex is a hermaphroditic condition in which a baby is born with traces of both male and female genitalia and chromosomes.
In the past, doctors have taken it upon themselves to assign a sex to the baby through surgical procedures, but controversy has been brewing as many of these children grow up identifying with the opposite gender from what they were assigned. Most do not even know that they were intersex until later in life. A movement has been gaining traction that supports NOT going through with such a surgery and allowing the individual to make their own decisions later on in life—this is a position that I certainly find to be reasonable.
That being said, some non-intersex children have begun to show transgender patterns from a very early age. So the question, restated, is what would you do if your 8 year old boy decided to play with girl toys, grow their hair long, and wear dresses? We have fairly limited options.
- Would you ignore or steer them away from such behavior? For many people, this is a valid response. We take away Barbie and put GI Joe in their hands. We give them trucks and make them watch action movies. We buy them footballs and make sure they are wearing your team’s jersey. We believe it to be a phase, and something that we, as parents, can control. We have final say over the life of an 8 year old. If we can teach them math and science, then we can teach gender norms, right?
Except that there is a danger that our child will not pass out of the phase. In that case, we spent many of their formative years telling them that their interests are wrong. We tell them that we do not actually approve of, let alone appreciate who they are. We run the risk of creating a rift between us and our child that can have lasting repercussions.
- Would you totally buy into the lifestyle? This is another popular and valid response. We buy dresses, Barbies, and makeup for them. We let them watch My Little Pony and Tinkerbell. We tell them that we love them and give them free reign in their decisions. Some parents, and these are extreme cases, actually give their children hormones that will make their identities more permanent. We want our children to be happy, so we are fine with leaving them to their own devices, right?
Except that there is yet another danger that this actually IS a phase. For those parents who feed their kids hormones and prepare for gender reassignment surgery, there is the possibility that later in life those kids will regret the decisions they made as a child. There is also a risk that our children will be picked on, bullied, and shamed for going against the norm. Violence against trans teenagers, both external and self-inflicted, is an epidemic in the community. There is a real danger in embracing our differences.
This dilemma is even more complicated for Christian parents. We believe that God created us, yet we also believe that engaging in homosexual or transgender behavior is a sin. How could God create a boy who wants to be a girl? Did He make a mistake?
I would argue, and this is NOT going to be a popular view, that deviance such as this may be 1. An anomaly and/or 2. A mental disorder.
The percentage of transgendered Americans currently sits at about .3% of the population. When 99.7% of a population of ANYTHING conforms to a norm, then that minor population is, by definition, an anomaly. Trans is deviant.
Many mental problems happen by chromosomal imbalances in the womb, by some sort of trauma, or through socialization. Many of the LGBT people I know were sexually abused at some point in their lives.
Moreover, there are similar cases to that of transgender. Trans-able occurs when someone with a healthy body believes that they are handicapped. Some even go as far as to have their limbs severed in order to better fit with their own body image. Is that really any different than wanting to cut off a penis in order to conform to a gendered body identity?
If being transgender is a form of body dysmorphia, is it a form of child abuse to encourage it? Should we let it go untreated? We would step in if our child was anorexic, right?
I also find it interesting how similar the conversations about a transgender child are to conversations about a kid who is autistic or has Down’s Syndrome.
I am not comparing the two issues, only our responses to those issues.
I know several parents of special needs children. From the outside looking in, we ask ourselves what we would do if our child has special needs. We wonder if we could handle the difficulty of intensive special treatment and care of that child. Most special needs kids just want to be treated normally, but we know that other kids will not understand their condition. We know that other children can be mean and may even bully them.
However, if you ask ANY parent of a special needs child, they will tell you the same thing. They love their kids unconditionally, and often learn about themselves through dealing with their children.
So what would you do if your child was showing transgender traits?
If they were born intersex, they may only be trans based on the gender choices that YOU made for them at birth.
If they are just going through a phase, we must be cautious about the ramifications of our responses to their behavior. We may actually get in the way of a natural self-identification process that could lead to suicide.
If they are truly transgender, we may just have to love them unconditionally and hope for the best. However, our religious and traditional beliefs have been challenged and that creates massive cognitive dissonance.
What would you do?