Recently Facebook has been positively ABUZZ with the “uplifting” story of a “supportive” family who put their six-year-old transgender kid on the internet. While I understand the impulse to share this story and be the most loudly applauding person for it on the block, I want to say something that some people are going to find offensive: I think we should leave kids alone with their gender and let them just be fucking kids. I feel this especially personally because I myself was a little girl who dressed “like a boy” for years. And now I am a woman. And I’m pretty glad no one made me feel bad about any of it, ever.
Let me step back. First, I want to say that I am not a crazy transgender denier or something. It’s a thing, people being born into bodies that don’t match with their brains. That’s not up for debate. What’s up for debate, in my opinion, is the use of kids as props and tools to prove points. What’s up for debate is whether or not it’s a great idea to let a kid who doesn’t even know yet that the Tooth Fairy is not real or how to tie its own shoes make decisions about who it’s going to be for the rest of its life.
I’m coming down on the side of: IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA. Like I said, I come from a place of experience. When I was like 5 or so I convinced my mom to cut my hair (not hard to do…all moms should want daughters with short hair) and went from a phase of extreme obsession with being called the name “Sarah,” to dressing in a way that people (adults) apparently thought was masculine but I would have said was comfortable: shorts and t-shirts. Never jeans and never dresses. Gender experimentation wasn’t a problem in my family. My parents were and are the most open-minded and liberal people around who never burn incense and it was the ’80s so my brother wore dresses when he sat on Santa’s lap and in one of the family Christmas cards he had cute little barrettes in his hair. He got an American Girl doll before I did and we both played baseball and soccer. I was better at climbing trees than him but that’s just because I was always taller. In my family, I never felt any pressure to be anything other than exactly me and I lived in communities during that time where no one really seemed to care too much what gender kids were presenting themselves as (I wasn’t the only girl dressing as a boy). Because it didn’t matter. We were all kids.
When I hit middle school I grew my hair out and continued to dress in a pretty non-gender specific way–overalls every day and always the same old shirt that once belonged to my dad. I played soccer and the baritone and in ninth grade wore a headlamp on my head to school for a month. I look back on this experience of growing up and wearing whatever the fuck I wanted and doing whatever the fuck I wanted without anyone telling me what it meant about me with extreme relief. But I know I was lucky to have the parents I had and live in the college towns I lived in. I feel really sad for all the kids who start getting messages about who the adults around them think they should be from the get-go. If you watch the linked-above video by the transgender kid’s parents, you might notice the ridiculous pink cutesy room that they created for the little girl they were bringing home from the hospital. I mean, honestly, if I became conscious in that room and realized it was the room of a “girl,” I would be like, “yeah, I’m not that AT ALL” also. When we give kids these two stupid tiny boring boxes to be part of and force them to choose sides before they know even the first thing about themselves, we do them a huge, terrifying, disservice. Like a friend of mine said over text when we were talking about this issue: “Not because it’s terrible to be transgender, just because it’s terrible to have grownups decide for you something you should decide for yourself but aren’t old enough to yet.”
When I was a kid I felt zero pressure to properly present as a specific gender. Nowadays of course I am expected to present myself as a woman everyday because that’s how we organize ourselves I guess. I’m glad for my early experiences because they allow me to not attach too much of my value as a human to the makeup I wear or how smooth my legs are or how “feminine” I am on any given day. Now that I’m an adult, and honestly this is a realization that is pretty recent, I realize that I just AM a woman. My body, my brain, the whole situation, even when I wear men’s shirts and no make-up. Which I usually do. Because physical appearance or the things I like to do are not my gender. Gender is deeper and different and something I could never have grasped when I was six and just wanted to play physical games at lunch instead of siting in a corner talking with the girls.
So maybe instead of setting up “boy” as “likes blue, trucks, sports and guns” and “girl” as “likes pink, dolls, bows and kitchen sets” we could just LET KIDS BE FUCKING KIDS? Parents: STOP PUTTING YOUR GENDER AGENDA ON YOUR KIDS. Let them play with a variety of toys. Let them wear a variety of clothes and have a variety of hairstyles. DO NOT MAKE THEM GIVE SPEECHES DECLARING THEIR GENDER IDENTITY. They are kids. Teach them boundaries and the Golden Rule and how to swim. Read to them. Feed them a healthy breakfast. And let them be whoever they want to be without making them an inspirational story on the internet.