How young is too young?

As I’m sure all of us “old timers” have noticed, kids are coming out at younger and younger ages.  I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, the sooner a kid can be themself the less trauma they’ll have to deal with later.  However, I do wonder whether or not some of the very young kids (say, six and under) are capable of expressing themselves well enough to have their needs met.

How do you know if a kid is trans or just gender variant?  At what point do you decide that social transition is less risky than aiming for some sort of middle ground?  I don’t know that there are any good answers to these questions other than “if the kid is hurting themself something needs to change.”  Not all kids are the self-harm type though, in fact they seem to be the exception.  So how do you know if your daughter who likes boy clothes and calls herself David is trans or not?

I worry that more liberal parents are taking almost too liberal of a stance on trans kids.  I worry that we’re taking kids and forcing them into yet another box that they may or may not fit in.  What happens if you socially transition little David and then he’s too scared to tell you he’s not really a boy, just a little girl who likes trucks?  Young kids are so easily swayed, especially when it comes to things like gender.  They’re little, their brains can’t accurately grasp the subject at hand so how can they possibly answer what is very much an adult question?

I wish parents could see that they have more options than just transition or repression.  Particularly with the youngest kids, they’re still so fluid in their identities it seems almost cruel to box them in.  What is so wrong about just allowing kids to be kids for a while?  Save the big gender questions for when they’re a bit older, when they can at least see more to it than wearing dresses or ties.  I know there’s pressure to make kids conform once they hit school age, but that’s what adults are for.  We’re meant to help guide kids to understanding and accepting differences, not force everyone to pick a box.  Let Susie wear the ‘boy’ uniform and Danny play with dolls, they’re not hurting anyone.

I fully support and accept the idea of older kids transitioning, but with these tiny ones I wonder.  It seems that rather than becoming more open to the idea of gender variance we’re simply finding another way to diagnose and treat it.  As an effeminate man, I can’t support that.  What happens when a parent finally ends up with a kid like me?  Sure, I’m trans, but I also don’t fit most people’s idea of what a ‘man’ is very well.  I did a lot of the classic FtM things like insisting on boy-ish clothes and not having girl friends, but I was also a little swish-stick.  I worry that this new class of parents is enforcing gender stereotypes in ways they’re not aware of.

Guest Post: Sexism Exists!!!! Thoughts and solace from a gay trans man.

Ever since I was a little trans boy living as a girl, I’ve felt the need to protect the girls and women in my life from those who are abusive.  Perhaps it was my childhood environment that led to this – I grew up in a dirt-poor, “white-trash” household with a distant mother, a sister who was sexually abused, and an estranged father.  I didn’t know love, affection, respect, boundaries, discipline, and feminism.  Life was hard and women were treated the worst.

Lucky for me, I was a very strong “girl” – I could beat any boy in the class at arm wrestling, sprinting or basically anything to do with strength.  I was very rough and tumble and was often referred to as a tomboy because I was so dominant and refused to wear dresses.  I don’t bring this up to brag, in fact, I hated standing out that much, regardless of how much I actually used my talents.  You see, I am a gentle soul – I am very sensitive, highly anxious, and slightly autistic.  I’m also extremely protective of what I hold dear – perhaps a reaction to my childhood – which directs my attention toward people who get treated unfairly, usually women  I’ve never fit in myself, so when I see injustice, I feel the need to stop it.

When I was young, my version of stopping injustice involved beating the perpetrator up.  Sure, I wouldn’t recommend it, but at the time, it seemed appropriate.  If the boys decided it was “Friday Flip Up Day”, in which they hassled the girls who were wearing skirts, I patrolled the area where my friends were hanging out at recess.  This is not an exaggeration.  My first fight involved me punching a boy who tried to kiss my friend on the cheek and then chased her when she refused – this was in 1st grade.  At recess I stood guard always making sure that my friends didn’t have to worry about what they boys were up to.  For my work, I was rewarded with loyal friends and boys who hated me for humiliating them.  To me, it was a fair trade-off and I continued until I could no longer fend the boys off (about sixth grade).  [I would like to point out that I was never officially punished. In fact, many of my teachers thought it was awesome.]

To this day, I abhor sexism and the insidious ways that it keeps women and girls in their place and elevates men who don’t deserve the praise.  I became an official feminist in college, although it never became my field of study (I prefer math and science), but I definitely dabbled and had friends who were also ardent feminists.  They taught me a lot of what they learned in classes and I appreciated the knowledge.  This knowledge led me to all sorts of places and perhaps the most important – accepting my transsexuality.  When I came out to my friends, I was under the erroneous assumption that they would accept it as well, but I was wrong.  They didn’t understand, they refused to talk about feminism anymore, they called me a traitor, they stopped calling.  I felt betrayed, cast away, discarded.    Often I wondered how much is due to the underlying anti-trans sentiments of some feminist arguments or to the ingrained transphobia in our culture.  Most of me, though, no longer cared, as I had lost everything that was dear to me for speaking my truth.  My world felt twisted and upside-down – it didn’t make any sense.  How could something that felt so right for so long, suddenly make me feel like a monster when I had done nothing wrong?

What I can see now that I couldn’t see then is that both sides felt betrayed.  We all lost innocence about feminism that day or at-least were faced with the limitations of feminism.  As someone who was assigned female and was forced to live the life of a straight woman for 20 years, I do have insight into how women are treated.  But I maintain that I will never know what its like to actually *be* a woman.  I never was one.  I just looked like one – an impostor, a fake, a doppelganger.  My friends believed that I was a woman, so when I told them that I really wasn’t one, they thought I was denying my womanhood and implying that manhood was much better.  They thought I was buying into the patriarchy and believed that to be a woman was one of the worst things you could be.  This is very far from the actual truth of why I transitioned and their assumption that my motivation was flawed led to all sorts of recriminations.  I transitioned because my mind says male and my body said female.  I wanted them to match and for that I have been called a traitor, an impostor, a liar, a chauvinist pig, a tool of the patriarchy, etc.  It took me a long time to come to terms with the accusations I faced from my feminist friends.  A part of me agreed with them and felt extreme guilt that my decision to transition could make me just as bad as the boys who harassed my friends as a child.  I didn’t want to be like them.  I didn’t want to be that guy who thinks they are better than women solely because they’ve been trained to think that way.  I was also aware that gaining male privilege can make trans men become sexist jerks.  I vowed to not become that kind of man.

I’ve been living my life as I’d always wished for 8 years now.  I am an effeminate gay trans men who loves the company of women.  It took me a long time, but I have finally come to terms with the limitations of feminism and understand that my former friends did the best they could do with the information they had, as did I.  Neither side won or lost.  I still fight against sexism and believe that women need their spaces away from men.  I’m somewhat of an outsider now, but I like to look in to see how strong and powerful women can be and just happy that slowly things are getting better.  I know that I can’t give them the male privilege that I’ve gained, but I can still watch out for their safety.  I can still stand up for them when they need it.  I can still be their friend and listen when they need an ear.  I still care and no matter how hard they push me away, I will always be there.

In closing, If you’re a trans man reading this, please take this to heart.  Let your former life guide you, but know that you are not betraying anyone by transitioning and living your life to the fullest.  By the power vested in me you are now absolved of all guilt you are feeling.  Just one thing before you to take the plunge — don’t forget about the sisters you left behind.

Kian has been living as a gay transman for most of his 20s.  Nerdy, quirky and fey, he often spends his time thinking and writing about gay and trans politics.  He loves to learn and cook and looks for hairy men who do the same.

Requisite disclaimer: All opinions expressed in guest posts are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NotAiden.

Response: Is there a transgender ‘lifestyle’?

I’m going to be honest, I don’t read many trans-specific websites.  In fact, I don’t think I read a single trans-specific anything if it’s not on Tumblr or LiveJournal.  I’m past that phase in my life and most of the people on trans-specific sites annoy the hell out of me.  Plus, I can’t keep my damned mouth shut when I should.  However, every now and then a post will so saturate the web that even I notice it.  Such is the case with the (relatively) recent editorial on

We’ve all heard ‘lifestyle’ used in a negative context, generally in the form of religious leaders saying they can’t support trans* rights because they don’t approve of our ‘lifestyle’.  What we don’t generally think of is the more common usage of the word, one used to denote a particular set of common traits and beliefs.  If someone talks about their ‘bohemian lifestyle’ we immediately picture bare lofts in industrial squats, homes packed with artists, and few (if any) modern comforts.  I also picture Mark Cohen dancing on a table, but I’m kind of a geek.

Using that definition is there a ‘transgender lifestyle’?  I don’t think so.  There are so many different ways to be trans* that to me the idea of us all fitting under one nice heading (even one as large as ‘transgender’) is a bit absurd.  I am not the same as a genderqueer identified person.  I am not the same as a trans man who considers the ‘trans’ part of that to be central to his identity.  I’m not even the same as most gay (trans) men who could easily be thought of as straight.  We all have different needs, different comfort levels, different ways of approaching society.  Many trans people wish to challenge the gender binary and bring awareness of genderqueer and other-gendered identities.  I have no desire to do such a thing, in fact, I’m perfectly happy with my “man” box.  I simply wish more people would recognise that it’s my box to occupy.

The other term being considered is ‘culture’, a word that has a much more high-brow sound.  When people refer to culture it tends to be either in an academic sense or when speaking about such things as art and literature.  In that case, is there a transgender culture?  I would say there is, particularly considering the recent emergence of magazines, artwork, films, and books written by and for trans* people.  However, I feel it is important to note that not every trans* person has any interest in what could be considered trans* culture.  As I said before, I don’t read anything trans-specific these days.  If there’s a new biography out I might pick it up, but I’m far more likely to read the latest on Simon Doonan or Sir Elton John.

I see this in very much the same way I see ‘gay lifestyle’ and ‘gay culture’.  Many people (rightly) get upset when spoken to about their ‘gay lifestyle’.  There’s a certain connotation that none of us is all too thrilled with, it sounds like we try to “convert” little boys in between clubbing and obsessing at the gym.  ‘Gay culture’, on the other hand, brings to mind drag queens, pride parades, and rainbows.  Not everyone likes drag queens, but they are an integral part of gay history and early gay experiences.  Those who wish to have no connection to gay culture have every right to go about their lives ignoring it.  I know many of these people and in every case I can understand why they choose not to participate.  They relate to gay culture in the same way that I relate to trans* culture: it’s simply not something they need.  However, for those of us who didn’t have words to explain our interests, camp films and drag shows are incredibly affirming.

Gender as a social construct: Why it’s problematic

I’ve been seeing this over and over in certain segments of the trans population and it’s starting to get on my damned nerves.  Transpeople — 100% binary identified transpeople — claiming that gender is entirely a social construct.

This is a problem.  Why?  Because if gender were entirely socialised I wouldn’t exist.  Nor would thousands of other binary identified transsexuals.  If gender were solely an issue of socialisation it would be possible to train me to be a nice little girl.  My parents tried that.  It failed.  Pretty miserably.

I don’t know if transpeople realise what they’re saying when they spout this stuff or if they’re getting gender identity confused with gender roles.  Either way, something needs to be done.  Society has tried claiming that all gender is devised by social rules and restrictions before, it was called the 1970s.  This was the peak of egalitarian feminism, a time when women were insisting that the only differences between them and men could be traced back to early childhood rearing.  If you raised your daughters to like trucks and swords instead of dolls and dresses they’d turn out just like any little boy.  If you raised all of your children to like trucks and dolls equally they’d never prefer one over the other.

They were wrong.  For the first proposal we have David Reimer.  A young boy whose penis was cut off in a botched circumcision when he was an infant.  His parents were told to raise him as a girl, that way he’d be able to have surgery and hormones as he got older and no one would be the wiser.  Even better, he had a twin brother which meant they could be a perfect test case for the nurture over nature theory.  Unfortunately for all involved, David had no desire to be a girl.  As early as age three he was exhibiting frustration very similar to what transpeople go through.  Ultimately David was told about his medical history and made the decision to live as his birth sex.

For the second idea there are so many individuals that I couldn’t begin to list them all.  Most children I grew up with were given the option to play with any toys they wanted.  Girl, boy, it didn’t matter.  I knew boys who played with dolls and girls who played with trucks.  There was no value placed on either, but each and every child still had a preference.  The majority of boys preferred trucks and the majority of girls preferred dolls.  There were exceptions and a good number of us would pick Lego over anything else, but the general rule remained.  As far as I know, I’m the only transperson from the people I grew up with — and I was a doll kid.

So, now that we’ve established that no amount of socialising is going to change a person’s gender, let’s look at where people might be getting things confused.

One explanation I hear quite often is that transpeople only exist within the framework of a gendered society.  If we were to remove all gender everyone would be at a happy medium.  I’d be willing to accept this idea if I didn’t know people who were raised in almost entirely gender neutral environments.  My elementary school, for example, didn’t have “girl” or “boy” bathrooms.  We had one single stall per classroom (two per class in kindergarten and first grades) that anyone could use.  Instead of lining up by girls and boys we’d line up by dark shoes and light shoes.  My family was the only one in the neighbourhood that cared remotely about gender.  It wasn’t until middle school that anything became separated, and even then it was only locker and bathrooms.  Yet everyone I know from that time is binary identified.

My theory is that people are confusing gender identity with gender roles.  Gender identity is an innate characteristic that cannot be changed.  It’s a far broader spectrum than Western society would have you believe, but in most people it’s pretty stable.  Gender roles, on the other hand, are how society expects people of a particular gender to behave.

For example, I am a guy.  As a guy I am expected to have “masculine” traits.  These traits are almost overwhelmingly aggressive and cold.  “Men hunt, women cook.”  “Men fight, women compromise.”  “Men bully, women nurture.”  “Men are good at maths, women are good at writing.”  I’m sure we’ve all heard these and many more.  The problem is, they’re neither true nor static.  As society evolves so do gender roles.  Fifty years ago a woman even running for President would have been unheard of.  It simply wasn’t the sort of thing women did, politics was a man’s world.  Yet today there are women leading countries around the world and no one bats an eye.

By the same token, gender roles change as you travel.  In Japan sweet foods are considered “girly”, men aren’t expected to like them.  In the US men are allowed all the sweets they want — though chocolate is generally seen as something women like more.  In my Mexican-American family dancing was seen as something all people should do, even my macho, tattoo-covered, cholo uncles.  If you couldn’t dance you were going to lose your wife to someone who could.  This meant that at least twice a year my uncles would trade in their baggy jeans and A-frame shirts for the tight, sparkly outfits most people associate with mariachi bands and escort their wives to a night of folklorico dancing.  It wasn’t considered gay or effeminate, it was part of being a “real” man.

Now, if we abolished all gender roles would there still be transpeople?  Probably.  At the very least, there’d still be transsexuals.  Why?  Because while being seen as a man is important to me, having a penis is pretty frickin’ important too.  In fact, it’s more important to me than being seen as a man.  If I had to pick between people constantly thinking I’m a woman, but having a penis and being seen as a man, but not having a penis I’d go with the penis every time.  For one thing, it’s hard for people to argue if you whip it out.  For another, it’d make me immensely more comfortable with my body.

Which is really what it all comes down to.  The difference between transitioning due to a sense of being a man and transitioning due to a desire for a male body.  It’s possible to want both (I do), but some people fall very much on one side or the other.  Those who are fine with their bodies probably would do well in a completely genderless/gender-role-less world.  Those who aren’t would still require some form of medical intervention.