TR: mentions self harm, suicide and mental illness
I recently came across a Facebook post that was analyzing a photo of a birth certificate for a four year old child, whose parents exclaimed how after lots of time, effort and paperwork they were able to change the gender and name of their child to female. As I looked at the comments made by my peers, they all took up arms against the fact that the person in question is only four years old. They claimed the child, who is now “she”, couldn’t possibly know enough about herself or gender to be able to make such a decision, and attacked the parents for acting in this way. Here were my thoughts.
As I study for the LSAT in order to go to law school, I keep in mind to always “answer the prompt”. WHAT is it? What EXACTLY does it say?
It is a piece of paper. A document which, should she decide later, can be changed again and unchanged at that. Commenters found an issue with changing the child’s name, as if people in society don’t change their names and go by other names all the time. Even you may have had a childhood nickname for years and go by a different name now. The other thing on her birth certificate changed was her gender. The only places you bubble “female”, “male” or “other” where you can’t place your preference are legal state and federal documents. Any job application or social survey isn’t going to follow up on what gender you identify with versus your biological sex. How would people feel is she bubbles “female”, without the birth certificate change? If she hadn’t changed her birth certificate and still bubbled “female”, would people be less angry? I’m sure they would find some issue with that as well. The birth certificate is a formality for comfort. Most of us haven’t even seen or held our physical birth certificates, yet we assume it reflects how we identify. What if it didn’t? How would you feel?
That raises the question then, how does a four year old know how they feel? The comments on the post seemed to claim that, “she isn’t old enough to know about the complexities of gender.” My thought was “you’re right! She doesn’t!” With little or no knowledge at all of the complexities to which she speaks… she knew she’s a girl ANYWAYS! What does that mean when a four-year-old kid, who doesn’t know terms like gender, transgender, gender fluid, etc., claims that she is a girl. It can be reasonably assumed that these parents are not impulsive or insane. Who would go through “lots of time, effort and paperwork” unless presented with a compelling case. There are no details to the build up to this particular child’s case, but in my study and experience with trans children, it isn’t a “phase”. It isn’t dress up playing house where you play mommy or daddy. It isn’t wanting to be a princess or superhero for months. The things trans-children say are different.
Can I have a penis?
Can I have a vagina?
Daddy I want the thing that you have.
I hate my body.
I hate my penis.
I hate my breasts.
Why can’t I look like that?
I want to be like them.
Mommy I don’t want to look like this.
I’m a boy.
I’m a girl.
These are all things I have seen and heard young 3, 4, 5 year old trans children say constantly, and insistently. They don’t know about being transgender or even having gender. Something inside them simply compels them to identify as themselves. Isn’t that what makes children so wonderful? Their innocent authenticity? They are authentically themselves, even before they understand the gravity of what they’re saying.
In the trans experience, time is a factor for the youth. If four is too young, well the child, especially depending on the sex, has six to ten years respectively before puberty where they may still be considered “too young” to know their gender. When their puberty starts, many unwanted physical changes begin to take place. If the individual isn’t considered “old enough” to know their gender, then their body will continue to progress in an undesired direction. There are hormone processes and physical surgeries for both sexes, for those who decide to medically transition. Many people have age issues with these medical amenities even when a child is 16 and not yet 18, which is a later time to start these treatments. People claim that 14, 15 or 16 is too young to know their gender, but if it isn’t known before puberty, well, it’s very difficult to reverse the process. Transmales take T(testosterone) treatments and get top surgeries to remove their breasts. Trans females can get breast implants and get Estrogen hormone therapy. Bringing us back to the Facebook post, the parents weren’t taking physical measures, they only changed a piece of paper.
Some of the quotes above are concerning, and this is something we must very seriously consider. It’s very easy for us to separate ourselves from that child, who isn’t shown in the post at all, but imagine a four-year-old little boy. Totally “normal.” Totally healthy. He has two parents very much the same, and one day he says to them, mommy I’m a girl. Maybe she shrugs it off the next time. A few days later he says, I hate my penis, I want what you have. It continues, he starts to take mommy’s clothes and makeup. Mommy thinks its a phase. But then he says, I hate my body. I hate myself. Woe, now we’re awake and listening. What would you do if your four-year-old child said that to you? Before you answer, here are some statistics.
The Cincinnati Children’s hospital study states that:
30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, such as cutting.
A study for the University of Cambridge claims that:
96% of transgender youth participate in self-harm at least once.
40% of the transgender community have serious mental health problems.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance has found that:
Transgender people 18 and over are almost ELEVEN TIMES MORE LIKELY to commit suicide.
Transgender people are SIX AND A HALF TIMES MORE LIKELY to engage in self harm throughout their lives.
For transgender people aged 18 and over, THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT of have attempted suicide in their lifetime.
Four may be “too early” but 18 and over seems to be too late.
I asked what would you say to a child saying those things to you, but now it’s more a question of, are you going to risk your child’s life?
What each of these sources and any scientific study of the transgender experience has in common is their prescription for Inclusion and Recognition. There is so much peace just by feeling authentic and valid; an issue most us, especially the cis straight white population, cannot understand. Each of us is a product of our upbringing; how our parents loved and encouraged us speaks for our self-confidence, mental health and behavior as adults. At four, changing a name, clothes, haircut, room, pronouns and even birth certificate, can all be unchanged when the kid gets older. For now, it’s really important to Include and Recognize the identities of children. We must foster and validate who they are so that they will have that foundation of self-confidence for their future. Shutting children down, what they say and who they claim to be is what is driving and perpetuating these statistics. If we want to change this outcome and the lives of adults of the transgender community, it starts by how we treat the children. Listen. Validate. Include. Recognize. We cannot take the risk to do otherwise.
For an excellent 40-minute youtube video of one family’s journey with their trans female daughter please click here.
Commentary on the discussion of age and physical changes for transgender people will follow this article. Please stay tuned.