You are currently browsing all posts tagged with 'children'.
Displaying 1 - 5 of 15 entries.

Biological Sex

  • Posted on November 12, 2017 at 11:07 pm

What does ‘biological’ mean? As far as I can determine, it hasn’t changed recently: it is simply ‘relating to living organisms’.

I raise it again, only because it keeps rearing its head as a reason why it is so important for human beings to be named male or female. Or intersex, of course, if it isn’t clear to the observer (not the person concerned). It’s a normal distribution among most species, including hominids all the way to us, heavily weighted towards bilateral division. So if an observer makes an assignation at birth, it is pretty straightforward in most cases.

What I find problematic about this, as so many others have, is that this naming of ‘biological sex’ is so superficial. If we really are going to talk biology, then we have to embrace the whole organism. My brain is part of my biology, as are my genes, not just my chromosomes, not just my organs, as is the way my particular ‘biological body’ responds to this interplay of factors.

The actual fact is that sex is not simplistic, and that it isn’t neat, even in humans. What you see is not the whole story. Rather, a full descriptor of the physiological body will provide a matrix of characteristics. And yes, most of the time, that matrix will not be sufficiently paradoxical to make the person themselves disagree with the more casual observer.

What you cannot say is that what the casual observer (or even clinical observer) decides at birth is absolute or exact. It may well be good enough, but it doesn’t make it right. Therefore, to say that you will always be the sex assigned to you at birth (e.g. a transman will always ‘really’ be a woman) is precarious to say the least. What was assigned is not based on the biological matrix of determinants of sex at all. That is rarely done.

Of all the characteristics a human can possess, sex is almost alone in being more a determinant than a descriptor. The reason we want it to be a determinant, is that we are still living in a pre-scientific, pre-biology mindset. We have moved on from seeing left-handed people as sinister who must be forced to become right-handed. They never did, of course, they just learned fine motor skills with their less-dominant hand. In this mindset, being a man or being a woman is a vital social discriminator. Accordingly, we have male names and female names, attire, roles, expectations and privileges, in order to divide us.

I have a growing sense that the separation of sex and gender is not quite what I thought it was. You know you are not a man, or not a woman, or indeed not either, because of the way your whole body is configured – not just the bits you can see, whether easily or by a scan or DNA test. I said it this way deliberately: how can anyone describe what it means to be a (man/woman)? There is no single set of perceptions. But I think we all know much more clearly what we are not. Generally, if we agree with someone else what it means to feel like a (woman/man) then we are more confident that is what we are.

We all know that whatever we feel we are (gender/sex) it isn’t altered by the parts of our bodies that may not be present (but perhaps should), that are present (but perhaps should not), or are dysfunctional, or are lost to injury or disease. Losing your primary sex characteristics does not change what you know you are. So why does having them?

I read that a mother of a transgender child explained it to others as being like handedness. You might want a child to be right-handed, but they know when they are not, and your label disables and harms them. By looking at the hands, you cannot tell which way the brain is configured. We don’t box people into R or L on every form they fill in through their lives, and we don’t ascribe it by cursory observation. Socially, it is no longer important.

M and F are not important because they are determinants by themselves. They have been used for so long solely to discriminate. We have different sets of names for M-ascribed people and F-ascribed people, and that too has become important. It tells other people how to treat you. Why do new parents, their parents, fellow parents and friends all want to know M or F? Why, when it is less clear, is everyone so afraid of the consequences?

What name shall we give them, what colour clothes, what kind of clothes, what stories, what toys, and will they help mummy, or daddy? And what will they do when they grow up? This is all about what we do, not about who the baby/child is, or their capabilities (a thousand non-sex un-boxing characteristics).

So it seems that not only is ‘biologiocal sex’ a matrix of easily and less-easily observed determinants, but the importance of ascribing M or F is very unhelpful. Why is M or F on any of my documents necessary? When I visit a doctor, go into hospital, apply for a job, take a partner, run a company, lead a platoon, become a parent or anything else I might do, it is not the M or F label that should matter. I should be treated as a whole person, according to my needs and capabilities, and with respect and equality.

Ancient writings of any source, written long before biology existed as a study, cannot supersede what we know about the complex determinants of sex. We so often hear that ‘God created man and woman, Adam and Eve.’ Why is primal incest OK in this story, but later same-sex love is not? Is every intersex person God’s accident? That’s a deep philosophical rabbit hole if ever there was. (And so we return to my scribblings about religion and the patriarchy from my previous post.)

I’m just asserting that the arguments from ’biological sex’ are no more sound than ‘the Bible says’. People are people, with wide-ranging and very different characteristics. Even our sex is fascinating and complex, and that includes our brains, not just our minds. If anyone says your visible sexual characteristics determine anything much – let alone the first opinion about them, for life – then they simply haven’t read enough. Humans are but one species requiring complimentary gametes for reproduction, but that is where the importance of sexual dimorphism ends.

So what is the ‘biological sex’ thing all about? Protecting women from men? Or giving privilege to men? Or both? We have laws about treating each other fairly and with respect, and social norms about who gets first bite. The first is a consequence of human behaviour, and the second shapes it. But both seem to require that M or F in the box, and neither has much to do with biology.

This is not about political correctness for the sake of trans people, rather just a reminder that individual sex or gender is not something to be handed out as a permission and enforced as any kind of belief or tradition. If the big fear is that it will lead to an abuse of identity, well just use common sense and law to look after bad human behaviour.

M and F won’t be scrapped any time soon, but they shouldn’t be used where they are not needed.

Trans Children

  • Posted on October 30, 2016 at 8:32 pm

What nobody knows, is that I was a trans child.

Correction: what nobody knew.

And yet, no correction: I doubt if anyone, even now, can imagine that I was a trans child. I was confused, troubled inside, private. I misinterpreted everything about myself, I misunderstood, and coming into puberty, came to hate a kernel of myself. Ah, but I was a child.

‘Children can be so confused. Phases. It takes time. Don‘t make it worse by telling children about sex, about gender, about emotions.’

This last week or two, there have been trans children in the news. Or rather, there have been the parents of trans children in the news. If I want to be scrupulously fair, there have been parents of children who have said they are trans, in the news. And in the news because the parents are accusing others of telling children that they can be trans, and therefore confusing them.

Experts? Who needs them? A refrain of our times, it seems. A lefty plot is undermining our values …

But at least these children are being made aware of their possibilities. Children are not harmed by allowing them to find an expression they find more in alignment. You cannot make a boy wear girl clothes in any way that will leave them compliant and happy, if they feel it is completely wrong. You cannot make a child trans any more than you can make them gay or lesbian. Trans is not a behaviour.

They will not, they cannot, be clinically harmed through this freedom, because at the very most they will be given hormone blockers to slow down puberty while they find their identity safely. The alternative, to grow breasts that must be compressed and later removed, or to drop a voice that can never be ‘unbroken’, and a skeleton that will proportion wrongly – is a cruelty far in excess of potential ridicule for perhaps having worn a dress for two years, then changing their mind. Gender queer is also OK. Gender denial, and binary enforcement, these are the attitudes that do the harm.

And we know from children surgically assigned a convenient gender from birth (accident – look up David Reimer, for example – or intersex), that nothing will change the felt gender of an individual. This is the true abuse of children in matters of gender and sex: to presume you know better than they could tell you about themselves.

I was a trans child

When I was growing up, a giraffe was a giraffe. In fact until this year, no-one realised that there are four species, which makes the surviving population of each much smaller. Most people still don’t know, but would believe you when presented with the scientific analysis. And yet transgender research? Why should that be different? I also remember the catch-you-out joke at school: ‘what was the world’ biggest continent before Australia was discovered?’

We could continue teaching the single-species giraffe in schools. We could ensure schools never talk about gender, that they never separate it from sex. We could go on ignoring that maybe as many as 2% of the population have an intersex condition. We could go on teaching that gender is just a personal preference, that it can be induced or socialised. But it just doesn’t work that way. To teach otherwise is to distort the facts. To not teach it at all, is to leave society to make its mind up, as if our existence were an opinion, or to be erased. To forbid teaching the true nature of gender would be to consciously damage the life chances of many thousands of children.

Nowadays, children can look up online how they feel about themselves. They can communicate with other children and come to understand themselves in context. They can even find that being non-binary, or queer, is a perfectly acceptable state of being, even if that, too, is tough to live in a binary world. Schools and teaching are not just about the trans kids, but all the others growing to make the next generation. Their understanding and acceptance matters just as much. They need not to be the haters and hiders of the future. We need honesty.

No-one was directly dishonest with me. I honestly think no-one around me knew anything at all. Girly boys were sissies, or worse, might be homosexual. Tomboy girls were just that, and joined in boys’ games more easily anyway. A girl could wear jeans, women wore trousers or ‘slacks’. Only a Scotsman could wear a kilt. Anything else was seen as a fetish or a perversion. In this context, no child (like me) was ever going to risk talking about the inseparable sex and gender.

This is how I was a trans child who was never seen as a trans child. I did not become trans because I discovered the diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Australia was there long before Captain Cook appropriated it. And there were always four species of giraffe, maybe more.

So whenever you read or hear about, or meet a transgender person, whether they are ‘out and proud’ or secretive, you are seeing a trans child grown up. Many will be able to express clearly that they knew from a very early age. Many will have made the transition much later in life. Most will have either lost the childhood they could have lived, or suffered and struggled for not fitting in. For most, parental understanding or not, will have played a major role. This means that you will find it hard to picture the trans adult as a child in their current gender.

My birth certificate says that I was born a girl.

I still think that most people will feel that this is not quite correct.

I was a girl, who played with Lego, Meccano, made radios, had a model railway. I had ‘Action Man’, but preferred the frogman and spaceman, and medic, to the guns. He married my sister’s Sindy doll, if I remember right.

I was a girl who had to wear grey shorts and school cap, envying the skirt and beret my sister had.

I was a girl who was sent to (achieved …!) a boys’ grammar school. Which thankfully later went co-ed and moved into the girls’ grammar school buildings.

I was a girl who wanted to spend break times with other girls, and who partnered another girl in chemistry practicals, and played French horn with another girl on piano. (Quite normal now, this was not how it generally was then.)

I was a girl who desperately needed the close company of other girls above boys, and others worried about this.

Knowing you’re not like other boys, is not good enough. Knowing you are not a boy (and that this is OK) is important – even if you eventually work out you are not a girl either.

Let me be that girl

Even now, I want you to understand that however you dressed me, addressed me, or thought about me, it was wrong. Not deliberately, back then, but still it was mistaken.

Un-knit your memories and allow me to fully own that girl.
I need better than two separated lives,
held in your perceptions.
I need to be Australia before Cook.
By your best endeavours, recognise that
I am not your discovery.

And when you read, hear or see about transgender children, please denounce the media who perpetuate their own distaste and hatred, and understand that many like me did not survive – because of course we all know there is only one giraffe. And we all need to know, share and teach this, properly.

Change and impermanence

  • Posted on August 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

I lay on the beach, a slight warm breeze and a hot sun making my skin aware of its wholeness. Salt water was drying as the sea slowly drew nearer my toes with the tide. I have lived by the sea for twenty years but rarely ventured in. I think I have always balanced its cold unpredictability against my uncertainties of how strong a swimmer I am, and how much I like cold water. I remember still one Easter, at about the age of 13, jumping into an icy river from a snowy bank and losing my breath. It was teachers showing boys what it is to be a man. That isn’t what I learned. Ten years ago I impressed myself by swimming about one kilometre on solo visits to the pool. Impressed, but not convinced.

Today I had been persuaded to get into the sea, and was the first to dive into the waves. And here I was, fully aware of my body and how right it felt, in public, on the beach, in a swimming costume and feeling complete. Another first. I fully understand the Buddhist tenet of impermanence, that everything is in a constant state of flux. I protested too long that I was not changing, and that I was ‘just the same’. In some ways I am, and in many ways I have moved on far from where I was just a year ago. My confidence in the sea was in part due to the fact that I now swim 2.5 km in the pool without feeling exhausted. And also because on our recent holiday, we visited a thermal spa with a number of increasingly hot saunas and an outdoor cold pool. Right now, I am facing things that challenge my boundaries (my ideas of things that can’t change) more easily. Maybe the experience of transition made a lot more seem possible. Maybe the previous feeling of impossibility in ever resolving my inner conflicts made me less willing to create change in other ways.

I stood uncomfortably in a cocktail bar, beat music hammering a tired and aching head, surrounded by glassy-eyed people enjoying the jerky dance that one square metre and a cocktail glass in one hand allows. Was I just too tired? Am I too old? Both may be contributing factors, but I have never felt comfortable in this reality that isn’t really. As yet, that hasn’t changed as yet. I was fascinated by the dramatic hyper-efficient moves of the bar staff as they performed a chemistry more complex than I have ever done. I thought of the money changing hands. I thought of the lives behind the bizarre dress in groups out to celebrate maybe a wedding or a birth. I thought of the empty silent bar tomorrow and a thousand heavy heads earned from the rewards of Monday to Friday in unloved jobs. And how the bar staff feel after many hours every night in the loud darkness and constant flow where you can barely hear the orders. And I knew that for me, as yet, this discomfort has not changed. Maybe I don’t want it to.

This morning is bright and sunny. It will be hot. I watch it from the window, unable to sleep long enough to repair the night. It is also still wedding season. Many weddings featured in our conversations over a birthday dinner, there are family and friends, and my colleague at work. I was wearing my pearl earrings, simply because they matched a non-pearl necklace in colour. I feel they have no value, as I remember buying them from a shared account, to mark 30 years of marriage just weeks before leaving. I hope my daughter will have a sunny day like today in two weeks time, for her wedding. I am wondering who I can ask to take and sneak a few photographs for me. It reminds me that once, I was starting out, with all the hopes of a lifelong commitment, of learning, sharing, developing the expected lifetime of change. To a program, to a happy conclusion, and to passing the same expectations on to the next generation. This was how life was to be. The right kind of change; but I wouldn’t have called it impermanence. No – I think I would have used the word permanence.

I interpret, because I don’t know, that my daughter is angry that her father must always have known what he was going to do. Maybe she feels betrayed and that I lied, and took something essential away from her. Whether that makes her feel that I changed beyond recognition, I also don’t know. But this is a change that she didn’t want to change her life. People give me encouraging words, that one day she will come round. I don’t even know what ‘come round’ means. That she will change her mind, or that she will change? Or that something else will change her?

I wish I could talk to her about change. Marriage will change her. If she has a family of her own, it will change immeasurably. She has no more guarantees of permanence than I had, and it is only by changing that she will be able to find a complete and fulfilling life. She and her husband will change over time, and sometimes change isn’t
what happens to you, but what you decide you can do. I hope they can change together, that they will allow changes in their lives and treat it as bonding rather than dividing. Most of all, I hope she comes to understand how important the response to change can be, that it represents growth, not loss. Maybe one day she can lie on a beach and know that her life changes have made her more than she was. I hope she can go on pushing her boundaries (I’m still not sure about the skydiving!) and letting go. And maybe one day she will stand glassy-eyed in a cocktail bar and know that she finds herself more truly in solitude. Maybe that’s where we may meet again.

Meanwhile, from this sunny place, I want to wish her well. I wish I could, but I cannot even get a message to her that she will accept or read. I cannot change that, but yes, it may also be impermanent.

Tell me about your childhood

  • Posted on July 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I’ve said here before, that the only task of every psychiatrist I saw throughout my transition, was to make sure that I had no underlying psychiatric or mental disorder. Detecting gender dysphoria (or whatever we choose to call it) is a pretty difficult thing for someone who has never experienced it, but like any doctor or medical person, of course all you can go with is signs and symptoms, and diagnostic data. Unlike a bone, there is no x-ray or scan that will reveal gender identity. Chromosome tests have little if anything to do with gender; it is a felt thing. It is a known thing. And yes, it is a bit peculiar.

I am almost one year through my post-surgical transition now, and I am honest about where I am. The old gender identity feels very far away, my body has been altered, not as in restoration, but as in best-possible adjustment. Six months experience of sex, after the first five months of self-acquaintance, and I know where the imperfections lie. I am completely satisfied though, knowing that I have the best outcome I could expect. From the experience of trans men, I know I had it surgically easier, a compensation for entering my fifth year of weekly facial electrolysis. Having said that, I still have this deep awareness of how my body would feel had I been born with female genitalia. It is a bit different (not a lot), and it is uncanny. Something is there in my head like the few wires in a standard car electrical wiring loom unconnected because they were designed for the extra features I didn’t buy.

Yes; for me it is that strong and intuitive. I know what it would have been like to have the extra foglamps and dashboard gizmos.

My car could have extras. There are wires and fuses going nowhere, and I don’t have forward foglamps. It only matters in severe fog; they aren’t a requirement. But I know …

No-one can go for surgical transition expecting total perfection. Satisfaction, oh yes. But the full upgrade? So it is, that I feel most of us will always live with knowing we had a development problem pre-birth. We learn to celebrate what we have, do what we can, and live purposefully. I have never been happier.

But I do know that had I faced the total truth as a teenager, it would have been a harder thing to contemplate, for all kinds of reasons. You can ask a mature adult about their lives and investigate with them all their major influences. You can probably get to the root of things and recognise genuine gender dysphoria, with a sense of real responsibility being taken. For younger people, there is so much Internet information and dialogue going on, that you have to find the person through the learned language, once they have spent real time online. There, you can learn how to be, as much as learn how you are. The Internet saved me, in the sense that I recognised myself. Also, I knew I had a lot to lose if I got it wrong. But I did find my own narrative back to the age of five, in memories that only made sense with the new information.

My childhood was uninformed, it was vanilla, because I was not really permitted to know, think or discuss anything about sex or gender. When I tell you about my childhood, it is pure experience, and the interpretation is by the mature me. I don’t have to claim to have preferred dolls to diggers as toys, and I don’t have to pretend I dressed as a princess. I can tell you what it felt like not to expect a female puberty. I can tell you what it felt like to lose the colourfulness of being very small, as I was dressed as a plain boy for school, when my sister had budgerigars all over her dress, or even when my little school friend had a simple pink gingham dress. I did not need to exaggerate anything to ensure the diagnosis I wanted.

The earnest, very young, child who expresses an uninformed conviction about their gender not matching their body, has to be listened to. Parents may not like it, or be scared by it. But what is a very young child really telling you? Surely, they are telling you something. Later, when a child expresses identity conflict, it may be more difficult, since they can be over-informed as well as under-informed. But still, they are telling you something that is important to them, and as a parent, the best care you can offer is to listen. Yes, recognise that they may be easily influenced, but don’t impose your rationality on them too easily.

I guess it is easier to tell someone about your childhood later in life. I acknowledge that we alter our memories, but the ones that really stick are the ones with most significance. The significance may not be obvious, but it will be there. Why do I remember certain smells so well that I can recall them and the places where they were, so long after? I can’t tell you why; only that I can, and that something made me remember these windows on my childhood better than others. Asking a pubescent child about their earlier childhood feelings may not be so easy to interpret. There will be more of the memories, and less maturity with which to reflect rather than simply remember. But still, they do have the capacity to tell you their life story so far, as they understand it.

Children also must be allowed to make mistakes, and you know as a parent the best you can do is always be there to support and guide. You can’t prevent all the mistakes, and it isn’t your job to do so. Above all, don’t push your child in a direction that simply avoids what you find awkward or embarrassing. When it comes to genuine gender dysphoria expressed by a child, parents don’t usually know what to do. In many cases the parents will not agree. It may be ‘just a phase’ or it may not. One parent or both may feel scared of losing a daughter or son, or personally losing face in their own social circle. The truth is, you all need to find out.

Adult people in gender transition currently are required to live for two years in their preferred gender expression before invasive treatment can take place. It’s very frustrating if you have known all your life. But I know people who have switched about a number of times, either for lack of courage or conviction that this is what they really need to do. For children, the most that will be done is to delay puberty, in order to give the opportunity to really find out how to proceed. But you do have to be honest and open, and be prepared to decide one way or another.

If someone does not have strong gender dysphoria, it’s OK to be gender fluid, non-binary or androgynous. It is OK to be neither or both, however confusing some people may find it. What is not OK, is to impose your view of gender on someone who is struggling to find their identity. It is not your choice or decision. As a parent, the most loving and supportive thing you can do is to listen, be properly informed yourself, and swim alongside your child. You may swallow water, but you won’t drown; but they might if you don’t even jump in. No minority group, and no young persons’ group, has so high a suicide and attempted suicide rate as transgender youth.

There is support available, more so now than ever before. If you need advice or help for your child, please look up and contact Mermaids.

The reason I wrote this today is because I was talking to such a parent about such a child, where the situation is not altogether clear as yet, and where the other parent is dogmatically and assertively opposed to contemplating properly hearing the child. The youngster may or may not have gender dysphoria, but that is the pool they are swimming in right now.

I can think about my childhood, and I can tell my adult story of transition. But I can’t help diagnose anyone else. What I do know is that our childhoods matter for the rest of our lives, and we owe it to youngsters to let them live theirs freely, with all the exploration and mistakes it involves. I didn’t explore much, and I did make mistakes. In the end, I lived too long suppressing my gender with a lot of internalised fear and anger. A decision like gender transition is not easy (especially if you are young) if you are facing a life with one or two permanently disconnected wires just so your headlights work well.

So tell me about your childhood, and I will tell you why it simply matters that you can.

What about the children?

  • Posted on June 20, 2015 at 10:48 pm

OK, so there’s a lot going on in my life still. My partner and I are stepping into another phase of not so much coming out, as realising that disclosure is a complicated package. Disclosure in this case is unwrapping the fact that we are a same-sex couple from two different countries and back-cultures, of very different age, where one of us is transsexual, a matter requiring explanation in its own right. That’s difficult when I am unfamiliar with German websites that tell a clear and factual account of what trans anything or everything means. I wouldn’t want to introduce any confusion over cross-dressing and drag and how I am. I even need still to explain to people in English that half the trans spectrum is what you do and half is what you are.

My crash course in learning German from the rudiments of 30 years ago will not equip me in time to hold that meaningful sensitive conversation with the other family …

The bigger problem may actually be our age difference. We have to acknowledge our own anxieties about the distant future, because the raw numbers are unavoidable, and temper them with ‘now’, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’. It is an interesting perspective in its own right, because I suspect we both eschew the standard expectation of ‘meet in your twenties, marry and live happily ever after’. We both start from base-points different from this, we both look at our pasts and wonder why it took so long to get where we are, and want to do or achieve so much more. What we have now in each other is much more than falling in love, and we want to do something with it, not have to worry about decades ahead, nor have to explain our unusual combination as partners. We must use our time well, and make these the best years of our lives, because they are dynamic and good.

Whatever parts of our unusual partnership cause others concern (lesbian, intellectual, mixed-age, mixed-nationality, transsexual etc.) we should have no requirement to make anyone else feel comfortable with it. This theme has run through a lot of my blog narrative from the start. I have been very open in order to avoid misunderstanding, to inform, and to head off opinionated gossip. I have been an education, and now together, we are being an education. Bugger ‘what’ we are in any aspect – we have a deep respect and love for each other, and a great ease in living together. That in itself is more than many have. But whether it’s my ‘Midas touch’ description, or last week’s disingenuous interjection in the theatre, we are always among people who would prefer us to conform to their ideals, even if they say we are not problematic.

Which brings me back to the ‘think abut the children’ phrase that gets trotted out as some kind of moral protectionism, when all it is in fact is a human shield against adult prejudice and fixity. Whether the concern is about gender or sexuality, it matters for all those transgender and transsexual children whose status is at last being understood, and all those children who are educated and informed enough to know that being born non-heterosexual is not immoral. Gender and sexuality are not acquired and are non-contagious. People who are non-cis-heteronormative are not a movement or a lobby and we do not undermine society. And yet we are compared to nuclear weapons, blamed for earthquakes, and for violence in society through undermining the moral fabric. We are not actually liked for being the way we were born, because we challenge cultural ideals.

We are not the children our parents thought we were, so often. They, who were once children too, acquired an idea of what would make them ‘successful’ and applauded parents, and we may disappoint them. If we are very young, we place them in an awkward position with other parents and with their own parents and friends. If we are adult, we challenge their expectations of being proud parents, or perhaps grandparents. The core message to all of us is that we must listen to children and not assume we are right and they are too young to know. Further, that by impressing our negative views on them about sexuality and gender being a lifestyle choice, we are suppressing the truth and risk making them repressed as individuals. Children need no protection against same-sex couples, nor against transgender people. They need to know, so that they don’t repeat the same prejudice and fear, and are free to find their authentic selves. Only by doing so can they grow up as whole people, without the struggles that I and my partner are still facing as mature adults in family, peer circles and society at large.