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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.

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.

Not like a bone

  • Posted on December 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm

If it were my bone – the unmistaken crack, the grinding,
splintered ends, transformation by pain,
and body thrown from symmetry –

then I would not contaminate or as dis-ease infect the tale
you’d tell of how and where and when it happened –
all the efforts that you make.

So no colour-chosen cast, no bindings, sticks or wheels –
the bestowed badges reducing time as a healer into
a mere inconvenience.

No itches and aches, the murmurs that all is well
to reassure you that soon, sticks returned and cast aside,
exercise will seal the memory.

Instead there is a silence in the grinding splintered ends –
an unheard scream inside, pain of transformation,
an identity out of symmetry.

And I contaminate you with my wound laid bare
that you cannot touch, tell or show to friends,
with honour, for your help.

You are the one pitied – as if my stress fractures were yours
instead – and my sticks strike and bruise you
into the sympathetic arms of friends.

There can be no pride – as when pushing wheels, being
the missing hand or leg, the shoulder, ear or care –
for this insult is on you

as if my wheels attached themselves to your knees, or my
sticks clamped your arms or my cast swallowed up your leg
and my bindings blinded your eyes

and my bone became yours. Because I question the absolute
of my gender, speak of pain unseen that changes my appearance
for all the world to see – and changes you.

You can explain a bone, but there is no heroism in being the wife
of a man whose accident is gender and who suddenly
looks so beautifully wrong.


2012 © Andie Davidson

A certain knowledge of body

  • Posted on November 4, 2012 at 9:22 am

What a week of extremes. From performance poetry and the realisation that I have credibility as a woman and as a writer, to sitting writing a really simple but difficult letter to my mother. Until this week, her not-quite-famous daughter was just a son who had gone quiet of late. We have never been especially close, and I have always felt awkward with her. Ever since I was as small as I can remember, there were always things I knew just shouldn’t be said or asked. Even if something was self-evidently true, or you needed to know about something unmentionable, a single disapproving look, a pause in conversation, a silence – would remind me to shut up.

Somehow that meant not just questions about sex, but also about emotions, about love, about listening. It sounds harsh, even unkind, but it wasn’t. We bumped along, pretending we weren’t strapped for cash, socially detached, never entertaining friends and neighbours, being a model family and silent about the skeletons in the cupboards. And we had our share. We have a track record on those members of the family about which we do not speak.

It feels related; a story I kept to myself for well over forty years has been told only now. I was 12, maybe 13, in a single-sex grammar school. It was the age when kids start to have crushes, and everyone else seemed to mix with friends that included girls, so it was becoming a regular thing to inscribe personal belongings with ‘I love (Gillian)’ (replace as appropriate). Of course, I didn’t. As a family we did not have a social life, and I certainly wasn’t guided to even ‘suitable’ social venues for kids. Maybe it was the money, or the lack of transport. Maybe it was because we had to be different in order to avoid being identified a less well off – or that people as less well off as we were just weren’t as nice. Anyhow, not to be left out, I inscribed my red geometry set case very neatly (and I normally looked after my things so impeccably well) with ‘I love me’. Nothing could have been so shameful. So with the best match of red electrical insulating tape she could find, my mum covered over my pride and arrogance, even narcissism, and made me proper and respectable again.

How do you feel good about yourself, celebrate any achievement when you are told it is wrong to love yourself? If I didn’t feel like a boy, if I felt left out of my sister’s progress into puberty and adolescence, if I felt pushed into a grey hole where I had to learn to be a proper man, even when certain things were already screaming at me because I didn’t want to be like that, then the last thing in the world was to even think about it, let alone love myself enough to have the inner, honest conversation. I had secrets and hidden things from the age of 14, and I hated myself for it, guilty and angry that I should feel like that, let alone do anything about it. For every success I refused recognition. To think you were good, even excellent, was arrogance and pride. I wasn’t good enough; I never could be. So I was consistently top of the class? I was a concert soloist on two instruments? I went to university, gained a first class honours in an arts degree, with science A-levels behind me, and did a masters? When everyone else was jumping up and down, hugging, calling parents excitedly, celebrating, going out on the town, I phoned home and said simply: ‘Yes, I got the first.’ And that was that.

My sister and I agreed that she should be the bearer of the news in person. There was no softer or easier way of doing it. I knew that I could not risk there ever being a call to her bedside, where I would appear for the very first time as a daughter – and no, we don’t see each other very much at all. So my sister, who has been amazing in coming to terms with me as a woman, made the difficult decision to travel up and tell our mum everything. Well I couldn’t just phone, could I?

‘Hi Mum; it’s me’

‘Oh. Hello. Sorry; your voice sounds funny.’

‘I’m just ringing to let you know I’ve moved into a flat on my own. We’ve separated.’

‘Oh no! That’s terrible. What’s happened, I thought you were so happy?’

‘Mum. I’m a woman. I’m your daughter.’

Whereupon the silence to end all silences. No; that wasn’t a good way of saying it.

So I sat writing a letter to try and unravel a lifetime of undescribed, hidden, mis-understood, gender dysphoria. She knows now, and doesn’t want to see me, though perhaps I could phone. Thank goodness your father never had to know. What would the neighbours think? Of course I can’t tell anyone; this must never get out. So what do I say?

Somewhere behind my knowledge of body, there is a body of knowledge she will never know. She won’t remember it more strongly than what she knew about sex and gender when we could never speak of it before. Clinical or scientific explanations won’t do. It’s just my word, my strangeness, my deviance. She probably thinks I’m some weird kind of transvestite, doing kinky things, rather than a very ordinary woman with a very plain life. And there it may lie. I hope not. A few nights ago I was thinking: I could have been her daughter, and our relationship would have been completely different as a result.

How can I tell her: I really do love myself?


PS. I did phone, and actually it is alright. I am surprised. Very surprised really. She will get used to it in time, and she will accept me as I am, though I expect imagining me as a daughter will take a little longer.

First Fathers’ Day

  • Posted on June 17, 2012 at 7:58 am
This poem celebrates those who find a way to be both trans* and a parent. It is based on something I heard last year, which was lovely. This year is my first such day, and I hope one day I might read it as my own.

I couldn’t find a card
so I drew this flower instead
and wondered if we should
switch to Mothers’ Day.

No. You’re Dad, this is yours and
I never knew your breasts.
Which I still can’t understand
but I do like your dress.

Shall we go out then?
It’s your day, not any day
and I still love you and nothing
changes me from daughter.

Let’s just remember I’m your girl.
Let’s play Daughter’s Day to celebrate
the one who fathered, nurtured, cared
and loved me into who I am.

That’s what we are.
What we always shall be.
Here, I bought you this necklace.
It’s very pretty, don’t you think?

2012 © Andie Davidson

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