The Country’s Youngest Transgender Girl Prepares to Enter Kindgergarten

I think piny will have a more comprehensive response to this article than I will, but I’m going to try anyway.

Born a biological male whom the family named Nicholas, Nicole today dresses, acts, and lives like a girl. She’s been insisting she’s female since she could talk, say the Andersons, who asked that their real names not be used for this article. “He has always been attracted to the flowers, the bright colors, his Barbie dolls, and his beloved mermaids,” Lauren says, using the male pronoun for her child. In fact, talking with Lauren, who fully supports Nicole’s desire to live as a girl, it’s clear that the family is still working out the grammar of how to refer to its youngest.

What’s clear throughout the article is that the family is incredibly supportive, and working hard to make Nicole happy and comfortable. But they’re sailing on almost completely uncharted waters. While many little boys do “girl things” like wear skirts or paint their nails, few seem to dislike their male bodies the way that Nicole does:

On a recent morning, it takes a lot of coaxing to tear Nicole away from watching The Ten Commandments to tell a reporter how she feels about being a “special girl.”

“Do you know why you’re a special girl?” her mother asks.

“Because… I have a girl brain in a boy body,” Nicole says, lowering her usual penetrating voice to an almost inaudible sigh.

“What does that feel like? Does it feel good? Or is it hard?”

“Hard,” Nicole says.

When her mother asks her if she’s happy with the way she looks, she says no.

“What would you change about yourself?”

“Mm… my penis,” Nicole murmurs.

“What would you do with it?” her mother asks.

“Um… cut it,” Nicole replies, very softly.

“And what would you do with it then?” asks a surprised Lauren, who later says she’s never before heard Nicole express dislike for her penis.

“I would hammer it,” Nicole says.

“What?” Lauren says.

“Hammer it,” Nicole insists more strongly.

Later, Lauren says she constantly feels as if she’s flying by the seat of her pants. “There is no protocol,” she says. “Nobody knows of anybody. No five-year-olds who go to school fully transitioned. There’s no book called How to Raise Your Gender Variant Preschooler.”

This obviously isn’t a “phase.”

But one thing that I found interesting about this article, particularly in the advice of psychiatrists, was the univeral assumption that there are “female” and “male” behaviors that are completely unrelated to biology. Girls play with dolls and paint their nails; boys run around outside and play with trucks. There’s been a lot of discussion about this in feminist communities, but I inevitably find it incredibly sad that kids just can’t be. Nothing about being born with a vagina makes one intrinsically more attracted to nail polish; nothing about being born with a penis makes one more likely to want to play football. And yet if a little boy wears a skirt, many parents panic. When dealing with Nicole — whose gender identity clearly goes beyond simply wanting to occassionally partake in stereotypically female behavior — some psychiatrists say that her parents should try and get her to do more “boyish” activities. Because activities, apparently, have sex organs.

Politics about transsexualism permeates any discussion of GID. The only long-range scientific study conducted by psychologists, harshly criticized by transsexual activists, shows that many boys diagnosed with GID as children grow up to be gay males and that only a few continue to identify as female. Studies by endocrinologists, on the other hand, have uncovered some biological similarities in the brains of transsexuals, a finding that suggests that transgenderism is not something one can merely “grow out of.”

All of which means that there’s little anyone can agree on when it comes to treating five-year-old boys who want to be girls.

“There are three basic types of attitudes about this,” says Heino F.L. Meyer-Bahlburg, director of the Program of Developmental Psychoendocrinology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “There are people who are strictly anti-trans kids who always try to modify the behavior. There are people who are strongly supportive, who from the outset would strongly encourage a transgender identity. Then there are the people sitting on the fence.”

Transgender issues are complex and often difficult. I think this would all be a lot simpler if we didn’t invest so much in the gender binary — if that was the case, a situation like Nicole’s wouldn’t be so unnerving for so many people. She would be able to dress how she wanted, play with the toys she wanted, and wouldn’t be told that she was “wrong” for doing it.

Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist who has treated hundreds of young Gender Identity Disorder children at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, is a well-known proponent of modifying behavior. He advises that children with GID undergo therapy to work through their hatred of their bodies before being accepted as transsexuals. His clinical research shows that he has an 80 to 90 percent success rate of steering young GID children away from living as trans adults. Gay and transsexual groups are harshly critical of Zucker, saying that his work encourages religious-right organizations that seek to “cure” gays of their homosexuality. But Zucker himself has taken pains to separate himself and his work from those organizations.

Told of the Andersons and their plans to enroll Nicole in school as a girl, Zucker says he’s concerned that the Andersons have been swayed by an activist transsexual agenda and are ignoring the possibility that Nicole might simply be a troubled child. “Let’s see if there are ways to try and help this child work this through,” he says. “Instead, they’re going to cement this in more and more.” He says that what the Andersons are doing could be considered “some type of emotional neglect.”

Meyer-Bahlburg is more ambivalent. “Force doesn’t really work very well. On the other hand, I don’t feel clear about strong encouragement in the transgender direction, because the vast majority of kids fall out of it,” he says. When he treats GID boys, he advises his patients to beef up boyish activities and play with carefully selected male playmates.

Neither of these “solutions” sounds very good to me. Forcing kids into identifying with culturally-constructed, narrow genders doesn’t seem particularly positive for them or for society. I can see, though, how many well-meaning parents would be pulled in by this suggestion, because gender, constructed as it is, is quite real, and deviating from it can have serious consequences. I do wish, though, that all this wasn’t necessary.

I should add here that it’s also obvious to me that there are people who feel that they were simply born in the wrong body, and are seeking to change that.

Thoughts?

Author: has written 5251 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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116 Responses

  1. TheGlimmering
    TheGlimmering June 6, 2006 at 9:53 am |

    Maybe I’m unusual in this approach, but I see little difference between what they’re calling GID and body image dismorphia, particularly in light of Nicole’s desire to remove his/her penis. When we accept that gender roles are artificial constructions and sexual orientation is another matter entirely, what are we left with when we examine cases like these? Or to bring it back to the case speficially:

    a. If Nicholas/Nicole is attracted to boys and not girls, then their sexual orientation is “androphilic.”
    b. If Nicholas/Nicole prefers socially described “feminine” activities to “masculine” activities, we first accept that either way it says nothing about biology, and then maybe describe the child as “feminine.” (Though I’d love to see these schemas pried loose from biological sex someday soon.)
    c. If Nicholas/Nicole has a strong dislike for a body part and wants it removed, we call that BID unless that body part is a biological sex identifier, then people get in a tizzy and proclaim the child is rejecting their entire sex/gender/whatever. Don’t BID individuals describe themselves as being, say, a one-legged man trapped in a two-legged body much the same way so-called GID individuals describe themselves as a man in a woman’s body? It seems to me we’re drawing more artificial distinctions based on the social values we ascribe to different body parts.

    Now, in light of the fact that the mother describes this sudden hatred for their penis as new, I worry a little that the situation is escalating and that their might be an outside cause. In the past, children have emerged with similar presentation because a parent tried to make them a different gender, at least socially, or due to sexual abuse. Those avenues ought to be explored before any sort of permanent decision is made, but who would you trust to explore them without projecting an agenda on the scenario? Furthermore, if the child is being abused, it’s most likely within the family and that will certainly be a shake up.

    All I’m saying is that, regardless of the social or gender implications, we usually try to treat a child who presents as hating their own body so fiercely. If the complaint is nothing more than the penis, I suppose that that can be corrected for them, but I’m definitely uninformed about that sort of surgery. Anyone that is trans, is it normal to loathe your body to this degree?

  2. Sean
    Sean June 6, 2006 at 10:49 am |

    The point for me is not that Nicole displays a marked preference for so-called feminine behavior, toys, and activities, but that she has a remarkably clear female identity. She knows herself to be female. She knows she has a “girl’s brain” even though she has a boy’s body. That sense of identity is true and real and should be respected, even if she decides she wants to do things that are not traditionally regarded as “feminine.” If Nicole wants to be a female athlete, a female auto mechanic, a female doctor or lawyer or anything else, that does not change the fact that she knows herself to be female.

  3. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 11:16 am |

    No offense, but some of his answers in the 2nd blockquote sound incredibly coached. Like:

    “Because… I have a girl brain in a boy body,” Nicole says, lowering her usual penetrating voice to an almost inaudible sigh.

    There were lot of red flags in the article: For one, it is not odd at all for a younger kid to seek to emulate the older one in all aspects (like, wanting to dress similarly). Gender diiferences in small kids are minuscule, and it sounds to be that the parents have decided he was “girly” when he wanted to play with barbies etc.

    The parents are publicity-seeking assholes. I’m sure Jerry Springer will invite them over if they keep being “incredibly supportive” of Nicole.

  4. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite June 6, 2006 at 11:17 am |

    The point for me is not that Nicole displays a marked preference for so-called feminine behavior, toys, and activities, but that she has a remarkably clear female identity. She knows herself to be female. She knows she has a “girl’s brain” even though she has a boy’s body. That sense of identity is true and real and should be respected, even if she decides she wants to do things that are not traditionally regarded as “feminine.”

    Here’s the thing, though — is there any way of knowing where that sense of identity comes from? Isn’t it possible that — for instance — she’s come to understand that she’d get a lot less grief about wanting to do “feminine” things if she were a girl, and that she has thus concluded that being a girl would solve her problems?

    I’m not saying you’re wrong about her sense of identity. I’m just saying it seems like a really hard chicken-and-egg problem to me. Were she my child, I think I’d be working as hard as I could to help her understand and accept — and to help everyone around her understand and accept — that how you dress and what you play with has nothing to do with whether you’re a boy or a girl.

    I’d also keep her the fuck away from reporters, but that’s just me.

  5. Malachai
    Malachai June 6, 2006 at 11:20 am |

    As a male, I can only wish that my parents had been as supportive as Nicole’s when they caught me doing ‘girl things’ like playing with lipstick and dolls. While I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have gone the whole transgender route, so much of my early childhood memories at home are of strong verbal condemnations of this behavior, as well as violent physical reprisals by classmates at elementary school, that I’ve spent years trying to uncondition this sense of masculinity that was (sometimes literally) beat into me over many years. I worry that Nicole, while getting the support she needs from her family, won’t receive it at school from her classmates once they have the concept of gender forced onto them.

  6. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 11:21 am |

    Nicole…

    Or Nicholas.

  7. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 11:36 am |

    The fuck, Jill? Only I may write about transgender issues!

    Thank you for writing about this. RL/robert was kind enough to send me the link, but I wasn’t sure when I’d get around to it.

    All I’m saying is that, regardless of the social or gender implications, we usually try to treat a child who presents as hating their own body so fiercely. If the complaint is nothing more than the penis, I suppose that that can be corrected for them, but I’m definitely uninformed about that sort of surgery. Anyone that is trans, is it normal to loathe your body to this degree?

    What’s normal?

    It’s not uncommon, but it’s not universal. It used to be a criterion for obtaining surgery, but now it’s not necessary per the SOC. Many transpeople do not loathe their bodies or require surgery. Some of us really do feel uncomfortable with our genitalia; some learn to live with them; some prefer them. The diagnostic criteria seem to boil down to, “Feels a strong desire to transition for a long long time;” “hatred” is neither indicative of “true” transsexuality nor a false positive.

    While I agree that Nicole is a young child, I think that it would be best neither to dismiss the content of what she’s saying nor assume that her childish descriptions of it are as clear as they might be.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong about her sense of identity. I’m just saying it seems like a really hard chicken-and-egg problem to me. Were she my child, I think I’d be working as hard as I could to help her understand and accept — and to help everyone around her understand and accept — that how you dress and what you play with has nothing to do with whether you’re a boy or a girl.

    Yup. And while I’m glad her parents seem to have erred on the side of letting her go her own way, I wish they weren’t basing their acceptance of her identity on the way she dresses and how she plays.

    I’d also keep her the fuck away from reporters, but that’s just me.

    If I thought I had a better chance of getting my kid in school in the gender she preferred this way, I might very well bring this to the public’s attention. The school administration might have more problems trying to force Nicole into “boy,” and that’s a good thing.

  8. Jenny
    Jenny June 6, 2006 at 11:40 am |

    Wow. Pretty impressive that they’re being so supportive, especially when they’re also obviously having some issues adjusting.

    A lot of transsexuals do know they’re trans by that age, but that doesn’t mean everyone who is that age is trans. It’s really hard to know whether the person is or isn’t. Some kids see some advantage, and want to be the other gender for that reason, some because it’s who they are – and you want to do the right thing, whether they’re trans or not. Even being trans myself, I’d have a hard time knowing what to do in that situation.

    Lots of gender stereotyping. It’s a problem. Boys are masculine, girls aren’t. Girls need to be feminine, or they’re not really trans, and boys need to be masculine – if not, they run into issues. It’s wrong thinking, but it’s common, and means that tomboys have a hard time transitioning in many cases. I’ve seen one therapist who has advised that I be more girly.

    Why can’t I just be myself? Yeah, I was born with a male body, but I’m a girl. That doesn’t mean I can’t do things that society considers masculine – or avoid things that it considers feminine.

    I wish Nicole the best of luck, no matter who she is. She has a hard path ahead of her, no matter where it goes.

  9. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 11:44 am |

    No offense, but some of his answers in the 2nd blockquote sound incredibly coached. Like:

    What point are you making by using male pronouns, Tuomas? If an adult made this decision for reasons you considered just as ill-conceived, would you insist on using male pronouns and birth name then?

    There were lot of red flags in the article: For one, it is not odd at all for a younger kid to seek to emulate the older one in all aspects (like, wanting to dress similarly). Gender diiferences in small kids are minuscule, and it sounds to be that the parents have decided he was “girly” when he wanted to play with barbies etc.

    Yes, but there are other older children in the picture, children which most boys learn to emulate much more readily.

  10. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite June 6, 2006 at 11:45 am |

    If I thought I had a better chance of getting my kid in school in the gender she preferred this way, I might very well bring this to the public’s attention. The school administration might have more problems trying to force Nicole into “boy,” and that’s a good thing.

    Yes. That’s absolutely important. And maybe her parents have concluded that the only way to get coverage is to make her available for interviews. But that’d be a very hard pill for me to swallow.

  11. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 11:47 am |

    Yes. That’s absolutely important. And maybe her parents have concluded that the only way to get coverage is to make her available for interviews. But that’d be a very hard pill for me to swallow.

    The whole thing would be. I’m not sure how I’d negotiate this kind of thing, if I had a preschooler who insisted she was a girl.

  12. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 11:57 am |

    Oops! Ryan sent me the article. Sorry.

  13. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 11:58 am |

    What point are you making by using male pronouns, Tuomas? If an adult made this decision for reasons you considered just as ill-conceived, would you insist on using male pronouns and birth name then?

    If an adult did that, no. As for the point in using male pronouns, well, biologically he is a male, and besides, if you silly English speakers would start using gender-neutral pronoun only (trust me, it’s much easier that way), I would have no problem.

    All I’m saying, he(/she?) is a kid, for Chrissakes. The feeling I get from the article is that his(/her?) mon made a big fucking deal about the fact that her son did “girly” stuff, and it was much cooler to have a celebrity transperson kid than a mere girly boy.

    There aren’t that much innate differences between boys and girls (gender differences start becoming significant at teens), and if a boy does girly stuff or a girl does boy stuff it’s an utter non-issue, and does not require fancy pop-psychology terms.

  14. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 11:59 am |

    What point are you making by using male pronouns, Tuomas? If an adult made this decision for reasons you considered just as ill-conceived, would you insist on using male pronouns and birth name then?

    If an adult did that, no. As for the point in using male pronouns, well, biologically he is a male, and besides, if you silly English speakers would start using gender-neutral pronoun only (trust me, it’s much easier that way), I would have no problem.

    All I’m saying, he(/she?) is a kid, for Chrissakes. The feeling I get from the article is that his(/her?) mom made a big fucking deal about the fact that her son did “girly” stuff, and it was much cooler to have a celebrity transperson kid than a mere girly boy.

    There aren’t that much innate differences between boys and girls (gender differences start becoming significant at teens), and if a boy does girly stuff or a girl does boy stuff it’s an utter non-issue, and does not require fancy pop-psychology terms.

  15. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 12:08 pm |

    If an adult did that, no. As for the point in using male pronouns, well, biologically he is a male, and besides, if you silly English speakers would start using gender-neutral pronoun only (trust me, it’s much easier that way), I would have no problem.

    “Biology”–which you go on to say is pretty irrelevant at this age–is not a settled question with regard to transsexuals, and not what we use as a dividing line for pronouns. They’re based on identity; there are transsexual women who remain “biologically” male for their entire lives. Furthermore, plenty of people believe that transsexuals are never anything other than their assigned gender, “biologically” speaking. Nicole identifies as female, and she deserves respect.

    If you really want neutrality, start using English neutral pronouns. For everyone, yourself included.

    All I’m saying, he(/she?) is a kid, for Chrissakes. The feeling I get from the article is that his(/her?) mom made a big fucking deal about the fact that her son did “girly” stuff, and it was much cooler to have a celebrity transperson kid than a mere girly boy.

    Right, just like it’s much cooler to be Christine Jorgensen, transsexual celebrity, than to be a faggy little ex-G.I. While I do not doubt that many parents would court this kind of destructive celebrity for their children, the attention her mother receives will not be positive. The last time this happened, the child was removed from the home and placed in foster care; media attention could well be a smart strategy.

    There aren’t that much innate differences between boys and girls (gender differences start becoming significant at teens), and if a boy does girly stuff or a girl does boy stuff it’s an utter non-issue, and does not require fancy pop-psychology terms.

    But as any transsexual will tell you, transsexuality is a whole ‘nother animal. Whether or not Nicole’s desire to transition as an adult is definite, it’s not at all clear that she only wants to “do girly stuff.”

  16. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 12:17 pm |

    “Biology”–which you go on to say is pretty irrelevant at this age–is not a settled question with regard to transsexuals, and not what we use as a dividing line for pronouns.

    I do not say biology is irrelevant, just that boys and girls aren’t neurophysiologically a lot different.

    They’re based on identity; there are transsexual women who remain “biologically” male for their entire lives. Furthermore, plenty of people believe that transsexuals are never anything other than their assigned gender, “biologically” speaking. Nicole identifies as female, and she deserves respect.

    I’m not those “plenty of people”. I doubt that this identification is so spontaneous. “I have a girl brain in a boy body” does not sound spontaneous five year old comment.

    While I do not doubt that many parents would court this kind of destructive celebrity for their children, the attention her mother receives will not be positive. The last time this happened, the child was removed from the home and placed in foster care; media attention could well be a smart strategy.

    I didn’t stay it was smart (I think it’s stupid and irresponsible).

    Whether or not Nicole’s desire to transition as an adult is definite, it’s not at all clear that she only wants to “do girly stuff.”

    I could be wrong. But I predict a huge battle between the social conservatives and transidentity proponents with the innocent kid placed in the storm.

  17. Heliologue
    Heliologue June 6, 2006 at 12:27 pm |

    At 5, it’s difficult to tell what is genuine desire to be the opposite sex (or genuine belief that you are the opposite sex), and what is the imagination of a 5-year-old. Granted, wanting to cut off your penis and smash it with a hammer isn’t exactly like playing dress-up with an older sister (hell, I did that and I’m pretty fixedly a heterosexual male), but there’s a fine line between being supportive of a 5-year-old’s femininity (extreme, as the case may be) and encouraging him to be the opposite sex (to the point of BID).

    I have a feeling that there’s so much going on here that we just don’t know, so it’s difficult for me to form any sort of solid opinion.

  18. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 12:29 pm |

    I do not say biology is irrelevant, just that boys and girls aren’t neurophysiologically a lot different.

    I’m saying it is irrelevant.

    I’m not those “plenty of people”.

    Yes, but those “plenty of people” get to determine the lexicon, too; there’s no “biological” definition of what makes a man and a woman that can be reliably applied to transsexuals. By some definitions, I’m biologically female. By some others, I’m not. Identity is what we use to determine pronouns in adults, whatever their reasons happen to be.

    I doubt that this identification is so spontaneous. “I have a girl brain in a boy body” does not sound spontaneous five year old comment.

    And yet…it’s not different from what certain of my friends were saying to parents who were very insistent opponents. It’s pretty standard. If she had said, “When I grow up, I’m going to get an operation to get rid of my penis,” would you assume that a parent or therapist had told her that, or that she’d detected a problem and decided that a doctor might help? What if she’d said, or, “I should have been born a girl,” or, “I’m a girl inside but a boy outside?” Adult transsexuals report saying things like this as young children, and their parents remember hearing them.

    I didn’t stay it was smart (I think it’s stupid and irresponsible).

    While I might or might not have chosen this route, I don’t think it’s necessarily stupid or irresponsible. I think there are valid reasons for going public, just as there would be if Nicole had some other circumstance that augured difficulty.

    I could be wrong. But I predict a huge battle between the social conservatives and transidentity proponents with the innocent kid placed in the storm.

    Whereas a lack of publicity might have resulted in school officials quietly, locally, humiliating Nicole. You’ve chosen a side yourself.

  19. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 12:38 pm |

    And yet…it’s not different from what certain of my friends were saying to parents who were very insistent opponents. It’s pretty standard. If she had said, “When I grow up, I’m going to get an operation to get rid of my penis,” would you assume that a parent or therapist had told her that, or that she’d detected a problem and decided that a doctor might help? What if she’d said, or, “I should have been born a girl,” or, “I’m a girl inside but a boy outside?” Adult transsexuals report saying things like this as young children, and their parents remember hearing them.

    I’m suspecting this is, at least partly, imposed. Or it could be (as has been suggested earlier) that Nicholas simply noted that it would be easier to like the things he did if he was a she, Nicole.

    I admit I might be wrong, and about 15 years later Nicole she will be. But this is far too early for that.

  20. CaitlinScarlett
    CaitlinScarlett June 6, 2006 at 12:57 pm |

    My little brother is a 14-year-old heterosexual (as far as we know) male and he engaged in some pretty stereotypically “girly” behavior as a child up until he was around 8 years old. This included dressing as a girl, playing with the toy vacuums and cooking things, and playing with dolls (he had his own baby, Michael). However, he also played with the “boy” things, and didn’t see his gender as a bar to them. He was still my little brother in pink velour pants and butterfly clips and sparkle make-up.

    When thinking about Nicole (because I believe she’s Nicole) all I can think is that her identification is totally seperate from her play desires. In the article it says she’s always been insisting she was female. Somehow I think if she was simply a little boy who wanted the “girl” stuff it wouldn’t occur to her to insist. “Girl trapped in a boy’s body” doesn’t sound to me like something a five year old wouldn’t say- it’s very simple and is essentially at the heart of the issue.

    Her wanting to remove her penis does sound like something a five year old would say, especially if said five year old saw her penis as a bar to her gender identity. She knows, probably because of all the attention, that it’s an obstacle to people thinking she’s female and feels angry towards it. I know a four year old boy that wanted to “kill and blow up” the pirates in Peter Pan because they caught Peter. Would a boy with a body diosorder identify as a girl to justify hating his penis? I don’t know, but it seems that one could be a boy and hate their penis, and one didn’t have to identify as female to do so.

    Short and all, if my little Nicholas insisted to me that he was female, and preferred to be called Nicole, so be it. I’d support him- “the self is the self’s only friend” and if his self knows he’s a girl, then who am I to question it?

  21. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 6, 2006 at 1:11 pm |

    The answers seem a little coached to me too — at least the extent to which such a hard dichotomy between the “bad” penis and the girl brian are being fostered (?). I know, I know, I’m thinking of what the perfect parent would do. It seems that Nicole is getting plenty of messages about having a penis, and how having a penis neither meshes with internal view or external behaviors. I support the parents etc., who are in turn supporting Nicole’s internal view; the conflation however of “girl” activities and not having a penis is a little problematic, if only in that it will further drive Nicole’s anger at her body. But then, do we really have the resources at hand to coach a kid through life (at least to puberty or age of consent) and not have them actively hate a body they think is foreign to them? Especially if the majority of the adults are freaking out about teh Penis?

  22. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm |

    We don’t have enough information about family dynamics and history from the article so we can’t possibly know what’s going on exactly. However, we do know a few things, like that developmentally speaking, “identity” is coming into being for a long time. A 5 year-old does not have a solid sense of identity the way an adult does so it makes no sense to compare ‘identity’ of a child and an adult.

    Nicole/Nicholas is taking her cues from the environment to make sense of herself/himself. It seems to me that to make her into a public freak show is a diservice not just in terms of gender identity but in terms of her development as a human being, period. Just based on that decision, I would venture that the parents are not doing a very good job at normalizing things and helping her develop an ego-syntonic sense of self that doesn’t involve self-injurous wishes; quite the opposite, they’re highlighting something in Nicole that she is already preoccupied with, amplifying a sense of difference, self-hatred and possibly shame. Not a good thing for a 5 year-old, still developing a healthy, integrated sense of self as an indicidual and a social being.

    I don’t mean to imply that she does not legitimally feel like a girl. Rather, i’m pointing out that the “supportive” parents may be “supporting” a conflicted sense of self rather than just let the child be, for Christ’s sake, without problematizing her and turning her into a case study.

  23. Ellis Tripp
    Ellis Tripp June 6, 2006 at 1:17 pm |

    Nicole obviously hates her penis, but won’t she have to put up with it for another 13 years? (Is there a minimum age requirement for genital-change surgery? I’m assuming you have to be a legal adult to get this done.) Just curious how you’d counsel a kid on temporarily accepting something they find hateful but can later change.

  24. OhioBoy
    OhioBoy June 6, 2006 at 1:18 pm |

    This is tangential to the article, but I was slightly troubled by something Jill said. Now, let me emphasize, I fully believe that a.) every person should be free to follow whatever interests them, regardless of their gender, and b.) our culture pushes people in certain directions based on their gender, and does it on such a fundamental level that many of them will think they are not influenced at all. But this is a step too far for me:

    Nothing about being born with a vagina makes one intrinsically more attracted to nail polish; nothing about being born with a penis makes one more likely to want to play football

    On what do you base that? I mean, I guess my disagreement isn’t with this precise sentence so much as the apparent (to me) implication that “Nothing about being born with a Y chromosome and high levels of testosterone would make you more likely to want to pursue physical competition over self-beautification.” Do you have any evidence to support that? Granted, I don’t have any hard evidence to contradict it, but it seems to me that at the very least we can’t simply assume that there are no biological differences that might make children of one gender, statistically speaking, more interested in certain activities than children of another gender.

    I guess on some level it doesn’t matter, since I don’t think that, in practice, there are very many (if any) policies that I would disagree with Jill on based on this, and far more bad things are done in the name of excessive belief in biological determinism than in the name of excessive denial of it. And maybe Jill isn’t even being as dogmatic as I suspect. But people are always looking for reasons to ignore feminists, and if you’re going to make claims which are so radically divergent from most people’s lived experience, then you better offer evidence, or prepare to be ignored.

  25. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 1:28 pm |

    Nobody is born with “high levels of testosterone”, Ohioboy. Meaningful levels of hormones of any kind kick in in adolescence. Or have you ever seen a 5 year-old boy with hairy balls and bigass muscles?

    Before asking for biological evidence from Jill, maybe you should brush up on some Biology 101.

  26. Kit
    Kit June 6, 2006 at 1:31 pm |

    One observation I’ve made is that gender stereotyping in the US is a very big issue. A boy is not a “Boy!” unless he’s showing interest in masculine activities. The moment a male child begins showing intrest in girlish activities, the assumption is made that Something Is Wrong.

    That assumption leads to many different results varying from “Oh! He must have Gender Dysphoria!” to accusations of insufficient correction from his parents. “Well, he wouldn’t be liking girly things so much if his parents paddled him once or twice.” I don’t believe that we can correctly handle this situation when we start from the assumption that “Something is Wrong.”

    Take, for instance, girls. A young girl who hates dresses, but loves cars and guns, is instantly assumed to be a Tomboy. Sometimes parents react poorly to this, but society-wise, it is accepted that some girls will act like boys when they’re young. My sister, for instance, was about as tomboy as they came. Most of the activities she preferred would be labeled as “Male.”

    Growing up, my sister was much more ‘male’ than I was. Because of the reactions I got from friends, family, and adults I knew, I ended up withdrawing. I didn’t like playing with many of my male friends, because I didn’t enjoy the activities they preferred, and I was teased for expressing that dislike. My sister, on the other hand, could enjoy whatever activity she pleased, no matter that most were classified as ‘male’ activities. Adults thought she was cute, and it was assumed she’d grow out of it as she got older. She is now happily married with several kids, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want out of life.

    Am I saying that the child’s parents above are wrong? No. I’m simply pointing out that society, at least in the United States, does not know how to handle a boy who likes girly activities. We’re pretty good, now, at handling girls who play like boys, which is a start. However, we still have a long way to go.

  27. randomliberal/Robert
    randomliberal/Robert June 6, 2006 at 1:39 pm |

    OhioBoy:

    I am the lone child in my immediate family with a Y chromosome. I have two siblings, both of whom are XX chromosomed. Both of them could kick my ass without breaking a sweat, despite being 4 and 6.5 years younger than me respectively. They were both much better junior high athletes than i ever was (though all three of us gave up athletics in high school in favor of band and theatre). While i didn’t engage in “girly” pursuits much after elementary school, they didn’t really either. The only time i’ve seen either sibling wear nail polish, for instance, is when the older one went to her senior prom last month (she probably did it her junior year, too, but i wasn’t paying attention), and it’s very rare when my youngest sister even wears a dress or skirt.

    And yes, i know the plural of anecdote isn’t data.

  28. randomliberal/Robert
    randomliberal/Robert June 6, 2006 at 1:40 pm |

    Oh yeah. And what Pato said.

  29. Hestia
    Hestia June 6, 2006 at 1:46 pm |

    I mean, I guess my disagreement isn’t with this precise sentence so much as the apparent (to me) implication that “Nothing about being born with a Y chromosome and high levels of testosterone would make you more likely to want to pursue physical competition over self-beautification.” Do you have any evidence to support that?

    Some biologically-male individuals hate sports. Some biologically-male individuals love dressing up. What other evidence do you need?

  30. d
    d June 6, 2006 at 1:47 pm |

    I’m suspecting this is, at least partly, imposed. Or it could be (as has been suggested earlier) that Nicholas simply noted that it would be easier to like the things he did if he was a she, Nicole.

    it’s hard to know what the whole story is, since all we have is the word of a reporter, along with their choice of quotes.

    i agree that Nicole’s statement that she had a girl brain in a boy’s body sounds coached, since it is more articulate (both emotionally and in terms of categorizing the world) than i expect of a five-year-old. but i don’t know what the story is that might have led up to her articulating that statement.

    for example, on one end is the underlying story you seem to be referencing–that this child is a male child who prefers traditionally female things, and the parents couldn’t handle having a boy who is so traditionally female, weren’t willing to force their boy into masculine behaviors, and so decided in some backasswards way that helping their child become a girl was preferable to any of the other alternatives (or alternatively, didn’t actively decide, but made it implicitly clear to their son that life would be easier if he were a girl). so they’ve taught the child to express ‘i like to dance ballet in a tutu’ as ‘i am a girl in a boy’s body.’

    on another end is another story i’ve heard once or twice–that this child showed a strong preference for feminine attire and behavior and insisted on being a girl, and the parents tried to be supportive of their feminine boy child, but the child remained desperately unhappy. no matter how much the parents tried to make it clear that they were totally ok with boys wearing dresses and playing with dolls, and that they would support this child no matter how the child appeared or acted, there was still something really really wrong. only after those attempts did the parents really listen to the child insisting that she was a girl, and perhaps turn to outside sources of information and/or brought the child to a psychologist, and, with everyone acting as open-endedly as possible, were finally able to help the child articulate that, really, it wasn’t the dresses, it was that she felt that she was really a girl.
    extreme (it’s unlikely that the parents would just decide that a transsexual child is better off than a gender variant child, but also unlikely that a whole bunch of adults would 100% listen to a child without being led by their own hopes or prejudices), but my point is that there may be any of a number of underlying stories, and we really don’t know what the story is here.

    in any case, it’s probably somewhat up in the air what gender this child will identify as in adulthood–i’ve heard a rough quote that gender variant kids tend to end up split by roughly even thirds among heterosexual cisgender, homosexual cisgender, and transgender adults. i don’t know any adult who was explicitly raised as the gender opposite their biological sex, so i have no idea how that would affect things.

    on the up side, it’ll be at least 7-9 years before any physical intervention might be considered, and several years of that–if pursued–would involve delaying puberty rather than inducing adolescence of the opposite sex. so the kid’s got many years to work things out.

  31. MarkCC
    MarkCC June 6, 2006 at 1:49 pm |

    I’ve got two different thoughts about this, and about the reactions of the other comments.

    First: I really hate the way that so-called “girl play” is considered evidence of some kind of gender issue. I’m a firmly hetersexual guy, but when I was little, my favorite color was pink; I played with dolls and stuffed animals; and all through school, I tended to play more with girls than with other boys, who always seemed to “rough” to me. It really disturbs me to see things like that treated as an indication of “gender disorder”. I really hope that it’s just the writer of the article who’s stressing that, and not the family.

    Second: the “doctor” who wants to push the kid to try to break her feminine identity is an asshole. The things the kid says sounds like she’s got a very strong self-identity, and no one should screw around with that. If it’s who she is, it’s who she is, and what she deserves is to have her identity supported, not questioned, not manipulated. Most kids have a hard enough time establishing who and what they are; to screw around with a kid who has a strong sense of self just because you don’t like who they know they are is disgusting.

  32. Esme
    Esme June 6, 2006 at 1:50 pm |

    Often I read an article and really just want to give people in them a hug. I want to hug this little girl, then explain to her that Barbie’s not a very cool role model

  33. imbrium
    imbrium June 6, 2006 at 2:06 pm |

    As regards the whole girl-brain-in-boy-body-coached-response thing, it is my experience that if a child has a deeply held atypical belief about their self-perception and identity they will express it as best they can given the vocabulary and cultural morphology they’ve been given by their parents and surrounding influences. The content of the declaration sounds perfectly credible to me, even in the form of it strikes someone else as odd for a five year old. I would guess that Nicole simply heard people talking about brains and bodies and latched onto those ideas as a way to explain what she is feeling.

    Certainly, it could be an imposed claim, but I don’t see any reason to assume that’s the case. I was making similar claims at that age or before, and they were completely my intent. However, as I became older, I did notice that people who did not have such powerful and unusual self-identity perceptions always assumed that I was (a) joking, (b) mentally ill, or (c) easily influenced.

  34. Lynn Gazis-Sax
    Lynn Gazis-Sax June 6, 2006 at 2:33 pm |

    the apparent (to me) implication that “Nothing about being born with a Y chromosome and high levels of testosterone would make you more likely to want to pursue physical competition over self-beautification.”

    Given that lesbians aren’t, as a group, particularly more into self-beautification than gay men as a group (even if some individual lesbians are more into beauty than some individual gay men), I have trouble believing the self-beautification part of the difference isn’t mostly cultural. Especially since the relative colorfulness of men’s and women’s clothing varies a whole lot from one culture to another.

    Of course, this may be because the self-beautification thing is the area where I most suck at being traditionally feminine.

    And I expect that some gender differences probably really are partly driven by our biology, but it’s not as if we can ever eliminate the cultural influences enough to definitively tell. The important thing is that we overlap a whole lot, and yet live in a culture which often takes very small average differences and magnifies them into the gulf between Mars and Venus.

  35. Heliologue
    Heliologue June 6, 2006 at 2:40 pm |

    Boy:Football::Girl:Barbies is not universal, or even particularly accurate in general sense, but can’t we say with some certainty that there’s a direct correlation between testosterone (something females generally have in minute amounts and males have in greater amounts) and aggressive behavior like playing football (or just plain old fighting)?

    It’s virtually impossible to observe because of the debilitating effect of acculturation (because our societal standards reinforce genetic predisposition, probably past their intended limits), but it is there.

  36. OhioBoy
    OhioBoy June 6, 2006 at 2:50 pm |

    Well, look, I don’t claim to know anything about biology, so any criticism on that point is fair. But what I’m saying is that, statistically speaking, it seems to me (and I believe that it seems to most people) that certain activities are preferred to a greater degree by one gender than the other, and that this preference is stronger than seems explainable by societal pressures alone. That is, I believe (and I think most people believe), that if you took 100 babies of each gender, and somehow managed to raise them without any trace of pressure to conform to gender roles, that nonetheless, a higher percentage of the male children would play in ways that focused on physical competition, and a higher percentage of female children would play in ways that focused on role playing.

    So I’m sorry that I didn’t make my point clear enough, but anecdotes really aren’t relevant to it. “I am an Ashkenazi Jew that doesn’t have ovarian cancer” is not relevant to the claim that “Ashkenazi Jews are genetically more likely to develop ovarian cancer”, and “I am a girl/boy that enjoys traditionally male/female activities” is not relevant to the claim that “Girls and boys are genetically more likely to pursue certain types of activities.” Do I have any evidence to back that claim up? No. I do find it conceivable, if implausible, that the near-total gender segregation on my second- and third-grade playgrounds was entirely a result of societal pressures. But to claim, as Jill seemed to, that it is self-evident that biology is not involved, seems unfounded to me.

  37. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 2:54 pm |

    Boy:Football::Girl:Barbies is not universal, or even particularly accurate in general sense, but can’t we say with some certainty that there’s a direct correlation between testosterone (something females generally have in minute amounts and males have in greater amounts) and aggressive behavior like playing football (or just plain old fighting)?

    From everything I’ve read and heard, testosterone also corresponds to higher energy levels, particularly in terms of fluctuation within the individual guy. The fighting etc. could have something to do with that.

    Plus, the evidence we have about how testosterone operates in men and women doesn’t mean that women are less aggressive or anything else because they have less testosterone in their systems. The hormonal differences, and their effects, are more complex than “x hormone, y behavior,” and “less of x hormone, less of y behavior.”

  38. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 2:59 pm |

    Boy:Football::Girl:Barbies is not universal, or even particularly accurate in general sense, but can’t we say with some certainty that there’s a direct correlation between testosterone (something females generally have in minute amounts and males have in greater amounts) and aggressive behavior like playing football (or just plain old fighting)?

    What testosterone?

    Boys and girls. Those terms imply children (pre-adolescence) and I must repeat what Pato said that the difference is insignificant until adolescence kicks in.

    So no, we can not say anything with any certainty about the innateness, maleness, or femaleness of behaviour of a 5-year old.

  39. Magis
    Magis June 6, 2006 at 3:02 pm |

    The question that interests me, however, is gender identity. Without ascribing certain qualities to gender it does appear that there are slight anotomical differences in male and female brain structures (in the corpus collosum for instance). Therefore, you have a little person with a male body and a female brain. What kind of toys she plays with or what color she likes is of no moment whatsoever. He knows that he is a she.

  40. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 3:06 pm |

    Nicholas/Nicole knows that his/her brain is different in the corpos callosum?

    How?

  41. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 3:07 pm |

    Since we’re going back and forth over the meaning of testosterone levels in childhood, let’s go a little further back in time. In utero, testosterone masculinizes the fetus. Lots and lots of it is required or else the fetus doesn’t masculinize properly. It is suspected that testosterone levels in utero can affect brain development as well as genitals, leaving little boys, who have low testosterone levels until puberty, with brains that testosterone has already biased towards certain types of play. Nothing is certain, of course–there are plenty of boys who hate sports and grow up het and cisgendered–but by the same token there are plenty of ftms who aren’t particularly masculine acting. What is coded in the brain is not always acted out, and what is acted out is not always coded in the brain.

  42. Magis
    Magis June 6, 2006 at 3:16 pm |

    Tuomas:

    What she knows is that she is a girl. The question that is fascinating is whether she inately knows she is not supposed to have a penis. Why would it matter when you are five?

  43. olebluetheheretic
    olebluetheheretic June 6, 2006 at 3:27 pm |

    If we could be a more tolerant and understanding society, then we could leave the child alone and just be happy with the way they are, and allow them to grow in the way they wish to grow, not on what society or their peers choose for them.

  44. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 3:32 pm |

    So if you italicize “know” you get Teh Truth?

  45. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 3:34 pm |

    It could something to do with the fact that male genitals are well, out there. Breasts don’t develop until puberty, which is when (either at puberty or when learning what happens during it), females who question their gender may start to do so. Tomboy is an accepted identity and girls are indulged and allowed to do boy things until puberty, when they’re expected to grow out of it. Penis envy is considered natural for a female, so I don’t think there is much worry when a girl says she wishes she had one so she could be like her friends who are boys. *smile, nod, she’ll be a pretty young lady some day* Until puberty, a girl can successfully pretend, and maybe forget. After she has breasts, she can’t ‘go back’ unless she binds them.

    On the other hand, boys start out with a protruding appendage and it disqualifies them from girl things right off the bat unless they have understanding parents and peers. So it might matter at 5, whether one has dangly things.

  46. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 3:36 pm |

    That was intended to be to Magis. Tuomas, have you given up responding rationally to be an ass? Do you know are male? A man? How? Think real hard.

  47. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 3:36 pm |

    Tomboy is an accepted identity and girls are indulged and allowed to do boy things until puberty, when they’re expected to grow out of it.

    I appreciate the asymmetry, but this isn’t always true. Particularly if the girl in question wants to do things like get a short back-and-sides haircut, or be referred to by a male name.

  48. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 3:44 pm |

    True. That would be “going too far.” Tomboys are supposed to be spunky and cute. If they show desire to actually be (mistaken for) boys instead of just do boy things, that’s not accepted. But I think the point stands that girls have more leeway to be masculine in childhood than boys do to be feminine, so it might occur to a male child that the penis is the problem, since before puberty it’s the only visible difference between females and males.

    The haircut thing cuts close (NPI) for me. I got away with it until I got ‘young man’d’ in my dad’s presence. Le sigh.

  49. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 3:47 pm |

    Em:
    Well, Magis could have tried responding rationally. Getting my masculinity questioned/insulted in a feminist site is pretty damn ironic.

    Suppose there is a difference between girl and boy brains (I do not dispute the facts you presented in #41). I ask again: How does Nicholas/Nicole know that he/she truly has a male brain?

    We’re not talking about an adult here, but a kid (who say the darndest things). How really?

  50. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 3:47 pm |

    True. That would be “going too far.” Tomboys are supposed to be spunky and cute. If they show desire to actually be (mistaken for) boys instead of just do boy things, that’s not accepted. But I think the point stands that girls have more leeway to be masculine in childhood than boys do to be feminine, so it might occur to a male child that the penis is the problem, since before puberty it’s the only visible difference between females and males.

    Or, rather, that “acceptable female” behaviors are a bit broader in some ways than “acceptable male” ones. Soccer isn’t considered masculine when all the participants are seven; playing with Barbies, on the other hand….

    The haircut thing cuts close (NPI) for me. I got away with it until I got ‘young man’d’ in my dad’s presence. Le sigh.

    Heh. My mom–oldest of eight–was never able to have long hair as a child, and loved it. Mine was a yard long until I moved out and shaved my head.

  51. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 3:50 pm |

    Well, Magis could have tried responding rationally. Getting my masculinity questioned/insulted in a feminist site is pretty damn ironic.

    When did that happen?

    We’re not talking about an adult here, but a kid (who say the darndest things). How really?

    What if we were talking about an adult? How would that adult know one way or another that they weren’t properly “biologically” male?

  52. Kat
    Kat June 6, 2006 at 3:51 pm |

    As a Mom, I’m trying to imagine Nicole’s first day at kindergarten and hoping that the school adequately prepares its staff for her arrival. As I read the article, my concern was that the school district doesn’t seem completely onboard with this and could end up conveying a subtle negative message to Nicole that could be damaging to her and could influence her peers. They have already turned down one opportunity for training and I wonder what steps they have taken to train their staff properly (and basic “disability awareness” training doesn’t seem adequate or even relevant).

    In kindergarten, peers are not very aware of differences, but as they get older they do become aware and staff/peer training can do a lot to make sure this becomes a positive awareness. I think a kid like this is actually a curriculum in herself–how better to learn about acceptance and tolerance then by accepting your classmates?? Inclusion is a state of mind, not a set of rules.

  53. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 3:54 pm |

    I’m not sure what to add here. A lot of good stuff has been said already.

    This whole controversy seems to be revolving on the question of whether or not the child is truly trans or not. Well, who knows, really? There’s no set path from the point birth to identifying as transgender. We’re all different. Some of us start out at age 0 feeling like our identities are at odds with our bodies. Some don’t feel this way until they are 50. Some start out wishing they could change their bodies and then later decide that they don’t want to. Others do the opposite. Some of us closely fit society’s stereotypes of feminine and masculine. Some of us pick and choose behaviors in ways that bare little relevance to society’s definitions of gender.

    It’s all up in the air. The patterns aren’t clearly defined and consequently, predictions of future behavior in a young child are darned hard to do.

    At least part of being trans has it’s origins in accumulated social interactions and their accompanying psychological responses. That is, the phenomenon of being transgender/transsexual is at least partly a social construction. There is an immense amount of social mileage to be covered between early childhood and young adulthood. Consequently, her identity and her perceptions may change many times over between now and then, or it may remain firmly rooted as female-identified. Whatever happens, love, support, respect, and acceptance are the best things that can be offered to this child. When she reaches an age of greater emotional and cognitive development, then more permanent decisions about life paths can start to be made.

    Oh, and as far as behavior modification is concerned, that’s pretty much what society does to all trans people by default—no “professional” guidance required. My father and my peers tried to “modify” my behavior too. It had three results: it made me hate myself, I spent a number of years on the verge of suicide, and when I hit my twenties, I rebelled full tilt. At least a part of my drive to become a woman grew out of having masculinity shoved down my throat for seventeen years. Not that anyone here is recommending the behavior modification route. I just though it need to be said anyway.

  54. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 3:55 pm |

    When did that happen?

    Right here:

    That was intended to be to Magis. Tuomas, have you given up responding rationally to be an ass? Do you know are male? A man? How? Think real hard.

    What if we were talking about an adult? How would that adult know one way or another that they weren’t properly “biologically” male?

    You tell me. I haven’t figured out the intricacies of trans politics. I question the absurd claim that people can know the anatomical composition of their brain.

  55. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 3:57 pm |

    Yes. Maybe say that girls can be indulged but boys must be indoctrinated as heirs to patriarchy. The rules are more restricted for them.

    I drove my mom crazy b/c I threw fits when she tried to play with my hair. To be fair, it was blond and curly and touchable, but I didn’t want it touched, and except for holidays and special occasions, it wasn’t. I don’t know how I talked her into that short cut, but it only happened once before I had to grow it out again. My 5th grade school picture has immortalized it though. *chuckles*

  56. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 3:59 pm |

    Right here:

    That was intended to be to Magis. Tuomas, have you given up responding rationally to be an ass? Do you know are male? A man? How? Think real hard.

    *Snort*

    I’m definitely starting to get on board with the first part of that response. She didn’t question or insult your masculinity at all; she asked you how you, Tuomas, male-identified cissexual guy who AFAIK has never contemplated a sex change, know that you are male and not female. In other words, how did you arrive at your gender identity? Do you know what your corpus callosum looks like? Does it matter either way?

    You tell me. I haven’t figured out the intricacies of trans politics. I question the absurd claim that people can know the anatomical composition of their brain.

    I’m sorry, politics? And now you’ve erected yourself a strawman. You aren’t quoting Magis accurately any more than you quoted Em.

  57. Magis
    Magis June 6, 2006 at 4:00 pm |

    Tuomas:

    Well, Magis could have tried responding rationally. Getting my masculinity questioned/insulted in a feminist site is pretty damn ironic.

    I’m not trying to insult you nor do I understand how you took it that way. The italics were to emphasize what appears to be a hard-wired conception not a learned response. I’m not trying to advocate any position.

  58. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 4:02 pm |

    I give up.

  59. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:03 pm |

    You do have that luxury, don’t you?

  60. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:05 pm |

    I’m not trying to insult you nor do I understand how you took it that way. The italics were to emphasize what appears to be a hard-wired conception not a learned response. I’m not trying to advocate any position.

    Exactly. It’s not that she can feel her corpus callosum weighing more or less heavily on her neck. It’s that she has a transsexual gender identity that may well be the result of an anatomical difference. Her knowledge can be likened to sexual orientation: we’re not sure what might cause someone born into a male body to identify as female, but it definitely doesn’t seem like a function of social pressure.

  61. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:07 pm |

    I’m not trying to insult you nor do I understand how you took it that way. The italics were to emphasize what appears to be a hard-wired conception not a learned response. I’m not trying to advocate any position.

    He didn’t think you had insulted him. He thought Em had, because he’s incapable of applying his own arguments–like, oh, “identity politics”–to identities like his.

  62. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 4:08 pm |

    Tuomas, the point isn’t that someone has to know what sex their brain is; it’s that they can’t possibly know and yet they still form an identity. You don’t know you have a male brain. But you know you are male. Fact is, there are some differences in the male and female brain, but when a 5 year old says that her body and brain don’t match, she’s not literally talking about her brain any more than an adult could. “Brain” is substituting for the sum of feelings and desires and behaviors that make up the personality. Yes, thoughts in the brain are influenced by its degree of masculinization, but in ways we don’t understand yet and can’t categorize as anything more than ‘more likely male’ or ‘more likely female.’ In this case, the kid seems to be saying that her feelings tell her she shouldn’t have a penis. That gets coded as ‘more likely female’ by adults, and increasingly by the kid herself as she becomes more aware of gender expectations that come with the posession or non-posession of one.

  63. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 4:12 pm |

    hehe, piny, funny you should bring up soccer.

    I was one of those tomboys that would “go to far”, asking to be called by a male name, etc (I guess I still do, considering that Pato is a male nickname). I also absolutely LOVED soccer. Growing up in a country other than the US, that meant I was really “going too far” since clearly the world (outside of the US) thinks you need “a third leg” to play soccer… So I was reluctantly indulged as a child, always with my soccer ball under my arm for whatever opportunity I may have to kick it around… until puberty, of course, when all sorts of restrcitions came upon me, including the demand in no uncertain terms that I give up soccer. Kind of traumatic…

    So I get immense pleasure (though tinged with envy) from the fact that soccer is a “girls’ sport” in the US. Talk about cultural determinism…

  64. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 4:12 pm |

    He left before I finished my last response? Darn slow fingers.

  65. Magis
    Magis June 6, 2006 at 4:15 pm |

    Piny:

    I have never been much cognizant about transgender topics until I started reading your stuff here. It would appear to me that perhaps the best way we can learn about biological genderism is through studying transgenderism (is that a word). I don’t even know the correct terminology. If I sound a little over-clinical I apologize.

    I do want to thank you for the education I’m getting. More and more I understand the futility of trying to beat people into little pre-conceived boxes.

  66. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:18 pm |

    I have never been much cognizant about transgender topics until I started reading your stuff here. It would appear to me that perhaps the best way we can learn about biological genderism is through studying transgenderism (is that a word). I don’t even know the correct terminology. If I sound a little over-clinical I apologize.

    Not at all! I was just drawing a distinction between, say, being hyperaware of your hypothalamus, and knowing you like dudes. I appreciate your comments here.

  67. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 4:18 pm |

    I’m not sure why you’re ganging up on Tuomas. His questioning seems rational, logical and non-offensive to me. He’s just not stepping in line with what you want him to say. That doesn’t mean he’s irrational or wrong.

    Maybe you know him from before and are basing your response on previous interactions. As far as this thread goes, I don’t see how he’s been an ass or offensive.

    My two cents.

  68. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:20 pm |

    I’m not sure why you’re ganging up on Tuomas. His questioning seems rational, logical and non-offensive to me. He’s just not stepping in line with what you want him to say. That doesn’t mean he’s irrational or wrong.

    He’s drawing a distinction between Nicole’s identity and adult transsexual identity in a way that seems both self-serving and insulting; he also reduced the latter to “politics.” I think his treatment of Magis was kind of assy. I also think that his misreading of Em’s comment was indicative of laziness on his part.

  69. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 4:28 pm |

    Well, I actually agree with the distinction he makes between a child’s sense of identity and an adult’s sense of identity. Which of course doesn’t mean that Nicole’s sense of self is very real to her but to equate a child’s identity with an adult’s is just flawed. Any comparison would be flawed, not just gender identity. That doesn’t make me an entitled clueless male but it does him?

    Magis made a muddled point and he misunderstood it, which wasn;t hard to do. After that, it became attack after attack and he became defensive, just like everybody else. Defensiveness is not conducive to debate. Also defensiveness doesn not an ass makes. Otherwise, we’d all be asses most of the time.

  70. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 4:32 pm |

    Well, to be fair, he was denying Nicole the pronoun that the article used and that I assume she prefers, and that’s a sticking point with me. I didn’t have to call him an ass, and doing so probably encouraged him to read the second part of my comment defensively. Still, I think it’s indicative of some his own insecurity. If a small child with a perfectly functioning penis doesn’t want it, when she has no other way of determining her identity (according to Tuomas’ reasoning she couldn’t tell any other way), what does it say about the state of patriarchy? Boys who don’t want to be boys! The Apocalyse is surely nigh.

  71. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:35 pm |

    Well, I actually agree with the distinction he makes between a child’s sense of identity and an adult’s sense of identity. Which of course doesn’t mean that Nicole’s sense of self is very real to her but to equate a child’s identity with an adult’s is just flawed. Any comparison would be flawed, not just gender identity.

    That’s not what he was saying; he distinguished between Nicole’s behavior and transsexual behavior. Then he asked a rhetorical question about how Nicole would “know” anything about her body, without stopping to think about the implications for adults, transsexual and otherwise. Then he said that he really didn’t know what transsexuals are like, anyway, so he wasn’t going to bother answering that question.

    That doesn’t make me an entitled clueless male but it does him?

    What do you mean by “entitled clueless male” here?

    Magis made a muddled point and he misunderstood it, which wasn;t hard to do. After that, it became attack after attack and he became defensive, just like everybody else. Defensiveness is not conducive to debate. Also defensiveness doesn not an ass makes. Otherwise, we’d all be asses most of the time.

    But he couldn’t think carefully enough to understand the implications of what he was saying, and his misunderstandings were based in part on privilege: my identity is a matter of politics, but his is just standard. Feh.

  72. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom June 6, 2006 at 4:42 pm |

    It seems to me that the question in this case is not even “Is this child really trans, in the sense of wanting to physically transition and/or live as female in adulthood” but “what harm could allowing the child to live and attend school as a girl possibly do, if that’s what the child wants” – that is, if the child wants to be female, let the child be female; if there is no conceivable harm from allowing this, then one need not require heavy proof of a trans identity to allow it.

  73. Pato
    Pato June 6, 2006 at 4:44 pm |

    Let me ask you something, if you don;t mind: Do you know him from before? Has he been provocative and offensive (or just clueless) in previous threads?

    I personally don’t perceive his questioning and participation as warranting such a strong reaction. He seems to have become some kind of strawman himself. So I’m wondering if you guys have some kind of background with him that I’m blissfully unaware of…

  74. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 4:47 pm |

    Pato,

    Well, no, children don’t have agency in the same way adults do. But Tuomas’ reasoning for whatever reason latched onto the idea that the kid actually knew the (very slight) medically observed distinctions between male and female brains and knew that she had a female brain. Either that or it was an induced idea. It may have been, intentionally or no. Therapists ask that question (using pretty much identical words) during gender exploration and she may have decided that it fit how she feels.

    Either way I don’t think it does much good to question the kid’s identity. There’s mounds of evidence that shoving children into repressive boxes, whether of religion, sexuality, gender, academics, appearance, or whatever, results in screwed up kids and adults who end up in therapy trying to fix their lives. Supporting Nicole as she explores living as a girl isn’t going to hurt her any more than what she’d receive from society as a feminine boy. As long as the parents encourage open-mindedness and support changes in identity as or if they occur, I don’t see a problem.

  75. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 4:48 pm |

    *sigh*

    I know this is just a pipe dream, but I wish a society would develop where kids weren’t required to identify as male of female until whenever (if ever) it made sense to them. Then a lot of this discussion would just be… irrelevant.

  76. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 4:48 pm |

    I decided to look back here anyway.

    Piny:
    You’re reading too much in my choice of word “politics”. Perhaps issues would have been better, or perhaps I should have written “I don’t know that much about transgenderism”.

    I do indeed make a sharp distinction between children and adults here. If you think these create implications to adults that are harmful to transgendered people, I must say I do not agree here. What gets me in this whole story is that it smells of sensationalism (“youngest transgender girl”) and the problem with defining him as liking “girl things”.

    It is monstrous to treat someone as less than human because of transgenderism, but it is also monstrous to decide that there is something “unboy” about a boy who happens to like flowers, bright colors and mermaids. I suspect that Nicholas’/Nicoles wanting to be a girl is much about him/her defined as failure as a boy. Again, I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t like to see him/her being used as a tool to illustrate some point either way, which I believe the sensationalizing only achieves.

    Pato: Thanks for the support, I have had plenty of vehement disagreements here (I have been an ass in the past, but have IMHO gotten sometimes unfgairly casted into that role too, which is why I left) and perhaps my snarky comment to Magis was partly influenced on my part by past negative experiences.

  77. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 4:50 pm |

    unfgairly…
    lazy finger, unfairly (and to add to that sentence, which is why I left… because it seemed to be one of those times).

  78. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 4:50 pm |

    Let me ask you something, if you don;t mind: Do you know him from before? Has he been provocative and offensive (or just clueless) in previous threads?

    Somewhat, but not previously so much on this topic. Like I said, I have a problem with the term “trans politics” and its dismissive–and artificial–connotations, particularly in this context. I also have a problem with him assuming he was insulted because he can’t see what he’s doing, and then quitting when he gets called on it. I think that he was insulting.

    The only “strong reactions” were when Em said he was being an ass, and then when I agreed with her, really.

  79. Magis
    Magis June 6, 2006 at 4:52 pm |

    Pato:

    Perhaps I can unmuddle it for you. First, it wasn’t a “point” it was in the nature of speculation. The question is whether our sense of gender rests solely in our brain and whether we become cognizant of it regardless of societal norms or parental teaching or the shape of our genitals.

  80. Scorpio
    Scorpio June 6, 2006 at 4:52 pm |

    Were the kid mine, Nika would be allowed to play with whatever, dress as a tomboy girl child (which is the same as boys dress), but would be enrolled in school as male so as not to loose the genitalia debate — or home schooled/tutored to avoid the issue for quite awhile.

    This whole topic is disturbing — the words coming out the child’s mouth are more those of someone overheard rather than those of a child describing a problem.

  81. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:02 pm |

    Piny:
    You’re reading too much in my choice of word “politics”. Perhaps issues would have been better, or perhaps I should have written “I don’t know that much about transgenderism”.

    In your first comment, you presumed to know what an actual future transsexual kid might say, as opposed to one who was being “coached.” You were wrong. It would have been better if you hadn’t pretended to know anything before you got called on not knowing anything.

    I do indeed make a sharp distinction between children and adults here. If you think these create implications to adults that are harmful to transgendered people, I must say I do not agree here. What gets me in this whole story is that it smells of sensationalism (”youngest transgender girl”) and the problem with defining him as liking “girl things”.

    Another strawman! My point is that they create implications for adults that make no sense, given what you apparently believe about them. We have no idea what causes transsexuality in adults. The only thing that defines it is, “strong sense of identification with the other gender.” There’s no blood or multiple-choice test, no karyotype, no cause, no unifying set of experiences. The only difference between a transsexual adult and a cissexual adult is that a transsexual adult wants to transition. The other indicator, by no means a universal one, is that they adopt presentation cues characteristic of the gender with which they identify, and that they’ve done so from a pretty early age. In other words, they’re just like Nicole. The things you’re saying about her–see below, in particular–are the same things people say about all transpeople. So you tell me why you consider those identities valid.

    It is monstrous to treat someone as less than human because of transgenderism, but it is also monstrous to decide that there is something “unboy” about a boy who happens to like flowers, bright colors and mermaids. I suspect that Nicholas’/Nicoles wanting to be a girl is much about him/her defined as failure as a boy. Again, I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t like to see him/her being used as a tool to illustrate some point either way, which I believe the sensationalizing only achieves.

    No one disagrees with you about whether or not it’s right to pressure Nicole into identifying as female, but you seem to have no problem defaulting Nicole into “boy” until Nicole is older. It’s not like that wouldn’t cause plenty of pressure of its own.

  82. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 5:04 pm |

    Tuomas, if the kid wants to switch identities, there’s nothing stopping her. I don’t any tone in that article remotely reminiscent of the dismissal I got when I asked why I had to wear a skirt to school once a week if I was to be allowed to buy pants,”B/c you’re not a boy.” No one’s telling her she can’t be a boy, they’re just allowing her to be a girl. The majority of people are strongly identified with one gender, or else we wouldn’t have transitioning transsexuals at all. If female is not the right gender for Nicole, she’ll figure it out and act accordingly.

  83. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 5:10 pm |

    No one disagrees with you about whether or not it’s right to pressure Nicole into identifying as female, but you seem to have no problem defaulting Nicole into “boy” until Nicole is older. It’s not like that wouldn’t cause plenty of pressure of its own.

    I do default XY children as boys, and XX children as girls. For behaviour I expect of them, this bears no meaning whatsover. As for “boy” creating pressure, my whole point is that it shouldn’t create pressure.

  84. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:11 pm |

    I do default XY children as boys, and XX children as girls. For behaviour I expect of them, this bears no meaning whatsover. As for “boy” creating pressure, my whole point is that it shouldn’t create pressure.

    I’m not talking about behavior.

  85. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 5:12 pm |

    Then what?

  86. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:16 pm |

    The pressure it places on her to not identify as female. Both options are going to put pressure on her gender identity apart from gendered behavior; both could result in medical decisions that will complicate her options in adulthood. Telling her that she’s “Nicholas” and male will make it more difficult for her to assert that she’s female later on, and could well be very painful for a child who’s actually transgendered. That’s important.

  87. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 5:21 pm |

    So you have already decided she is transgendered?

  88. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:27 pm |

    No. I have no idea where you’re getting that.

    I’m saying that defaulting Nicole into “boy” creates pressures that are no less potentially damaging than insisting that she identify as female. You don’t seem to have any problem with putting that pressure on a kid who could very well be a transsexual girl, but you are worried about allowing her to identify as female.

  89. imbrium
    imbrium June 6, 2006 at 5:28 pm |

    She has decided the she is transgendered.

  90. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:33 pm |

    So you have already decided she is transgendered?

    I get it now. Sorry–that was meant to be more hypothetical than it was phrased.

  91. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 5:36 pm |

    Not at all, I’m worried that his/her identification as female is created by his/her failure to live up to boy standard, and his/her parents wanting to exoticize that.

    I also think you are incorrect about saying that

    I’m saying that defaulting Nicole into “boy” creates pressures that are no less potentially damaging than insisting that she identify as female.

    Because the second option might require surgical intervention.

  92. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:40 pm |

    Because the second option might require surgical intervention.

    But if she is transsexual, there will be repercussions–some of them potentially surgical–for delaying that intervention, as well as for delaying her identity. She’s going to accumulate a life around her, as well as a body, which will be difficult to discard later on.

  93. Tuomas
    Tuomas June 6, 2006 at 5:44 pm |

    I guess I’m just going for probabilities.

    I’m sorry, but I still get the sense there is much of him/her being rejected as a boy due to girly behaviour, and I maintain that surgical transition is a strictly adult business, despite the fact that sometimes this creates harm for transsexuals.

  94. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 5:47 pm |

    I think that view ascribes mavolence to the parents that I don’t see them displaying. Generally when parents exoticize a child, it’s for something the child is good at, like academics or sports, not something that threatens to make them a pariah. Pimping your kid is generally an excuse to live vicariously through their successes. I don’t see what benefit the parents would get in this situation.

  95. piny
    piny June 6, 2006 at 5:48 pm |

    I guess I’m just going for probabilities.

    The ratio of “cissexual:transsexual” is very different from “cross-gender-identified kid:transsexual.”

    I’m sorry, but I still get the sense there is much of him/her being rejected as a boy due to girly behaviour, and I maintain that surgical transition is a strictly adult business, despite the fact that sometimes this creates harm for transsexuals.

    What if waiting until adulthood made it difficult or impossible for a transsexual to pass?

  96. Em
    Em June 6, 2006 at 6:02 pm |

    When a person hits puberty and begin to physically become an adult, is that long enough? Dysphoria usually intensifies at this point. When they mentally mature around age 25, is that long enough? By this time the person will have experienced full puberty and a lot of bodily changes are permanent. When they’ve experienced partner sex and decided they can’t enjoy it with the genitals they have, is that long enough? I realize I’m being hyperbolic, but at what point does it become okay to say, “I am going to stop trying to live as my birth sex?” By adulthood, however you define it, a lot of the damage has been done.

  97. Erin M
    Erin M June 6, 2006 at 6:22 pm |

    Em @ 96:

    Hear, hear. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready, for a variety of reasons, until I was 25 to make the start. It’s possible I couldn’t have actually begun any sooner, but I sure regret that lost time.

  98. nexyjo
    nexyjo June 6, 2006 at 7:07 pm |

    I’m worried that his/her identification as female is created by his/her failure to live up to boy standard, and his/her parents wanting to exoticize that.

    please, chose one pronoun – using both is offensive, more so than if you had used only male pronouns. nicole identifies as female. let’s respect that, if that’s not too much to ask.

    stacym says:

    I wish a society would develop where kids weren’t required to identify as male of female until whenever (if ever) it made sense to them. Then a lot of this discussion would just be… irrelevant.

    as far as i’m concerned, this is the root of this entire issue. i’d even take it a step further and wish that adults weren’t required to identify as male or female. i could have saved a lot of aggravation in the course of legally changing my sex. what a hassle.

  99. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 7:50 pm |

    i’d even take it a step further and wish that adults weren’t required to identify as male or female. i could have saved a lot of aggravation in the course of legally changing my sex. what a hassle.

    I’m right there with ya. ;-)

  100. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 7:59 pm |

    When a person hits puberty and begin to physically become an adult, is that long enough?

    I was certain I wanted to be a woman at 17. I was just too afraid of what my parents would think to really tell anyone. I was 25 when I transitioned.

  101. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 8:11 pm |

    Oh, I might also add that the “point of no return” in my evolving identity was somewhere between 10 and 13 years of age. That’s when I first experienced a strong desire to be physically female. It wasn’t a very subtle change, either—it was as thought something inside of me cracked wide open. That’s why I remember it so well.

    It would have been nice to have started taking puberty-blocking drugs at that point: just to buy some time before I was certain one how far I wanted to take things.

  102. saoba
    saoba June 6, 2006 at 9:06 pm |

    The transexuals I know agree they knew they were different, not of their birth gender, well before puberty. One described it as ‘knowing that my inside and my outide didn’t match’ by Nicole’s age. Her parents recall many statements, unprompted, that indicated her feeling she was ‘not a boy, just in a boy body’ from very early childhood.

    Pretty much no one knew what transexual was back then ( at fifty years old she and I are probably of a different generation than many here). Her protests were greeted with denial, teasing and outright attacks. When she continued these remarks into puberty she was considered unbalanced and possibly mentally ill. Told by one doctor that she might need to be put into a mental hospital for treatment she abruptly shut up and was a good boy.

    She married and divorced, and lived for another decade in unhappy silence. When she finally brought up the idea of transitioning to her mother the reaction was a simple “I was wondering if you were ever going to talk about it again. You never were a boy. You argued with me about not being a boy before you were out of diapers!”

    Her mother and father (until his death) were terrifically supportive of her transition process and marvelled that we lived in a time when she didn’t have to live out her life feeling stuck in the wrong body.

  103. StacyM
    StacyM June 6, 2006 at 9:42 pm |

    Yes, saoba, I’ve heard a number of stories like that too. Stories like this make me wonder a lot about reincarnation. I know many folks probably think that idea’s out there in la la land, but I still wonder. Supposedly, there are very young children who have fragmented memories of past lives. So, why shouldn’t some aspect of gender identity carry over too? Maybe it’s all a bunch of hooey, but it’s fun to think about.

    I didn’t really question my identity as a boy until sometime after ten years of age. I frequently fantasized about being a girl prior to that, perhaps as early as five or six years old, but I never felt compelled to be a girl until after ten. I simply accepted being a boy as a given.

  104. Gordon K
    Gordon K June 6, 2006 at 10:19 pm |

    What if waiting until adulthood made it difficult or impossible for a transsexual to pass?

    What if not waiting made it difficult or impossible for a non-transsexual (cisgendered or gender variant) to pass?

    I don’t know how N will end up identifying, and I don’t have an answer here. But if it is ambiguous, my “default” would be to skip medical treatments that carry with them a major burden (expense, pain, etc), since things could go either way. Now, on the one hand, that makes it more ‘urgent’ to help N figure out what’s going on; on the other hand, I haven’t a clue how you’d do that (which could just as easily be my lack of cluefulness on trans issues).

  105. piny
    piny June 7, 2006 at 1:00 am |

    The transexuals I know agree they knew they were different, not of their birth gender, well before puberty. One described it as ‘knowing that my inside and my outide didn’t match’ by Nicole’s age. Her parents recall many statements, unprompted, that indicated her feeling she was ‘not a boy, just in a boy body’ from very early childhood.

    I didn’t, actually. It’s common, but not universal. It’s a lot like coming out as gay, actually–some people knew at age four, and some didn’t know until they were married with two kids.

    That isn’t to say that kids who do know shouldn’t be listened to; one of the reasons I didn’t know was that it didn’t occur to me that you could change sex.

  106. Jay
    Jay June 7, 2006 at 7:57 am |

    Great stuff.

    Now (and piny knows this one from me by now!):

    How many on this board have actually had a chromosome test? How is it, without that test, we conclude that penis=y chromosome and vagina (or, perhaps more accurately, lack of a penis)=x chromosome?

    I’m always struck by how many progressives, feminists, liberals, etc. never bother to educate themselves as to the social construction of science and medicine.

    The fact is, our “biology” is determined at birth, not by xx or xy chromosomes, but when the doctor looks at the genitalia and says M or F or (“oh shit!” for intersex folks).

    So, for me, all these discussions about innate this and innate that are based on a so-called fact that has yet to be proven in most of our cases. I’m not saying that were we to be tested that we wouldn’t come out as penis=xy and nopenis=xx.

    But until such time as we have all had the proper tests, I will keep urging progressive to get some basic education about the political nature of science and facts.

    Donna Haraway would be a good place to start.

  107. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 7, 2006 at 10:07 am |

    Ya know, it’s bizarre anectdotal time for me:

    The day I was born, the resident attending the birth leaned over to my mom and said, “Mrs. Ellett, you have a fiiiiine baby boy!”. The OB/GYN who had delivered me quickly leaned over her too and said “um, that’s a girl.” My mom said for many years “honey, you’ve been confused ever since.”

    Except that I was never confused. It’s not that I knew I was a girl; I never really thought of it. I was just little Q. In the majority of settings that I was in, people of all ages assumed I was a boy. Even kids who knew me for years and knew my first name, which is uniquely feminine. One young boy got hopping mad at me when I fell down on my bike’s cross bar and he insisted that I had “racked my balls!” and I kept countering “NO. I didn’t.”

    Now, I don’t look particularly masculine, unless I’ve got the crew-cut and am sporting my men’s dress shirt ensemble with wingtips. But yet I’ve been called “sir” when wearing a full-length, flower-print dress with heels. I’ve been chased out of public restrooms by frantic older women and suspicous 7-year-old girls. I’ve been hit on by gay men who thought I was the latest fresh chicken to walk into town.

    And so I’ve spent a great deal of my life being gendered, by others, as both.

    Which, believe it or not… was not confusing. In a way, it really highlighted the disutility of gender and our rather arbitrary social application of gender rules. My internal identity was never “I am a girl”, but it was certainly never “I am a boy” — I was usually bigger, faster and stronger than the boys, so it made no sense to me to want to be one! My internal identity was simply “I am Q” and it wasn’t until I was in my 30′s that I even had an inkling of what it meant to “feel like a woman.” And that was only after my uterus decided for me that it really, really, really wanted a baby and I had to tell it NO.

    The thing is, as far as I know about myself, I never doubted my belonging in the body I had; I never felt that it betrayed me and was disconsenant (sp?) with my identity as “Q”. And because of that, it really, really, really didn’t matter that folks were continually switching my gender up on me. At least it didn’t matter in so far as making me uncomfortable or making me feel like a freak. Everyone had always switched it up on me. Even my dad went through a phase of calling me “George” because he wasn’t sure if I might like that more than “Q”. [of course, at the time I sorta believed I should have been a dog and he let me hang my head out the car window and pant in the wind, but, well, that's another story.]

    I guess what I’m saying is that adults freak over gender, but they make mistakes ALL the time about children’s gender without even knowing it. Let Nicole map her life, it is her’s to do so anyhow. Even at five. My feeling is that if I were transsexual or transgendered, I would have known so at that age. I would have felt that something was off with me, rather than thinking that adults were clueless and easy to fool.

    p.s. FWIW, for those hung up on testosterone levels and masculinity, I have unusually low levels of testosterone for a female.

  108. Thomas
    Thomas June 7, 2006 at 10:10 am |

    Jay, that may be changing. I have always assumed that I have XY chromosomes and lived the identity of a cisgendered man; but I know my son’s chromosomes from the amnio results. Among the affluent and insured, that’s increasingly the case. Do you have a view as to how that will play out? Will doctors be willing to trust what the amnio says rather than their interpretation of what they see, and will parents have the nerve to interpret the results in ways that the doctors don’t immediately accept?

  109. Sean
    Sean June 7, 2006 at 1:57 pm |

    Sometimes I think I read a different article. The mom I read about was fine with having a girly boy. She’d watched older sons go through that and painted their toenails and let them play with dolls. And with Nicole she says, “It was different.”

    Go out to a local park and ask a five year old their gender. When they tell you, do you doubt it? Then why do you doubt Nicole?

    Feminism, at its best, is letting people be who they know themselves to be–not having to live stereotypes or get some kind of permission to be the way you are. I don’t think Nicole should be pushed or rushed into feminity at all. I think her self-knowledge should be respected rather than dismissed and belittled.

  110. Jay
    Jay June 7, 2006 at 2:01 pm |

    Thomas,

    Do you have a view as to how that will play out? Will doctors be willing to trust what the amnio says rather than their interpretation of what they see, and will parents have the nerve to interpret the results in ways that the doctors don’t immediately accept?

    You raise good questions. I think if people are willing to accept that facts change over time, that scientific facts are political in nature then interpretations of medical tests can be far more open ended, in theory at least.

    But that open-endedness will be largely the purview of the wealthy – those folks optioning regenerative medicine and at home designer enhancements we can hardly imagine now – and the lower and lowest classes will probably continue to be screwed.

    My ability to reconstruct my body is the result of my class and my race. I had both the access and education to navigate the highly politicized arenas of insurance and medicine. Plus, my quest for reconfiguration nicely confirmed many doctors genders, so they were happy to confirm mine.

  111. Scorpio
    Scorpio June 7, 2006 at 11:04 pm |

    Imbrium,

    You say she has decided she is transgendered.

    At five, if she decides to go to bed at midnight, drive the family car, or try to leave home, her opinion is not going to sway those whose job it is to prevent these things.

    I’d indulge it to the extent of not insisting on gender, but I’d not permit any physical changes until a *lot* later.

  112. minvolved.com   » Pre-Convention Non-Convention Musings of a White Male

    [...] ministe: The country’s youngest transgender girl is getting ready for kindergarten. (Two posts, in fact.) Ab [...]

  113. Freeman
    Freeman June 8, 2006 at 7:21 am |

    I gotta agree. If one of my children were come out as having a different gender identity, I’d be cool with that. Unconditional support. But I don’t think I can justify making those kinds of major–potentially hormonal or surgical–decisions before puberty sets in. I would feel that the child, not even having approached adulthood, might risk causing themselves irreversible physical or psychological harm before even having graduated high school.

    If my child comes out as trans to me early on, I’ll support that. But I’m not going to permit surgery/hormone therapy before the end of pubescence. I think it’s unethical.

  114. piny
    piny June 8, 2006 at 9:18 am |

    I’d indulge it to the extent of not insisting on gender, but I’d not permit any physical changes until a *lot* later.

    If my child comes out as trans to me early on, I’ll support that. But I’m not going to permit surgery/hormone therapy before the end of pubescence. I think it’s unethical.

    Again: This is not how it works. No five-year-old is going to undergo hormonal or surgical changes. Even setting aside ethical issues, which are legion, there are logistical ones. The hormonal differences don’t exist at that age, and the surgery cannot be undertaken. What happens in these cases is that the kid is allowed to delay physical adolescence until they’re sixteen or eighteen. Then they’re allowed to start taking hormones. Alex was allowed to go on estrogen-blockers at twelve. He’ll be allowed to start testosterone at sixteen.

    The problem is, once you go through puberty in your original gender, it can be really hard to go back. This is particularly true of transwomen. Testosterone causes one to grow an Adam’s apple and facial hair. Estrogen doesn’t take those away.

  115. culturekitchen
    culturekitchen June 9, 2006 at 3:17 pm |

    Take Back America 2006 : Walking the walk and talking the talk for feminist bloggers

    As some of you well know, Jill of Feministe mixed it all up at the Personal Democracy Forum conference when she asked why weren’t women invited to some of the most important plenary panels, especially the ones involving the future of tech and grassro…

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