Gender schmender: why is one family is being criticized for supporting their son?

Recently there has been a story in the news about a young trans* boy, “Jason”.  Jason identifies as a male but happens to have been born into a body that is usually assumed to be female.  His parents are doing their best to support him and have reached out to Rainbow Youth for help and information.  They have also consulted with psychologists and medical professionals, and will allow Jason to take “puberty blockers” when he is old enough to delay the onset of puberty.

Cue pearl clutching (apparently).

I’m honestly surprised at the way this story has been blown up by the media.  I would have thought that in 2013 we would be a little bit more enlightened as to the complexity of sex/gender issues.  This article on Stuff was perhaps the most hideous.  The issues start in the very first line:  “The parents of a seven-year-old girl are backing a decision for her to live as a boy and to medically stop puberty.”

Nope.  As one blogger put it in an excellent article, “This is not a “girl who wants to be a boy”, he is a boy who wants to be recognised as the boy he is, rather than the girl he was wrongly assumed to be at birth.”

Jason is a 7 year old boy.  His parents are backing his decision to live as the gender he identifies with.  They are not “medically stopping” puberty.  Rather, in a couple of years when Jason is a little bit more mature, they will allow him to take so-called “puberty blockers.”  These drugs simply delay the onset of puberty, they don’t stop it all together.

The article continues with this gem: “It would mean the child, whose story is being told today with the support of his family, will never fully develop a woman’s body and its natural functions.”

Seriously?  I can’t even begin to list all of this problems I have with this statement.  How on earth do you even define the “natural functions” of a woman’s body?

Do they mean he won’t develop periods and the ability to get pregnant?  I can get pregnant, technically, but I don’t want kids.  Am I going against the natural functioning of my body?  What if I couldn’t have children?  Would that make me less of a woman?

Or do they mean that he won’t develop breasts?  I have breasts.  But what if I had mastectomy?  Or breast augmentation?  Would I be less of a “natural” woman then?

What if we extend this a little bit further.  I have long hair – if I cut it short would I automatically be a man?  I’m also a counsellor – a job more traditionally associated with women.  But I used to be an archaeologist.  Was I less feminine then?  I wear make-up, but I also enjoy video-games.  I like cooking, but I prefer to drink beer.

I think you get where I’m going with this.  Gender is a social construct.  You only have to look at things like the fact that pink used to be a masculine colour, or cultures around the world that recognise more than two genders.  You can be born biologically female, male or intersex.  And you can identify as a man, woman, neither, both or something in middle.  Sometimes the body you are born into is assumed to be one gender, but you identify as something different.  This can be a tricky path to negotiate, but it’s honestly really not the business of anyone but that person (and their parents, when they are a minor) what they choose to do in order to feel more comfortable in their own skin.

I’m super disappointed with the comments of Georgina Beyer, the world’s first openly transsexual MP:  “I don’t think a seven-year-old has enough life experience to understand precisely what they’re doing. I think it’s better a person gets to puberty and through puberty and then if this is continuing to develop…then yes, there is more of a case to be fought.”

As a trans* person herself you would think Beyer would be more of an advocate for the rights of other trans* people.  I doubt Beyer personally knows this child, the family, or any of the particulars of this situation.  At 6 years old Jason told his parents that living as a girl made him want to die.  How can anyone condemn his family for wanting to support and help their child?  Would Beyer really prefer that Jason’s parents let their child suffer or even take his own life?

Jason’s mum has said: “That [gender change] won’t stop me loving him, it won’t stop me accepting him.  I try to guide him the safest path through, and the safest path for him is love, acceptance, tolerance and support. We have the same child. We haven’t lost anything. We haven’t gained anything, other than a happier child.”

I only wish the rest of us could be so understanding.

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4 thoughts on “Gender schmender: why is one family is being criticized for supporting their son?

  1. Thank you so much for telling it like it is about our wonderful son who the newspapers anonymised. I do appreciate it, and look forward to hearing from you 🙂

  2. Barbara – thanks for writing such a wonderful post on this subject – your analysis of the situation is spot on. As the mother of a 17 year-old transgender child I can totally relate with Jason’s parents and can tell you that they are doing everything right for the physical and mental well being of their child.

  3. Excellent article, I just wanted to mention something in Georgina’s defense, though I’m sure you will have considered this too. I agree she didn’t word her response well, but the way that young trans people are treated now is vastly different from back when she first self identified as trans. Now there is a general acknowledgement that young kids can identify their own sexuality and know their own gender identity from a young age, whereas traditionally in the past these things have been seen as decisions for adults only. It certainly seems disappointing that her response suggests that she isn’t particularly up to date with how trans children are considered by medical staff nowadays (?); the puberty blockers especially are rather common when younger children express these ideas or in the case of intersex children who are yet to choose a gender identity.

    • That’s a fair point Beata. Although I do think that if Beyer intends to comment or pass judgement on trans* issues today, then she has a responsibility to ensure that her knowledge is up to date!

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