The point of this post is to make people think, so, please, only read it if you’re willing to think about it long and hard. This is a post that will upset some cis people. Maybe most. Maybe all. I suggest you read the advice on how not to be defensive when called out on transphobia before you go on if you haven’t already. Actually, just read it, it’s good advice. If you don’t think you have privilege for being cis, don’t think you could POSSIBLY be transphobic, feel that cis is offensive, or are simply unwilling to read this with an open mind- just don’t bother reading it. It’ll be a waste of your time.
One thing that always makes me wonder is reading the blogs of parents of children who may or may not be trans/cis. I mean this in general- I wonder about parents who assign a sex to their non-consenting infant and sound so certain that’s what their bundle of joy will be. I wonder about why parents are willing to raise their child “gender neutral” yet still insist upon assigning their child a gender/sex. I haven’t actually seen anyone truly raise their child gender neutral, except Pop.
Now, there are definite reasons why a specific family wouldn’t be able to do this. There are still places where even letting a teenage child crossdress can get your family driven out of town. There are plenty of places where it isn’t safe to do this, isn’t even safe to let an older child express the way they want, and not everyone can just up and move to somewhere more accepting. And this is something that I am aware of, my heart goes out to people who want to do something like this but can’t, but it’s not always the reason why parents assign and socialize a child as a certain gender. And assigning a gender isn’t truly gender neutral.
“You can play with whatever you want” may be neutral. “But you’re still a boy” isn’t. That’s what male-specific pronouns and words mean unless it’s consistently backed up with “You know, you could be a girl or both or neither or something else or more than one and it can change at any time- or you might not have a gender at all and that’s all fine, also here’s a list of gender neutral pronouns- see if any of these appeal to you more than what we’re using, or you can make your own up, you don’t have to have a non-binary gender to want to use something else if that’s more comfortable”. And, by the way, “consistently” doesn’t mean “once every 10 years”, I’d like every damn day. I’ve known parents to ask their child every single morning what gender that child wanted to be that day (and, if the answer changed around noon, that was fine as well- what’s important is making sure the child knows the choice is there). Once a kid is old enough to understand the question, why not ask it? Even if the kid just sees it as a game, I don’t see that as bad- that seems like a fine way to explore your gender. Remind the kid when in “boy mode” that it’s perfectly fine for him to wear dresses and cry and cook and, when in “girl mode”, that it’s perfectly fine to want to play in the mud and look at bugs and do math and, when in another “mode”, that it’s fine to do whatever the kid damn well pleases. And it very well may be in this situation, this isn’t about specific situations- this is about overall problems.
There are plenty of situations where parents “raise him purple”, so long as he is really a he. Or where they just say they’re raising their child “purple”, within what they consider gender-acceptable (this shirt is purple, but his hair can only be so long or in boy styles and he has to wear pants because, well, I can’t have people thinking he’s a little girl!). And other situations where the parents genuinely wouldn’t mind if he isn’t really a he but don’t say it, so “he” gets to wonder whether or not it really is okay that “he” isn’t a he, but a she or it or they or ze or thon or co or whatever else that child my be. And if you think that letting a child wear or play with whatever is enough, let me tell you a bit about myself.
The first thing I ever asked for were red ruby slippers. There was a time where all I would wear was an Alice in Wonderland dress to the degree that my parents had to negotiate with me to get me out of it long enough to wash it. I still have a massive collection of My Little Ponies and Polly Pockets in storage from when I was a kid. I was also misassigned female at birth. Do you know what this means? It means that my desired presentation is 100% inline with my assigned sex. It means that my parents were completely supportive of what I wanted to wear and how I wanted to act. And I was still miserable because they thought I was a girl. Even though I was free to do what I wanted- I still internalized every time people associated me with a female-associated word, I now really can’t present the way I want without feeling dysphoric.This is something that people who don’t experience it may not realize- even something that you love about yourself can be poisoned if it becomes associated with the wrong gender(s).
This isn’t about presentation– although it’s infuriating as hell that we still live in a world where it’s exceptional for any child to be free in how it presents, this should seriously be the norm- this is about gender. The most masculine trans woman in the world can feel social dysphoria. The most feminine trans man in the world can still feel like he isn’t free to express himself. Because that’s just it. I wasn’t allowed to express myself– by calling me a girl the message was that I was only free to accept myself if myself was a herself, which it wasn’t. That masculine trans woman wasn’t allowed to express herself, only a non-existant “himself”, that feminine trans man wasn’t allowed to express himself, only a non-existant “herself”.
Gender is not presentation, freeing your child’s gender presentation does not guarantee your child will be perfectly happy if your child still isn’t free to express the self that your child truly is. And trans kids internalize this stuff YOUNG. When we’re little, probably before you think we even really “acknowledge” gender, most of us have internalized transphobia, internalized what society expects us of, internalized self-hatred and fear and gender policing. All those parents who never saw a sign? A lot of the time they really didn’t- because we can get smart fast. It’s necessary to survive in this world, saying what we know you want to hear. You don’t have to raise a hand to your “son” for wanting to wear a skirt. You just have to call “him” a son, and keep “him” in a highly gendered world where “he”‘ll learn what this means no matter how much you attempt to shelter “him” from it. And if you’re having trouble believing me, there’s a study showing that a lot of kids realize they’re trans young and also aren’t apparent about it, but do start internalizing how wrong it is.
A lot of trans people say that from their very first memory they knew their gender. Too often this is also accompanied by knowing that this was wrong, knowing they had to hide, knowing this was unacceptable. And no one needed to use the words “if you’re trans, you’re a freak”, our parents didn’t have to raise a hand to us- some of our parents fully supported us playing with whatever we wanted. Most of us didn’t know the word “trans” until well after we learned we were disgusting and worthless for how we were born. All we had to do was be raised in this society, even by loving parents who never wanted this to happen. Yes, there are also trans kids who tried to assert their gender but were ignored, trans people aren’t all the same so you might get lucky and have a kid who’ll tell you their gender without you having to let them know it’s okay- but there’s always a chance that your kid is one of the ones who figured out that who they are is wrong so never said a word about it and made sure to hide all traces. Do you really want to take that chance?
And then I wonder about the parents who avoid calling their children trans*. Gender non-conforming and gender variant are common “acceptable” terms for children. (I wonder about this most because these are things I mostly hear cis people using, or trans people using for children whose self-identity is unknown, very VERY rarely trans people for trans people)
Gender non-conforming first. First, it implies that your child is specifically and purposefully not conforming to something, it suggests rebellion and a whole lot of other things that non-conformity implies. In reality, it’s VERY likely that your child is actually conforming to who they truly are for the very first time, so gender conforming is far more accurate. This also doesn’t specify what regarding gender your child isn’t conforming to. Their assigned sex? Society’s expectations? The mainstream? (if so, this is putting undo importance on the assigned sex, societal expectations, and/or the mainstream, implying that it’s something that should be conformed to by only stating when people don’t) Their TRUE (aka: assigned) gender? It may work better for boys who are feminine and girls who are masculine (I’m talking trans AND cis here), but that’s more non-conforming presentation (non-conforming to society’s rigid gender roles, probably conforming quite well to who the child actually is) than gender.
Gender variant is even more concerning to me, particularly when used for binary-gender children. What does variant mean? It means deviating from the “standard”, it means “unexpected”, it means, well, varying. You don’t call the standard or normal thing a “variant”, you use it for things that aren’t standard or normal. We’re stating that the gender of trans kids is a variation from the standard. We would NEVER say that a cis boy’s gender is “variant”. Why is a trans boy’s? Gender variant is othering trans peoples’ genders from the genders of cis people (it also may be othering the gender of masculine women and feminine men from feminine cis women and masculine cis men- which isn’t any better). This is not okay. I suppose it’s not so bad for non-binary genders which do “vary” from the “standard” genders, but I still don’t like it very much because it’s still centering binary genders as the “norm”. It should never be non-consensually* applied to someone whose gender is very much in the binary- no matter what their presentation, sexuality, assigned sex/gender, or anything else is. None of these make a person less their gender than anyone else and we must stop suggesting they do. The Hierarchy of True Gender is a busted system that’s designed only to further oppression- it allows for gender policing, it allows transphobia and homophobia to not only spread but be normal, it even reinforces rape culture by pressuring people who are assigned/identified as male to be sexually aggressive and socializing people who are assigned/identified as female not to defend themselves. The entire concept of gender policing is the underlying assumption that some men are “MORE” men than others and some women are “MORE” women than others and being ALL GENDER is what you must aspire to, and everyone else gets to tell you how to be ALL GENDER (and punish you for not doing so).
I’ve seen at least one parent suggest that calling her daughter “gender non-conforming” freed her daughter from labels. She suggests that calling her child transgender “limit[s her] child’s full potential” and implies that genderqueer, genderfluid, and other terms aren’t part of the transgender umbrella, according to this cis person. But they are “gender non-conforming”, according to this cis person.
If you don’t want to label your kid- don’t. Don’t choose a SINGLE label. That includes “gender non-conforming”. Why can’t your child just be whatever gender your child is? I doubt that, before acknowledging her child’s actual gender, she introduced the same child as “Oh, this is my gender conforming child, [name]”. The parent I mentioned says that she doesn’t understand why her daughter is considered gender non-conforming despite applying this label to her child. So why apply it? How does applying a label you don’t think fits free your child from labels? Does it sound nicer than trans? Oh, I don’t have a trans child- my child isn’t like those people- my child is just, ah, non-conforming in terms of gender.
Think about this. I don’t care if it hurts or makes you uncomfortable. THINK ABOUT THIS. I don’t want to hear your kneejerk reaction of “Of course not”, I don’t want you to get offended that I could suggest someone with cis privilege might think something based on cissexism, I certainly don’t want to hear how having a trans child makes you exempt from having cis privilege, I don’t want to hear anything- I want you to think about this long and hard. Think about your cis privilege, think about how cis supremacy as effected your child so far. Think about how you raised your child the wrong gender for however long, how you may have ignored your child’s insistence of who they are or brushed it off as a phase, think about if you still use words that your child may not identify as, think about what all of this has done and is still doing to your child. Just stop and think about all of that. Any time you don’t want to call your child trans- really think about why. If necessary- I want you to exit out of this window right now and think about it for however long it takes. But I want you to really, truly, and completely think about this. I don’t want you to just start using trans, I want you to think about why you didn’t want to in the first place. Maybe it is for a good reason- but think about what that reason is and why it’s good.
I have the same thing about parents who apply gender to a child who doesn’t specify one. Accepting dad says this about his child, “Oscar never speaks of his presentation in gendered terms; never complains at being identified one way or another“. Oscar does this while being called a boy and a “third gender” (third gender, by the way, is a far too limiting construction that has been used to degender and other cLGB people) by his cis father. Now, Oscar is possibly a bad example of this because he’s answered “are you a boy or a girl” with “I’m a boy”, but my problem isn’t with this particular situation- it’s with all the other situations that happen where there actually are problems and it is possible that he went with the simpler option rather than going into a detailed explanation of his gender/s/lessness, or because he doesn’t have strong dysphoria and it’s easier to choose a binary gender, especially one that makes you look cis, if you can. How many times have I spoken with a genderqueer or genderless person who’d never come out to their parents or families because it’s easier not to?
Oscar’s father is another who uses the term gender non-conforming. He’s also a person who states that “For [cis people], transgender will always be a foreign language we learn painstakingly, and speak poorly” (because trans people are so much more complicated than
normal cis people), who associates being transgender with needing to transition medically and being born in “the wrong body” (does a trans man who feels he wasn’t born in the wrong body deserve to be called a man? Yes he fucking does. If you don’t get my wording, it’s because this straight cis male posed the question “Does a child who doesn’t feel they were born in the wrong body deserve to wear a skirt to school?”). And, again, I don’t know if “gender non-conforming” is because Oscar comfortably identifies as such or because the straight white cis male, who has defined cis as “normal” (I know he realizes now this is a problem, he still has done so), is more comfortable using this and chooses his comfort over what his child would actually like to be called.
And it also doesn’t matter if it is, because this still isn’t about Oscar specifically, or AcceptingDad (a term I will get to in a bit), or about any of the specific people I talk about- it’s about parents as a whole. I want people, especially cis parents, to think. I want them to really think. I want every single parent of every single child to spend time asking themselves “Am I using these terms because they’re right for my child or because I can’t fully embrace who my child truly is? Are the terms I use doing damage to my child? Have I made my child aware of all the options, are there more options that might make my child happier?”. And I don’t care what the answers are, I don’t care if the answers are “I don’t want my kid to be one of those tr**ny freaks”- make sure you know the real answer about how you REALLY feel. Don’t go along pretending that you’re a pure person who would never think something horrible, it’s very comfortable to say “I’ll embrace my child no matter what”- but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the parents who kick their kid out for being trans or gay or whatever else once said that they’d accept their child no matter what (pretending that the footnote of “so long as my kid isn’t _____” wasn’t there). Really think about how true it is. Think about it long and hard. I don’t care what the answer is- this isn’t a survey. I’m trying to get people to look closer into how they feel. Not for me, but for themselves and the kids who have to live with any deep down bigotry that nobody really wants to admit to having but most of us do have.
Girlyboymama’s blog mentioned something that I think is really important in a recent post.
If you ask him, he will tell you he’s a boy. However, with those whom he knows well, you might get a different answer. Consistently, over and over again, he shares that he feels like BOTH a boy and a girl. And then, in the same breath, he will say that he feels like NEITHER a boy or a girl. In his own words, he is a “BOYGIR.”
Parents aren’t always the people who get that different answer. It’s great that BOYGIRmama got that answer, but there are plenty of mamas and papas out there who wouldn’t get that answer. There are plenty who’d like to think they’d get that answer, but in reality their child would never feel safe enough telling their parents the true answer. I’d like to hope that the parents who will actually ask are the ones who’ll get the real answer, but that’s not always true. This is important- the answer a person gives you is not always the true answer, especially when trans stuff is involved. Trans people have to hide, it’s not safe for us out there. If we don’t know whether you’ll embrace us, ignore us, or hurt us- we’re not going to tell you who we are.
It’s harder with parents, because we don’t want to be ignored or hurt by our parents. Especially when a kid is little, you need to be embraced by your parents. Even when you’re older, parents not embracing you can push you to the point where you have to work not to start crying whenever you see your own mother. Think about how terrifying it’d be to know that you could say something and your mom would stop embracing you and saying “I’ll love you no matter what” and might start telling you that you’re wrong about something you know is right and that you need your parents to embrace, telling you what a horrible person you are and how you have to fix yourself.
Also, notice her first response when her boygir says that zie† is bothered by the phrase “girlyboy”: “But that’s what YOU ARE! It’s just a word! Why is it bad?”. I really respect that she acknowledges these responses of hers- you have to if you want to deal with people you have privilege over. You have to acknowledge when your first instinct is to assert your right to identify other people or to justify your use of words that are problematic. You can’t make progress if you don’t acknowledge that you want to do things you shouldn’t. This is good. It’s even better that she didn’t act on that instinct, that she knew it was wrong to.
But she also said (emphasis mine) “Today, my son is not transgender. Today, my son is not gender fluid. Today, my son is gender nonconforming. Some might even say he is gender queer. That might change someday, but for now, being a BoyGir is good enough for me!”. This child has just said that zie is both and/or neither- but certainly not just a boy. And there it is again, “my son is not transgender” (original emphasis). Why? Has her child said that zie does not accept this identity? Does zie consider zir gender not to be fluid? Does zie consider zirself to be “non-conforming”?
I also want to bring up something else she said, “he acknowledges that he was born biologically a boy“. It is very possible that Alex is quite comfortable considering zir body male while their gender is that of a boygir. But it’s also possible that Alex has just internalized the idea that we aren’t allowed to use our own words for our own bodies even if self-identifying our body can help us. And I don’t know if zir mother is able to give zem the words to let zem know that it IS okay to describe zirself however zie wants, because society isn’t big on giving those words to people.
Yeah, I know, this is so much better than it could be. It is good that these parents are letting their children live as they have as much as they have. But while we’re talking about parents “accepting” their kids, think about this- “What does it mean if you “accept” something? You resign yourself to it, it’s grudging, maybe forced. It’s not wide open arms, a smile, a hug and dinner cooked and waiting on the table, it’s a cold cellar with a mattress and earning your keep.” No one “accepts” winning the lottery. People accept the death of a loved one or not getting the job they wanted. It’s a pretty damn sorry state if children become something where acceptance is a good goal. Of course, as a trans person, I know just what the state of the world is and that acceptance is a definite improvement.
This is progress.
Progress is good and I know that.
But it isn’t an endpoint. This isn’t an ideal. And parents being accepting shouldn’t make them any more protected to being called out on their privilege than anyone else. If anything- parents need to be called out the most. Especially parents of small children. They need to be doing the most work to check their cis privilege, the most work to be fully aware of trans issues and trans-friendly terminology and what genders actually exist outside male and female, putting in the most effort to make sure they don’t reinforce cissupremacist ideas into their children, the most to make sure that they aren’t putting their comfort over their childrens’ safety, make the most effort to, when talking about trans terminology, talk about what trans people use and not just what cis people apply to us. Especially when the applications are, all to often, non-consensual and to our detriment.
*In terms of labels, anyone can identify as anything, including gender non-conforming and gender variant. But non-consensually applying any label to anyone is incredibly busted, including trans. If the children 100% comfortably and freely identify as gender non-conforming or gender variant or don’t identify with trans (and not all people who might fit the definition identify as trans) then that’s fine, and I only have a problem if the other people are non-consensually applying a label that the children may not identify as or could even find to be offensive. Also, my main point of parents avoiding calling their children trans is that I want these parents to think about if that’s due to their own transphobia, because it really can be.
†I don’t know what pronouns zie prefers, or if zie’s even been given the options. And, yeah, “make up a better one” is a fully valid option.
**Completely unrelated, but this is over 4,000 words and has 25 links. Yeesh.