My partner and I uncovered a video I had gotten while in a support group about 10 years ago – a collection of trans-related TV programs from the late 90s / early 2000s. We’ve been spacing it out, watching some of it each weekend.
The first weekend, we watched The Discovery Channel’s “Changing Sexes.” It was appalling.
Last weekend, we watched an Oprah show from 2004 about transgender children. Surprisingly, it was so well done that it felt relevant and spot on, for children today, more than 10 years later. Oprah made some blunders in terminology and wording (“transgenders,” “When you grow up, what? You want to officially have an operation?” “Children who suffer from gender confusion”), but other than that, the tone was surprisingly respectful.
The show focused on 3 families:
Kaden, an 11 year old FTM trans-person, and his mom.
Dylan, a 5 year old child who strongly feels he is a girl, and his parents.
Hal, a 9 year old FTM trans-person, and his parents.
Kaden’s story focused on how horrific it was to start puberty, his social transition, and how hard it’s been for his mom, although she is supportive. His mom talked about him being able to take further steps, (hormones and surgery), when he’s 18. I found this video and article on Huffington Post – a Where Are They Now from 2013, where Kaden is 20. He ended up getting to start testosterone at age 14 and get top surgery at 16. He seems happy.
Dylan’s story focused on the tension between the parents and between Dylan and his dad. His mom is fine with his son’s preferences and who he might turn out to be. She will buy him dolls and engage in discussions about how he feels he is a girl. His dad does not approve, and there is already a big rift in his relationship with his son. The parents fight about it. The dad stated, “I discipline him.” Things seemed skewed in a way in which the dad was demonized. Dylan was not on the show, but he was shown backstage, happily coloring.
Next, a gender therapist talked about the best practices in how to handle a child going through this. To just be there for the child and love them no matter what. And it might be a phase; it might not – and that’s OK. She claimed that about 1/3 of children grow out of it, 1/3 grow up to be gay, and 1/3 grow up to be trans. I wonder if these statistics hold up?
Hal’s story focused on how open and accepting his parents were, after he verbalized suicidal ideation at 6 years old. His parents claimed that Hal can make his own choices about his path, when he is ready. They talked about difficult moments, and Hal was kind of put on the spot. At 9 years old, I think he was too young to be on the show, talking about his story. He was crying through it. That was hard to watch.
Lastly, a MTF trans-adult came on the air to talk about her life path and how much easier it could have been if she had been able to transition at a younger age. Instead, her doctors were suggesting a lobotomy, and her family was seriously considering it. Luckily they didn’t go through with it, and she grew up as male, had a family (is now divorced but it seems amicable) and is living more authentically now.
This show touched ever so briefly on heavy issues, but shied away each time. Hate crimes were brought up. Homelessness. Suicide rates. Racism. Class issues amongst the families could have been explored. Oprah tends to focus on the positives, which is definitely doing a disservice. But in terms of talking about what kids need, she directed the conversations in the right directions.
The show closed with Dylan’s dad proclaiming that he is now going to go buy his son some dolls when he leaves. When Oprah asked why, he said, “Life is more important.”
Stay tuned for part 3: A&E The Transgender Revolution from 1998.
I got asked a fun question a couple of weeks ago. A reader asked,
If you were to create a new line of barbies (and friends) for tomboys (or whatever you prefer to say) what would that line look like?
I would make a lot of changes to the barbie doll. First and foremost, the bodily dimensions would resemble the range of shapes and sizes that people actually are. When I think of a barbie, the image that comes to mind is a naked doll with these weird neutered bodies and impossible measurements – for some reason, a naked barbie seems more common than a clothed one. Kids get lazy and leave them around without dressing them? For this reason, these new dolls would have clothes that don’t really come off. When I think of people, they are clothed. When I think of myself, I am clothed. Although it’s fun to interchange clothes, these dolls would just wear clothes and then they’d be versatile in other ways.
They’d have knees and elbows that bend better than barbies, and they’d have hands that grip better. There’d be interactive toys to go along with them, but they wouldn’t be dream mansions and safari jeeps and jet skis. There’d be homes with the roofs removed and different things to do in each room – frying pans and food ingredients, TVs and computers and books, brooms and vacuum cleaners. Gardening tools and bikes and basketball hoops.
I would rename these barbies “People.” They would reflect different experiences – different ethnicities, different ages, different sizes, different abilities. One or two might be in a wheelchair. One might be gender-ambiguous. There would be babies and children, adults and old people.
These “People” would hopefully appeal to boys, girls, tomboys, and other gender non-conforming children. Playing with them would center around realistic life choices instead of fashion and glitz and glamor. It’d be a lot like playing house, with plenty of interchangeable activities and roles to experiment with different configurations.
And now for the fantastical part – these products would be manufactured by people making a living wage and they would be an affordable toy option. Haha.
Anyone have other ideas for a more gender variant version of barbie?
Yesterday, my partner and I met up with my childhood best friend and her family; they were in town for the holidays. They have two kids, ages 6 and 3, and the three year old was overwhelmingly interested in me. I’ve never had this experience before – usually kids stay their distance, giving me sideways glances or staring and staring and staring. I’ve been interacting with kids more at school (while I’m working) a little more lately, realizing that although I’m a janitor, I am also an authority figure they see regularly, who can help point them to preferable behaviors. (No running, no going down steps sideways, no slamming and throwing your garbage in the general area of the garbage barrel at lunch, etc.)
This was a very different dynamic though. We were hanging out at a nearby public greenhouse and plant conservatory, and the three-year-old daughter took any opportunity to climb all over me, instruct me to pick her up and throw her up in the air, and get right in my face. She was overhearing everyone use male pronouns for me, and she yelled, 2 inches away from my face, “you’re a girl!” And then again. And again. “You’re a girl!” We all laughed. It was funny. Because she’s three. It was also the most jarring thing I have experienced in a very long time. Her mom went ahead and explained very simply and directly that I get to say who I am, not her, and everyone has their own feelings about who they are, and only they get to say. She tested this with, “you’re a boy!” but then went on to state, “I’ve never seen a boy who sounds like a girl.” “I’ve never seen a boy who looks like a girl.” And again. And again. Holy cow, kids love repetition!!!
She also declared many times that I am her mama. Whoa. (She later clarified that she was making a joke.) Again, all of this is funny and easy to let slide because she is a three year old, but I gotta admit it was actually hitting my psyche a little bit. It helped that her mom (my friend), let us know she often does this. She’s super outgoing, and she’ll hone in on one adult of a group she’s with, and that person is 9 times out of 10 the most handsome adult male of the group. I’ll take it!
I have been considering what might happen if I increased my testosterone levels. And these exchanges really sunk in, as one more thing, in a way that makes me feel motivated to move in that direction where I appear and sound more masculine. I am still positive that I do not want to live my life as a visible male, but how cool would it be if people had some serious trouble knowing? I would love that (as long as they were respectful in the not-knowing).
This kid’s reaction was interesting, because usually it’s kids more than anyone else, who are not quite sure whether I am a girl or a boy. If I am asked this question, it’s coming from a child. I’m usually not told, strongly and forcefully, by someone making eye contact, two inches away from my face! Haha.