I’ve been a part of an all-volunteer, community radio station for over two years, and it’s been an incredible experience, across the board. I’ve met a bunch of new people, learned how to use technical equipment, and have found my voice in a very fun way! The station is a combination of music shows of all genres, and talk shows covering an array of topics. I listen to a lot of them, on-and-off, while I work. A few weeks ago, a friend alerted me that one of the talk-show DJs was perpetuating a transphobic paradigm. I downloaded the show to hear it in its entirety, and then I decided to write him a letter in response. Essentially, he sought out a video from a certain Dr. Michelle Cretella and took her side, as she chipped away at the topic of puberty blockers for transgender teenagers.
I decided not to link to her video, here in this blog post, because I’d rather people not see it! But if you want to, you can totally search it out (and it would probably make the following letter I wrote make more sense.) I watched it. It was terrible.
Here is an edited version of what I wrote and had delivered to the DJ:
Dear [Radio DJ],
I’m a fellow DJ, and I’ve been enjoying tuning into your show for a while now. The first one I heard was all about the importance of eating healthy, nutritious foods, and I was totally into it.
Your show from two weeks ago, and your discussion about transgender puberty blockers as institutionalized child abuse, however, hit me right in the gut; I feel so strongly that I decided to write from my own experience in the hopes that it’ll bring up new considerations.
I found the video clip that you shared to be sensationalistic and oversimplified. It is not all of those things all at once: puberty blockers, “mutilation,” sterilization. It is a very gradual process, and it involves listening to the child at every step of the way, which, it turns out, is actually a worthwhile thing! Children start to understand gender at around age 3. If their gender is incongruous with their sex, it is certainly possible for them to start to feel this as young as they are. The key questions medical and therapeutic providers keep in mind, over time, is: are they consistent, are they adamant, and is it increasingly apparent that they are becoming more and more uncomfortable?
If so, preminary actions can be taken to alleviate these intense feelings, and none of them are “undoable” at this stage. Maybe the child wants to feel out what it means to be called a different name and be referred to with different pronouns. And then, possibly, maybe they want to switch back. No harm done. Children can be very much androgynous before puberty hits, as they are testing out what feels right. I can attest to this 100% – I was a tomboy who was often “mistaken” for a boy. It was vital for me to be able to explore this without much pushback.
Dr. Michelle Critella hit the nail on the head when she said, “If a child can’t trust the reality of their physical bodies, who or what can they trust?” This is at the crux of what it means to be a transgender person. When puberty hits, their bodies betray them in monstrous ways. Many of the changes that occur at puberty cannot easily be “undone.” Namely, voice drop and body/facial hair in boys, and breast development in girls. Puberty blockers essentially allow for bided time. More time to understand the situation of the child, now bordering on a teenager.
At this stage, the best thing to do is to keep options open as the child continues to grow into who they are. If they can put off puberty for a little longer, it can literally be a life saving pathway. Down the road, they may be turning to more permanent changes, such a surgery and hormone replacement therapy (taking hormones that fit with their gender identity.) And yes, “sterilization” is one of many factors that would have to be a part of the discussion (and that’s a complex thing in and of itself that I’d need to learn more about. Basically, there are options.) These choices, which are being made by both the transgender person and their family (ideally) and a therapist, are far from “institional child abuse,” because the alternatives are far more drastic. Suicide, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, physical and sexual abuse, brutal bullying, are all very real for transgender teens. If they are listened to, believed, and being guided through steps that help them holistically, there’s nothing better than that!
Being transgender is not a “lifestyle” and it’s not a choice. It runs much deeper than that. It is at the core of who someone is, and people grow into their true selves in myriad ways. If they start to know that pathway as early as the age of 3, then, yeah, that could be one of the ways someone gets to where they need to be, as they continue to figure it out. During your segment, you questioned, “Who are they?” “They” are transgender people and the allies who listen to them.
If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, I would gladly be a guest on your show. Better yet, it’d be amazing to get a group of transgender people with very different backgrounds to come on and speak from their own experiences.
Let me know if that could work out.
-Kameron, fellow DJ and transgender person.