At dinner tonight I was having a bit of a debate about this with a couple of people-
Apparently, there a couple who had a male child, who identified himself as a girl at a young age, of around five or six. The parents let him/her dress as a girl and use a girls name. At first they made him continue to have a male identity at school, but eventually he became a girl at school too. However, some people thought that this was harmful for the child, and welfare took him/her away from the parents.
This seemed outrageous to me. Taking a child away from parents who obviously cared about their child's feelings, in my opinion, would do more harm than allowing the child to dress as whichever gender he/she desired. My two companions did not agree with me however. They said that it was wrong to dress him/her as a girl because at that age a child is too young to make decisions about gender. However, if they're too young to have a gender applied to them, what right do the parents have to make that decision? Plus, I think that in this instance the kid would know more than they were giving him/her credit for. They also said, it would be harmful for the child to have to deal with the prejudice against transgendered people at such a young age. Now, this may be true, but isn't it also incredibly harmful for a parent to repress their child's gender, to give the child a message that them wanting to be a particular gender is a bad thing? They also said that the parents of the child were bi-polar, implying that the disorder made them completely incapable of doing the right thing for their child in this instance.
The biggest danger that I can see coming out of this, is if the parents wanted to be so good at being open minded that they enforced the stereotypes of a girl onto their kid more than he/she perhaps wanted. While I'd not treat a child as someone who has no idea whatsoever about what they want insofar as gender goes, I do think it's important to realise that the child is still in a formative stage of life, and needs to experiment as much as he/she likes.
I think, that if I had a male child who truly wanted to dress as a girl, I would let him. I would make sure that he/she had a lot of clothes that were non-gender specific, but also clothes that were both typical "boy" clothes and typical "girl" clothes- and then let him/her make his/her own choice about which ones to wear. I know that clothes are an incredibly arbitrary measure of gender, but nonetheless they are also a deeply entrenched one. So I would let it be the child's choice. There are some choices that I think should be left until adulthood- for instance, if the child wanted genital surgery- I would not want to be responsible for something so permanent. Such a decision really does need to be made in adulthood.
Another issue that is tagged onto this, is also, is it derogatory to females that a boy won't be allowed to dress as a girl? A girl who always dressed in boys clothes might be called a tomboy, but she wouldn't be stopped from doing it, and have a mass of people telling her parents that they were playing horrible gender games with her. A girl declaring that she is a boy would be seen as cute more than anything. But a boy declaring that he is a girl, and wanting to take action on it- well, the parents must be screwing up.
Beppie, Yeah, what you said. It isn't quite the same thing, but my girlfriend has a transgendered parent, and I'm sure (I know) she's faced some difficult situations as a result. Maybe she'll be on here to speak about them. I've always enjoyed being girly -- dressing up, wearing some makeup and sitting with girls and talking about things that traditionally just interest them (cute boys as an obvious one). I'd never really thought about it being derogatory for girls, but I suppose that in a way, it is. I remember feeling so awful one day when I wore nail polish. My dad saw it and he seemed so disappointed in me. I think he had always seen me as a pretty normal football-playing, girl-liking, son. Ugh, I hate thinking about that day even now, four or five years after the fact.
Posts: 1515 | From: Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Registered: Jun 2000
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Something to consider here is that parents *do* make gender and gender performance decisions for their children, from the instant those children are born.
Parents choose how to dress their children, what names to give them, what toys to buy them, how to socialize them as boys or girls, with varying degrees of gender-stereotyped behavior.
With parents who have intergendered children, these things are even more overt and significant: genital surgery, sex reassignment decisions, and hormone treatment are given to infants in many cases, usually because a doctor tells the parents that "it is the best thing to do" to not let a child grow up with an indeterminate or non-traditional gender identity.
Significant research has shown that very small children *do* have notions, very firm ones, about their own sex and gender. Sometimes they change, sometimes they don't. SOmetimes they're not congruent with their biological sex, or not completely so.
Parents who side with the traditional medical-community agenda of 'normalizing' a child's sex or gender are seen as "good parents" and "compliant parents" by the medical and psychiatric community. They are working in league with the medical/psych community to uphold the status quo. Parents who do not, who allow or encourage a more fluid gendered or sexual identity, are seen as "noncompliant" and "troublemaking."
This can be as mild as a parent who allows a daughter to be "tomboyish" or as significant as a parent who allows a kid to go whole hog in performing a gender not congruent with its biological sex... and beyond.
What this says about our culture's ideologies of sex and what sex is "supposed to" mean is pretty significant, obviously.
It's well to remember, though, that kids and parents *do* understand sex identity and gender identity at a very early point (parents understand it from the time of birth, small children by the time they're toddlers usually). And parents *and* kids begin manipulating the way kids perform gender -- clothes, toys, speech, interactions with other kids and adults, activities they're encouraged to participate in -- very early on, too.
Putting all the focus on parents and children whose gender activities are nontraditional ought really to throw as much light on the process of how we teach sex and gender to our children as it does on nonconformity, in my opinion... but it never seems to. The conformist ways of doing this stuff are seen as "normal" and thus above comment. They're not.
Not directly relevant to the gender issue but to the one of the state intervening in parenting, some Mexican friends of mine told me a horror story of living in the US. He was up on a scholarship to Stanford for graduate school and she, though also an educated professional, was stepping out to take care of their son. I know them well, they are fine people, very cosmopolitan, speak several languages and are very respected in Mexico (and the US for that matter).
Well, the kid was subject to all kinds of racist harrassment at school on the Stanford Campus and one teacher in particular was really on his case and very aggressive to the mother, criticizing her parenting. Mexicans have different ideas about how to raise kids and mostly I think they do a better job than most. But this women was super intolerant and racist, so the mother finally took her son out of the school. Since it was midterm she didn't want to subject him to entering a new school and was teaching him at home.
Well the teacher called the government and accused the parents of I don't know what and they found themselves in a legal battle for the custody of their own child! I won't tell you the whole long story, but a nightmare. She was finally able to get her son out of the US and back home. Totally outrageous.
This was nothing as sensitive as transgender, just issues of discipline etc. but since this mother did not conform she was subject to this kind of harrassment.
Posts: 364 | From: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico | Registered: Jul 2000
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A) Miz Scarlet, that is one of of my fav movies. ;] It's REALLY funny, even if you *aren't* French (one of the few French movies that is, in my opinion ;] ) and yes, it deals with this topic really nicely.
B) Ron, I think there *is* a big race issue there just in the difference between Mexican and American parenting, that I've noticed..this could be a really interesting topic.
I've been hearing a lot about that case too! I think it's wonderful that the parents were comfortable letting Zach be who he wanted to be, and he wanted to be Aurora (and what a lovely name for a kid to pick for themselves!) And I think it's stupid and illogical that the parents are being called bad parents! They are loving their child for who their child is and not for what society wants their child to be. That kind of love is unconditional and they certainly shouldn't be punished for that!
And about the whole Mexican vs American thing, it's very very true! My dad is Mexican, my mom is American. My aunt (who is american) also married a Mexican who is very very traditional (my dad's family is more Americanized) and when you put the whole big family together there are many many arguments about everything! Politics, "gringos", child-raising. Ugh. I have to say I think that Asian countries raise their children very well. Unfortunatly a lot of the time (in traditional families) there isn't a lot of fun
------------------ I'm the good girl that everyone thinks is a bad girl pretending to be a good girl :D
Pixie, do you know the location of any articles about the case? I hadn't actually heard about it before last night, and would be happy to read up on it.
Posts: 2710 | From: Australia | Registered: Jun 2000
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Ugh, I get so riled up about this sort of thing. I agree with you, Hanne, that parents don't have the right to make arbitrary decisions about their children's gender identity in the first place.
One of my parents is transexual, so I've been trained to notice gender stereotypes. I think that if we stopped believing girls should be this and boys should be that, a lot less people would feel a need to go to the extremes that transexuals do. I don't think that sex-reassignment surgery is wrong, per se, but I do think it would be preferable if we could break the link between biological sex and social expectations. Perhaps then, people could feel more at ease with both their bodies and their public identities.
I also get pretty riled up about stories that involve authorities taking children away from their parents, merely because they disagree with the parent's politics. I would like to be a parent, and I would certainly let my son wear dresses. Frankly, I'm scared that maybe I would also be declared an unfit mother.
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