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Thursday, May 8, 2008

What He Said

posted by on May 8 at 9:32 AM

First, go listen to or read Alix Spiegel’s absolutely heartbreaking piece at NPR about transgender children. Then go read the comments thread on my Slog post about Speigel’s piece yesterday. In that thread you’ll find this brilliant, level-headed comment, by Slog superstah Fnarf….

Look, people. The boy isn’t asking to go in and have his willie chopped off. He wants to play with dolls. He wants to identify as a girl for a while. That doesn’t mean that he going to be transgendered when he grows up. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Why don’t you deal with that when it comes up—or maybe let HIM deal with it? Then?

Nobody has to make a final, permanent, irrevocable decision when they’re six.

In the meantime, though, torturing him by taking away his toys and, most importantly, implanting in his mind the idea that WHO HE IS IS WRONG, is a really, really bad idea.

Nobody cares if you’re squicked out by gender reassignment surgery. Nobody cares. This isn’t ABOUT gender reassignment surgery. It’s about a little boy who is being turned against himself.

And, really, even if you think the surgery is “as bad as plastic surgery”, the correct response is—as always—”then don’t have it.” Adults who think it’s right for them have the right to have it EVEN IF THEY’RE WRONG. Even if they’re “making a terrible mistake.” It’s none of your damn business. And, you know, there is a large number of people for whom it absolutely WAS the right decision, and if they squick you out, it’s your damn loss, not theirs. I don’t have a problem with it, and I embrace my transgendered friends every bit as much as my gay and straight ones.

But that’s nothing to do with this tragic little boy. Maybe it will be someday. You don’t know, I don’t know, Dr. Mengele there doesn’t know, HE doesn’t know. He’s a little kid. Let him play with his toys.

RSS icon Comments


Hear, hear!
Who knows? Maybe he likes Barbie because she is HOT, and he's going to grow up to be a great lover of women.

It shouldn't matter what he wants to play with - society has decided, in its infinite wisdom that girls play with Barbie and boys play with trucks.
Kids should decide what they play with. Period. Give 'em a pile of toys, and let them choose what they will.
The kid who chooses the Easy Bake oven may not be transgendered - he may be the next Top Chef.
And the kid who plays with dolls may be the next Tom Ford. Or Ralph Lauren.
Or maybe a little boy who likes pink just hasn't been programmed by society yet to be grossed out by a color, which without society's input, could very well be considered very pleasing to the eye. Period.
Instead of re-training the child, retrain society.

Posted by Bella | May 8, 2008 9:40 AM

I hearby proclaim that fnarf is allowed to have children!

Posted by monkey | May 8, 2008 9:42 AM

I only want other people's children. In a nice hoisin sauce glaze.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2008 9:47 AM


I prefer a nice duck glaze myself.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 8, 2008 9:53 AM

The beginning of story touched me when it refered the difference between the boys in the story from merely epheminant boys who might grow up to be gay. I feel so bad for this kid with the therapist who doesn't let him near the color pink. I want him to be able to play with his Polly Pocket. Just as I played with my sister's Barbies (and Jem dolls) till I got some of my own.

Let's all sing "Billy Wants a Doll"

Posted by Clearlyhere | May 8, 2008 9:59 AM

Amen. To the 1st post, not the 3rd. Every parent should listen to this NPR story, because it really makes you examine who you are parenting for - yourself or your kid - and what are the repercussions if you are parenting for yourself. The parents of "Bradley" are clearly parenting for themselves, and if they aren't going to consider the consequences for their kid, they should at least consider the consequences for themselves. My macho, Republican, police officer brother-in-law has three sons. None are noticeably effeminate but the 8-year-old in the middle is very independent-minded. He figured out that when he dresses as a girl while playing with his female cousin he really gets his Dad's goat, which is great fun for my nephew and everyone around. Now place that in the context of Bradley, and a childhood of shame and resentment, and 12-15 years from now you have a son who, if he has managed to salvage any sense of self and independent thought, is malicously bent on embarrassing his parents and bucking all of their standards until he can walk out the damn door for good. And don't expect to see him at Christmas.

Posted by Mary F | May 8, 2008 10:03 AM

Fnarf rocks.

Posted by Jen | May 8, 2008 10:22 AM

Its also reasonable possible that denying him his interests will make it even more likely that he will pursue reassignment surgery. If he internalizes that he cannot have a penis and like pink, or dolls, or getting rammed in the ass should the need arise, it's entirely possible that his response will be, well then cut the damn thing off. Either that or become a youth pastor.

There is still no consensus or real understanding of what leads to transexuality. I am not saying that in all case repression leads to sex reassignment surgery, but it is certainly possible. Nor am I saying that sex reassignment surgery is wrong or unhealthy. But I do think that for some its a response to physiological issue stemming from repression. And given that ti comes with risks, that seems unfortunate.

It's also interesting the behaviors we label 'transgendered'. Why does a boy playing with dolls make him any more remarkable than a girl who plays soccer?

Posted by Giffy | May 8, 2008 10:24 AM

Right on.

Posted by James | May 8, 2008 10:38 AM

just hire him already

Posted by Non | May 8, 2008 10:52 AM

Fnarf, you are hands down my favorite Slog commenter.

Posted by haunted leg | May 8, 2008 10:53 AM

That comment still gives me chills, and I've read it 3-4 times now. Nicely done, fnarf.

The funny thing about gender stereotypes and colors is that nobody remembers it used to be the other way around. Pink used to symbolize strength and masculinity (as a tint of red), and blue was virginity and purity (as the color the virgin Mary wore). In the early 20th century and earlier, boys wore pink and girls wore blue...and that's JUST in America, not counting non-Western cultures. So to deprive a little boy of things that make him happy--thereby making him severely unhappy--just because he likes pink is catering to a societal pressure that means nothing. It's depressing as hell, and I hope his parents listen to their own NPR coverage and realize what kind of damage they're doing.

Posted by Emily | May 8, 2008 11:09 AM

I like Fnarf when he's not being an arrogant prick.

Posted by pricks suck | May 8, 2008 11:09 AM

I like Fnarf EVEN when he's being an arrogant prick.

He's the Simon Cowell of Slog. You may think he's an asshole but he's spot on 98% of the time.

Posted by monkey | May 8, 2008 11:14 AM

Fnarf rules.

Posted by Cascadian | May 8, 2008 11:15 AM

Very nicely put, Fnarf. If I ever make it down to Seattle for the Slog drinking nights, I'll buy you a drink of choice for that one.

And I have to add one more piece of anecdotal evidence--as someone raised in a ridiculously gender-normative household and who always felt out of place gender-wise, it wasn't until I was old enough and living on my own that I could actually try out living as the other gender that I realized, hey, this *isn't* actually what I want, even though I thought it was for 20+ years. I've found my own answer to that question, and I hope these children get to find their own answers, as well.

The only thing that making them wait 20 years adds is tens of thousands in therapy bills and a fair number of bonus mental issues to work through. :/ It's like the Catholic Church and sexuality all over again.

Posted by Cow | May 8, 2008 11:26 AM

Was anyone else disturbed by the fact that the first kid did not know how to draw a boy, and could only draw girls? It seems to me that there is more going on than simply identifying with one gender over the other. Do boys who identify as boys not know how to draw girls? Or do girls who identify as girls not know how to draw boys?

Posted by PRT | May 8, 2008 11:44 AM

Fnarf needs to get a job.

Posted by A Non Imus | May 8, 2008 11:48 AM

I can't help wondering what would have happened if my parents would have taken away my Legos and the tractor set I had. Sure I had a Darcie doll (a more human proportioned Barbie), I built some really great houses for her. I hated the color pink and I didn't want my ears pierced. What would have happened if my parents would have pushed me the other direction? Now I'm an Engineer with a great garden in the backyard. I'm happy with my gender but I still don't like pink. I say let the kid have his dolls. Maybe Project Runway is in his future.

Posted by Jen X | May 8, 2008 11:52 AM

If only Fnarf had better taste in music...

Posted by KeeKee | May 8, 2008 2:01 PM

Thank you all very much.

Cow, you will be very sorry to hear that my drink of choice is 1949 La Tâche
Romanée-Conti, which is going to set you back about ten grand a bottle.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2008 2:06 PM

Kee Kee, my taste in music is impeccable. Ever heard of Faron Young?

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2008 2:29 PM


This comment is very typical of what you bring to the table and I highly value your contribution to the SLOG. I find that I agree with you more often than not, but even if I don't, I at least know it's coming from a reasoned and well informed place.

I also like how you're not shy about putting others, who are not at all reasoned or well informed and live in some sort of fantasy land they've crafted in their heads, exactly why they're idiots. You serve as a highly effective counter balance to the idiocy that I often see here.

Someday I'll build a 100 story low-to-mid income residential tower on a hillside and surround it with greenspace in your honor. It'll be just like all the ones in Vancouver. ;)

Posted by Donolectic | May 8, 2008 2:56 PM

Well said fnarf, except for one point. Right on with the kids, but the reason I am trying to understand the transgender issue (and yes, reassignment surgery) is because I don't want to simply ignore it. I am a straight, fairly stereotypical vanilla guy, raised in a sheltered suburb, so lots of these sexual equality issues I understand only after years of ignorance and stupidity. I have no problem treating people well, as you said, even if I disagree or think it's wrong, but if I basically tell them not to mention it around me or if I judge them for it, that's a rather shallow acceptance, isn't it?

As an analogy for this issue, I think if someone says, "I don't care if you're gay, what you do in the privacy of your own home..." this person is not fully willing to accept gays as equal in society because the implication is that they don't want gays to be as open (i.e. kissing in public, even mentioning a partner to a colleague) and doing things straights do all the time, because then it's being "forced on them." It's a dumb argument (and one I used when young, stupid and ignorant) and I'm sure you've heard it before. My point is that if it's okay, the public shouldn't have a problem being open with it, and the only way to that is for ignorant people like me to search out places where they can learn about it.

I think the issue I have has been said more eloquently by others. The question is "what defines gender?" If I have a son that likes pink or dolls, or whatever, fine, but if he insists on being called a girl, when to me it seems he is not, I wonder what that means and how I would handle that. I am seeking out answers to questions I legitimately have, even if they may seem horribly wrong to you, is because I want to figure out what is up, because good people should be treated as such, and while you may be there with the transgendered community, to be honest, I am not. I think I could be friends and treat a transgendered person equally, but as I said before: in my head, I would have that judgment. THAT is what I want to overcome (if I should). THAT is NOT the feeling I have with homosexuals, because I learned enough about the subject and the people. I've never even seen a transgendered person except for the stereotype on tv, which is obviously not the place to learn about such things. Kate in the last thread gave some advice on which I intend to follow up.

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 8, 2008 5:03 PM

Well, Mr. Language Person, I think I understand your quandary, and I appreciate that you're thinking about it. I don't think there's anything I can tell you. You're not going to get through it in your own head; you're going to have to encounter a transgendered person to resolve all of your questions.

As for what it is that constitutes gender identity, I don't know. I know I have it -- I know that I am a man, through and through.

Gender identity is not sexual orientation, either; men can be gay or straight or in the middle, and so can women, but a gay man is not in any way more like a woman than a straight man is.

The only way I can evaluate the claims of other people as to what THEY feel is by what they say. That's what I mean when I say "encounter some transgendered people". I certainly don't speak for them -- and honestly, one trans person doesn't necessarily speak for another one.

The thing you have to get past is the idea that they don't know what they're doing, or rather that it MATTERS that they don't know what they're doing. The normal reaction of a straight person is "that seems wrong to me, how can you know that you 'are a woman'?" But the point is, it's not up to you, it's up to them. And your reaction exists ENTIRELY in your own space, not theirs.

I'm absolutely certain that some transexuals ARE damaged, confused, making a terrible mistake. But it's not my place to step in and tell them that. They wouldn't be there if there weren't reasons for it. And some mistakes may be in place of other, worse mistakes.

Let me be clear -- I've also met transsexuals who ARE doing the right thing, and are not confused at all. I'm not talking about most people or most transgendered people.

I'm just saying that even if they're not OK, they're OK, if that makes any sense. People have all sorts of problems, and different ways of working through their gender issues, and I fully accept that, in the same way that people with any other problem in their life are acceptable to me.

I don't look down on people suffering from depression, for instance, and think "jeez, you're in a fine state, you poor deluded fool, maybe you should jump off that bridge". I think a person struggling to come to terms with who they are is engaging in the most critical voyage of understanding there is, and sexuality and gender are a big part of that. Pretty much by definition a person who is the "wrong" gender for their body is going to have a lifetime of tough emotional injuries to cope with. So when I see someone struggling with it -- a "struggling transgendered person", if you will -- my inclination is to think "come on, you can do it, you can get there, you can figure it out and be the person you really are, even if they're a little awkward at first.

Because, you know, it's got to be harder than hell.

But they're the only ones who can do it. I certainly can't say "look, you can't possibly be a woman, you were born a man", because I'M NOT IN THERE. If they say they're a man, they're a man; if they say they're a woman, they're a woman, full stop. If they change their mind six months later, they change their mind. You really do have to accept people at face value.

If they say "doing it the other way hurts me" then my reaction HAS to be "live the way that hurts you less".

And it's not just theoretical, because it works. There are plenty of reasonably well-adjusted trans people around -- AT LEAST as well-adjusted as me.

People who are crippled by the false expectations of others, or of themselves, are damaging to the happiness of everyone. People who are struggling to become less crippled are making the world better. They make my own struggle easier. Love your neighbor as yourself, you know?

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2008 5:43 PM

THANK you. Great response. I do understand what you're saying here, and I'm not expecting you to "fix" the issue for me, but I'm not comfortable with any view on it right now (pro, con, indifferent, or anything else). Yours, however, is a great way to look at it. Your analogy to depression is a good one, but I'm also assuming you're not stating that in many cases the transgender identity is a disorder (otherwise it would need to be "cured" (reversed), and that was what I was trying to figure out as well. I know I'm not in their heads, and I certainly don't want to judge, but I think one reason I keep on going with this is because I would like to be able to raise my kids (when I have them) in an open, loving manner, with the proper discipline where needed (and at this point I think that would probably be insisting on a gender, if not toys and colors and such, and maybe that needs to change). I think I'm going to be quiet about this now, I think I've made my point, and gotten some advice from others, and you did it well.

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 8, 2008 6:03 PM

I totally support those parents' rights to force their son to conform to 'masculine' norms -- once they've been to Sicily and explained to these people that pink is for girls:

Posted by banjoboy | May 8, 2008 8:45 PM

NO, I'm not saying it's a disorder. I'm saying that one of the reasons people are upset is because they THINK it's a disorder -- and in some cases it might be -- but it doesn't matter. It's still OK.

Posted by Fnarf | May 8, 2008 9:15 PM

I was struck the same way by this piece as fnarf--it's not about gender identity, it's about the way children deserve to be treated. I am a mother of three and am always happy to see my children engage in imaginative and creative play. My son went through a phase of wearing dresses, nail polish and hair in pony-tails. If he had stayed that way, I can't imagine reacting like Bradley's parents.

Would the therapist be happy if Bradley put away his dolls, princess drawings and pink dresses in favor of playing a few "manly" rounds of Grand Theft Auto?

When I got to the part about Bradley even being made to stop drawing his flowing-haired princesses I couldn't help but think of Harry Chapin's song "Flowers are Red" ( I think Bradley's parents would do well to heed the lesson of this song, but sadly they might be happier with a good little robot boy who draws neat rows of crop-haired boys.

Posted by snoozn | May 9, 2008 5:45 AM

Mr. Language Person:

First off, I really like how open you are to pointing out how you've learned what you now know. It's quite inspiring actually that you're so comfortable with yourself.

I don't know if this might help you, but I wanted to comment on how you said that you've never even met a transgendered person. The thing is, you have no way at all of knowing whether you have, but you probably have. Think about all the people you know -- your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, your doctor, your librarian. Now, think about whether you actually know anything about these people's assigned gender at birth, or even their legal gender. I'm guessing you haven't seen birth certificates or elementary school pictures or even a driver's license or marriage license for most of the people you know. And you've certainly not seen the chromosomes of, well, probably any of the people you know (I may be wrong -- I don't know what you do for a living!) But in any case, when you interact with someone, all you know about their gender is what they're currently presenting right now in their adult life. Sure, there are some "out" transgender people -- people who routinely let their casual acquaintances know that they were raised as a different gender. But there are way more people who don't out themselves as transgender on a daily basis, and who certainly don't bring it up in contexts where it really shouldn't matter. So, yeah, statistically speaking, you probably do know some transgendered people. You probably just don't know it. Does this add anything to your perspective?

Posted by eeka | May 11, 2008 5:41 PM

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