September 2009

eggs_adAs supportive parents find each other through mailing lists on the internet (see the CNMC and Transkidsfamily) we share stories about our kids, and the problems they face— and the problems we face being thier parents. Over the years a profile builds up, qualities that many of these boys seem to share.

We are astonished to find the same patterns, the same specific behaviors, popping up over and over again. List members collect their own lists of anecodotes.

Some of us have attended gender conferences and listened to presentations by clinicians and pyschiatrists working with these children. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent time talking with Edgardo J. Menvielle, MD, Catherine Tuerk, Greg K. Lehne, Ph.D. and Kim Pearson, all of whom I consider experts on gender non-conforming children. (Kim is an activist and mom, not a caregiver, but she has helped so many families navigate these waters.)

There are very few experts in this area, and very little research.

Some of the kids on our lists are trans; some are tomgirls; some are in flux; some are supressing these qualities and trying to fit in. The following list is not intended to subsitute for any professional opinion on the matter. My list is focused on gender variant boys who frequently do not end up identifying as transgender, though transgender children may share many of these qualities.

I have been told, and forgive the flakiness of the term, that Trans kids and GV boys give off a subtlety different vibe. Professionals working with them often have opinions as to who is really transgender (bound for SRS or a lifetime presenting as female) and who isn’t. But parents—not professionals—are the deciders when it comes to how to raise their children. These  professional opinions may never even be voiced, as they work to create the most supportive environment possible, given a family’s, or a community’s…limitations.

It’s important to note here, that even modest accommodations made for these children often have a huge impact on their later mental health and self-esteem.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

  • Barbies not Babies: tomgirls (i’ll use that term for GV children throughout this list) are more fascinated by dressing up barbies than nurturing babies.
  • Hyper feminine: the most extreme manifestations of femininity are embraced; sparkles; high-heels; make-up; rainbows; glitter; fashion, hair, nails, Jewelry.
  • The Princess: A fierce relationship with the barbie princess is almost universal.
  • The Drama Queen: volatility; extremes of emotion; blinding despair, giddy elation. All kids are like this; tomgirls often moreso. Favorite quote from despairing tomgirl: “I wish the human race had never existed!”
  • Character identification: Identifies exclusively with female characters, even when the story in question has almost no role for female characters. (My son was Bo Peep in Toy story.)
  • Averse to Rough & Tumble Play / Team sports: Almost forgot about this one. Obviously, some gender normative kids are like this as well.
  • Towel Hair: Many pretend to have long hair, using towels as props. It doesn’t matter if the child is, say, african american. They all want long flowing blonde hair.
  • Pink: You can have any color you like, as long as it is pink. In my case, pink and white has given way to pink and black as my son hit age 10. Fortunately, Hello Kitty stuff comes in both flavors.
  • Expresses desire to be a Girl: My son was sad he wasn’t born a girl when he was younger. He blamed his mother. Some  kids blame God. He cried himself to sleep when he was 3 or 4 a few times over it…that experience changed us.

Here are some anecdotes from our email lists; it’s possible the self-selected nature of our groups have yielded a certain kind of GV boy. Take these with a grain of salt.

  • Sociability: This may only manifest in situations that allow it, but far from being guarded introverts, many Tomgirls are ‘popular’ in early years, engaging a wide variety of both male and female friends; in places where boys are more rigorously gendered, these friendships may be exclusively feminine.
  • Unwillingness or inability to suppress / ‘fit in’: this might just be a sign of time and place, but many of these younger kids seem reluctant to hide, even when presenting has consequences.
  • Creativity: All kids are creative. Tomgirls seem to be very creative; the content, the subject matter, of course, may be limited to hyper-feminine content.  My son drew, sculpted, and assembled from recycled materials, approximately 3-400 iconic female figures from the ages of 3-6.
  • Unhappy with boy toys: Almost every parent of a tomgirl has a story of an unpleasant holiday moment, when the child unwraps some really butch toy, and bursts into tears—or rage. My child went on an ironically Hulk–like rampage when given a huge green rubber Incredible Hulk.

I welcome comments and additions to this list by Tomgirls, supportive families, professionals, and transgendered individuals. If I’m off-base on any of this, let me know.


Open Letter to KRXQ 98.5 FM Sacremento

by Bedford Hope on September 22, 2009


KRXQ transgender kid controversey: After an ugly and defamatory broadcast which suggested that child abuse was a good response to gender-non-conformity, and a wide-spread community reaction,  a group of sponsors pulled support from the station, triggering both an apology and a follow up broadcast which became a teachable moment for the community.

Some in the community of supportive parents found in this their Stonewall moment, a chance to step forward and speak out against trans-phobia, or more narrowly in this case, femme phobia, and for freedom of gender expression.

Kim Pearson of TYFA, GLSEN, and support groups for gender-nonforming and transgender children reached out to more mainstream families, and found support there, as well as opposition. Conversations, both civil and heated, raged across hundreds of forums throughout the country, as supportive parents entered the lion’s den of conservative american media outlet discussion boards.

Minds were changed, as the caricature of the supportive parents was replaced by more complete information and understanding.

Here’s my letter, complete with typos.

TO: Rob Williams and Arnie States of KRXQ 98.5 FM Sacramento

I’m writing to tell you how angry, how sad, your broadcast concerning transgender and gender non-conforming children made me. To be honest, part of the reason it made me so angry is that I shared a lot of your worldview once. I ridiculed gay people and trans people and had my made-up theories about how they could be normal and avoid hatred and ostracism if they really wanted to.

I quoted studies I’d heard from somewhere, but never actually seen, which claimed that transgender people were no happier after transition, so transition was just a waste of money, pointless surgery on mentally ill people who needed some kind of therapy or something.

Then my first son was born. And he was, is, one of these kids. My kid was never abused. My kid has suffered no trauma. My kid has two normative parents. My kid has a normative brother. My kid has normative DNA.

At first I didn’t’ know what to do, so I took a half-step back; I shared my experiences with those parents who had tried to therapize this behavior out of their kids. They tried behavior modification. They saw specialists. Pretty much nobody gets to this place, of researching, understanding, tolerating and then accepting, this behavior, until they’re forced to.

Behavior modifcation, for the parents I spoke with, didn’t work. Their kids got worse. Hysterical, screaming, self-mulitating, seven-year-old-talking-about-suicide worse.

More and more therapists are giving up on trying to extinguish this behavior, not because they are intimidated by the GLTBQ agenda, but because the treatment simply doesn’t work. And procedures you perform over and over again that don’t work are called malpractice. Suppression seem to harm many of these children. They report higher incidences of stress, self destructive impulses. Suicides. Yes, there are studies. Even with the stress of living in a world which rejects them, as you do, they are happier fighting that battle than suppressing this part of what they are.

I’m not going to make scientific arguments about this. The science is clearly on the side of the trans people. But here’s the thing; my son isn’t transgender now, and may never be. He may one day identify as gay. He may identify straight or bi, and cross dress. He may identify straight and dress normally. We don’t know yet.

So I’m asking you to tolerate something far more subversive and sinister than transgender. Most transgenders seek to be normal; with early interventions, they can melt back into the general populace without a ripple. As you joke and sneer, keep on eye on your back. A burly, beefy man born a woman might be creeping up on with a broken beer bottle from behind.

No, my kid is making me tell you to tolerate all gender expression.

Women in crew cuts who are straight. Men in dresses and makeup who are straight and married to straight women. The same people, in terms of gender expression, who are gay. Everyone.

You don’t have to love them. You don’t have to wear a dress yourself. You don’t have to have a gay marriage, or marry a butch woman. None of this will be mandated in the world which I’m trying to make by talking with you.  You, a person I desperately want to ignore.

I loved my son, and  still love him. I loved him so much, it changed me. Did your love of your children change you? Do you have children? Do you understand what I”m talking about? Do you understand that we are all acting out of love? Even if you think we are misguided, why would you hate us for loving our children as they are? Why are you talking about something you admittedly know nothing about?

My son made me regret every nasty remark, every smirk, every act of unkindness in my past towards people who, I now see so clearly, are simply being who they have to be. I know that the core of that anger is an anger with myself for every having once snickered along with you.

It is politically incorrect to say this in this type of argument, but the most homophobic men, when hooked to a device which measures arousal, (the penile plethysmograph—your word for the day.) respond to gay porn. It makes them hard. Now, the rule is, we identify ourselves. Just because someone like you might desperately want to have sex with men or wear a dress, doesn’t’ make you gay or trans. What it might make you is sad, angry, violent, desperate, miserable, or suicidal.

And so, as I confront my feelings of anger and violence towards you, I see the face of my son. His smiling, beautiful face, which I love. As you were once loved, I hope, however imperfectly. You may be like him. You may have denied the most essential aspect of your personality and twisted inside into a mass of fear, pain and rage. That would explain a lot.

This is what I have refused to do to my son.

The science suggests that you may have these impulses. It wasn’t the case with me, though, and I’m the only person I have had the experience of being, so I’ll grant that you may well be hetero normative. I’ve never had a moments interest in putting on dresses. I’ve never had more than a fleeing instant of same sex attraction. I am rampantly and incurable hetero-normative. So I know, the hatred, or the toleration of it, may not be a sign that you are ‘queer’ inside.

But I have to wonder if those that ring lead the hate, those that go out of their way to spew this poison, aren’t suffering in this way. Again, it would explain a lot. They’ve fought to suppress these impulses and hate those that ‘give in.’ to them.

Normative people are able to understand that they don’t choose who they are sexually attracted to, they don’t choose what kind clothes they feel comfortable wearing; they don’t learn it, isn’t taught by schools or parents. It comes from inside. Lots of old psychological theories fooled around with the idea that gender was socially constructed; just a rule book enforced by society. These theories are out of the window now. Gender is built in. Cultures tell us what to do with the gender born in our bodies, but gender itself is hard-wired.

I know your discomfort. I know the twisting feeling in your stomach. I’ve felt it. This is the same feeling southern whites had when forced to use drinking fountains used by blacks. This is a feeling which it is time to examine, to stare at in public and let go of. The boogey man can’t hurt you. He lives in your imagination.

Let me reassure you. We will never cut your dick off. We will never give you hormones and force you to have breasts. We will never cross dress you. We will never make you have sex with a man. As you imagine these things, you feel sick inside–because you picture it happening to you. Let it go. You don’t have to do it. You decide who you are. You decide what people call you, who you love, who you allow to exist in your family. You can even drive your child into committing suicide if you want to.

But you won’t do that to my child without a fight.

I know you reserve the right to hate anyone you want, but I’m making an effort now, not to hate you, and I want you to return that favor when you talk about my child. Who I love. I know my child may be killed for being who he is, who he can’t help but be. I am so afraid of that I wake up in cold sweats about it. And then I read about your radioshow.

Slapping a hair cut on my boy and jamming him into a football jersy, or a cop uniform, or a soldier’s fatigues, won’t change him. You can talk to the adult transgenders who did that, the over compensators. They’re out there.

And you should also consider, being a man, how brave my son is to exist in a world with you and not to hide who he is. An adult transgender on an email list I’m on was asked by a young person about the dangers of hormone therapy.

“I hit an IED in Iraq, it took them a year to put me back together. I’m not worried about hormones.”

Is it so wrong, so crazy, so absurd, so liberal moonbat, to ask you to know something about what you are talking about. To ask you to live an let live?

To ask you to treat someone else the way you would like to be treated?

And even if you must see this as sin, to ask that the one without sin be the one to cast the first stone?

I was like you. You may be like my son inside. You are someone who loves and who has been loved. When you say you’d hit your kid with his high-heeled shoe, as angry as I am now, I don’t fully believe you. You’re only human, and you’re scared.

You’re scared of a world that is changing so fast that it terrifies everyone. You’re scared of outsourced jobs and a bankrupt country and drugs and crime and child molesters and genetically engineered viruses and terrorists and all the things that the TV tells you to be scared of. Some of which is actually real.

You lash out at the weakest, the most defenseless, icon of that change. The little boy in the dress.

You think, if you can just beat it out of him, you can make the world the way it was in the 50s. You can bring back the golden age. (that never existed for anyone but a few white men.) Your people have been afraid of every change since the invention of the written word, which would destroy our ability memorize epic poems and turn our brains to mush. You feared anesthesia 100 years ago, you feared fertility medicine a generation ago (test tube babies!) you feared interactial marrige, you feared the gays who stopped cowering in shame at Stonewall and started fighting back, and now you are terrified, shaking in your hob nailed boots at the sight of a smiling child in a dress.

What will the world be like that tolerates him?

I can’t protect you from terrorists or save your job from going overseas or bring back the post-war boom, but I can tell you, my kid isn’t going to hurt you or your family. You are going to get through this. In twenty years you’ll shrug, or cringe, or be a bitter twisted old man ranting about, well, everything. The choice is yours.

But for now, I’m asking you to think about what you say and the people who might be hurt by it. I’m asking you think of the mother of a 10 year old cutting her boy down from where he hung himself. A boy she dressed in boy’s clothes, who she enrolled in Boy Scouts, a boy she made play football, a boy she dragged to chuch every Sunday. But his peers knew him anyway, they knew what he was. And they tortured him. As you suggest.

And he didn’t change. He died. This happened a few months back. This is real. She is real. Her son was real.

I’m asking you to think of that image before you make these kind of statements again. I’m putting aside my hate, my fear, my violence, to ask as politely as I can, for you to put aside yours.

Let my family be.

Concerned father
of a ten year old boy