There was a guy in my hometown named Bobby who joined the cheerleading squad - as the mascot. He dressed up in a furry animal costume at football games and was voted as "most school spirit" by his high school classmates. He moved away shortly after graduating. Several years later he returned with a new name: Crystal.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), transgender broadly refers to "anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms."
More people are familliar with the term transsexual, which may describe Crystal. The APA defines transsexuals as "transgender people who live or wish to live full time as members of the gender opposite to their birth sex."
We typically hear news stories about adult transsexuals who have "transitioned" to the opposite sex,meaning they have undergone hormonal therapy and surgery in order to officially become and live as the gender of their choice.
The above photo is Mianne Bagger, a professional golfer who transitioned to a woman when she was 29 years old. She is the first (known) transsexual to play in a professional golf tournament.
What we don't hear much about is young children who solely identify with the opposite sex gender - young children diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, for example.
What happens when a young boy wants to wear dresses, play exclusively with dolls and other traditionally "girl" toys, and rejects typically masculine interests? Or a girl who insists she is a boy, who refuses to wear dresses, who wants only to play with the boys in her neighborhood, and who feels disgusted by the idea that she should "act more like a girl?" And what happens when parents pressure these kids to conform and they start acting out in extreme ways?
How do psychologists advise the parents of children such as these? Make the child give up their favorite toys and force them to conform? Or allow the child to go to school as the opposite sex gender?
According to a two-part news story aired by National Public Radio, each of these might be recommended, depending on which psychologist is consulted:
Part 1 : Two families, two treatments
Part 2 : Treatment to delay puberty
I occasionally treat people with transgender issues. I don't have an opinion as to which treatment is better for children, however. I think it is a highly individualistic decision that depends entirely on the child and the unique circumstances (as should all treatment decisions).
I do, however, have a wish. I wish that people could learn greater tolerance of gender identity differences. That little girls who want Tonka trucks are embraced. That boys who want to wear dresses, pink frills and tap shoes are accepted.
Maybe if society deemed gender as a fluid concept rather than a "set in stone" assignment, fewer parents would need to give hormones to their children. Fewer adults would feel the need to surgically alter their bodies.
Let boys be feminine. Let girls be masculine. It can all be good.
I know I'm looking at this in an overly simplistic way. I know it's idealistic. It won't solve every transgender problem, of course. But it sure couldn't hurt.
For a moving video clip on transgenderism, click here.Have questions about gender identity and transgenderism? The American Psychological Association webpage answers some of them, here.
Thanks to feministgal for posting the links to this NPR piece here.
Side note: You probably noticed that my blog post just boomaranged from the rough and tumble rawhide story of Texas barbeque to accounts of boys who choose to live as girls. Please be tolerant. My blog is experiencing identity confusion.