By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist-
I have a question for you. I’m trying to write an article about transgender children and the wisdom of allowing them to alter their physiology/biology before they are adults. I wanted to get your thoughts on it and approach it with sensitivity: I do a piece on cultural issues once a week for a right-wing-slanted radio show and want to use this as an opportunity to enlighten people about this issue in a way that you would approve of, which is why I’m approaching you for your thoughts.
-Fini From Hollywood
I’m glad you asked! Your question is certainly the cutting edge of the transsexual debate and a pretty hot button issue, for everyone except the kids in question. For them, it seems to be very clear.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some transkids and even got to have a long conversation with a female-to-male (FTM) teenager at a conference last year. I was teaching a workshop, a sort of live version of this column, and he was the only person who showed up. Rather than scrap the time, I figured it was a great chance for intergenerational trans-to-trans dialogue. I’m glad I did. He was about as normal and well-adjusted as a kid that age gets. Bright, curious and happy.
Also at that conference was Kim Pearson, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions now. She’s an amazing and dedicated woman who runs the organization, Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA), which does some great work in outreach, education and support for transkids and their families.<http://www.imatyfa.org/>
If you’re looking for good further information on transgender children, their lives and their treatment, the TYFA website is an excellent place to start (besides this column!). You’ll find links to blogs by psychologists who treat transkids, as well as up-to-date news, personal accounts by transgender youth and their families and other useful resources.
Speaking as an older transperson, it’s a pretty common theme for transgender and transsexual people to say “I have known since I was a kid.” It’s certainly true for me. I’ve known there was something askew about my gender since I had thoughts in my head. It just took me a while to find the language and then accept what I knew.
I find that children, whether trans or cisgender have far fewer rigidly preconceived notions of gender than adults. They have an understanding that is more instinctual and straightforward. Unmuddied by all the rules, roles and boundaries most adults have had to learn to play by.
Transitioning early definitely makes a huge difference physically. For transwomen especially, the effects of testosterone “damage” are almost impossible to completely reverse. Five years on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) has had a dramatic effect on my appearance, but it will never change my basic bone structure. Or do away with my facial hair, which must be dealt with through painful and expensive procedures like electrolysis and/or laser hair removal. Also, my voice will never physically change. There is only vocal training or very questionably effective vocal cord surgery. I’ll never be less than 6’4” tall. The list goes on.
For transmen, the effects of HRT, the addition of testosterone, are more effective. Hair grows, the voice drops, muscles grow leaner. But they tend to be stuck being a little on the shorter side. And top-surgery can be expensive.
It’s actually kind of entertaining to be in a room full of transpeople. You have a bunch of very tall women and very short men.
If HRT is begun at or around the time of actual puberty, it is magnitudes more effective. Height, voice, bone structure and body shape are all affected. Basically speaking, the first several years of HRT are a second puberty. If HRT is started young enough then puberty for a transperson is allowed to happen almost “normally” for their true gender.
I often have kids march straight up to me and ask if I am a boy or a girl. To which I usually respond either simply, “I’m a girl” or “I used to be a boy, now I’m a girl.” Ninety percent of the time that’s all the explanation needed and while I watch their parents sputter and twitch in confusion and discomfort, the kids just move on to whatever is next, with completely easy acceptance.
My experience is that kids know. They just feel it in their bones if they are the “wrong” gender. It’s adults who have issues and insecurities about transkids. So to strike a sort of balance, what is mostly done, at least so far as I understand it, is that transkids are placed on puberty-delaying drugs until they reach a legal age of consent. At which time they can choose to start HRT or not.
Given the wide range of when puberty actually begins for teenagers, this seems pretty reasonable. Isn’t it better to let kids avoid years of pain, shame and questioning by letting them be who they already know themselves to be? Kids are smart, smarter than us sometimes. Why not listen to what they have to say about themselves, rather than force them into our own little boxes.
Be well friends! And keep those questions coming! I’m always here to help!
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.