In the French Film Of God and Men, a true story set in 1995 Algiers, Trappist monk are told to leave, with militants on one side and French military. Only the the village, Islamic but having grown with them asks that they stay. To do so would likely mean death. “Remember, Love is Eternal Hope”
Others asked, ‘Why did they stay’ a film critic and clergy stated that the action taken was because these Trappist monks did not value THIS life, but looked toward the Salvation beyond.
Courage is not made with a single act. Courage and love, come from the daily practice of living where one aspires to more than the self, and so when the question of selfless sacrifice occurs, it is an extension of the choices already made. Love and Courage are not monks staying because they want and lust some reward after this life, but an extension of the daily care with the community they bonded with over the years. We hope for it in all who are trusted and entrusted, from parents to police but seeing it, experiencing it is rarer.
CBC’s Passionate Eye shows both the kind of courage which changes a life, and the oppression which requires that kind of courage. Canada is not known internally for liberalism, not when our largest city, in the middle of the country is the most liberal and enshrines the most rights, Toronto. But in regards to transsexual individuals Ontario has an appalling history, where the Premier himself refused, even after a human rights and supreme court ruling against him to fund or let proceed medical operations promised, leaving men and women in legal and medical limbo for years.
For the purpose of the next paragraphs the terminology will be under medical usage, as it involves primarily medical not social aspects. Transsexuals are those who, using the worldwide standard, have a gender identity not compatible with the body. A medical standard of care, now extending down to children involves specialists in endocrinology, specialized psychologists, gender medical specialist and other fields as needed to ensure a match between brain and body. Trans, or transgender, is a term used in North America to refer to a spectrum which can include those who engage in gendered presentation or actions not in accord with perceived birth gender, either temporarily or lifelong. While that can include those who need medical intervention, it can also include those who do not, or those who do drag, either Drag King or Drag Queen, or confronting gender. The program’s narrator mixes the two terms, and also ignores AP and journalism standards by not referring to gender based on presentation by on perceived birth gender (a boy under medical care to ensure a proper male puberty should be referred to as 'he', the CBC doesn't follow this).
What comes through in the program (you can watch it here), some of it taken from other news agencies, is both the uplifting difference that individuals, specifically some medical professionals and parents (mothers) are making not just in the lives of their child, but in setting a standard of care. Sadly what also comes through, in the program creator and interviewers is the intolerance and ignorance in what is played half as ‘fear journalism’ (“This could happen to YOUR family!”) and partly as ‘new trends’ with a lax intolerance. Except of course the medical standard of care is over four generations old, older than the standard of care for epilepsy for example. And has the interviewer asking a boy if ‘they are really commited to being a boy?” “Really?” “Are you sure?” “100%???” Would the journalist ask these questions of anyone else, like a police officer, the Queen, Matt Damon? “Totally sure you think you are an actor?” “100 percent??” “Completely???” “Really, really sure??”
We see a parent/s, a caregiver, the mother, who day by day fought and bore the weight and costs of ensuring a diverse and yet socially gendered tween, puberty and adolescence for their child, or children (that ALL their children have the best lives possible). It is the love, the being there day after day, educating and enriching the lives of those they love which shows the courage of these parents. And the result are centered, confident children who are now teens, who have perhaps more experience with doctors and specialists than other kids that age, but that is about it.
Something like this is still only possible for those in a few cities, and with the right economic status but considering that medically it has been possible for the last 70 years, it has only been the last 15 years that Canada and many countries will even acknowledge that transgender/transsexual children exist, when New York and Toronto opened high schools for LGBTQI teens, the grouping which makes up to 60% of homeless teens and thus high school drop outs. Triangle school in Toronto is currently the only school room for LGBTQI students in Canada. Even though last year, a survey found that it is in elementary school when verbal and physical attacks begin, and by secondary school half are verbally or physically attacked daily, 67% feel unsafe. And while gay marriage is legal, having gay parents leads to verbal, physical and also, for 45% sexual ‘attention’ which is unwanted. This last year, Canada finally admitted that yes, Canada’s schools are homophobic, but only Toronto school board is trying, after the ‘send them to triangle’ for 15 years, to do anything about it. The change in the official curriculum to make schools less trans and homophobic in Toronto lead to a full page ad attacking transsexual, transgender and intersex students in the National just a few months ago. The ad is against the paper’s guidelines and they say they have no idea how it appeared, paid for by the Institute of Canadian Values. It appeared two days later in the Sun.
What the ad and the program have in common is that it is less about the individuals, those children, but the adults and what they find socially acceptable. It is a question of sacrifice: some, like mothers, sacrifice each day for their children, while others are willing to sacrifice children for themselves. This group of ‘Canadian Values’, by including intersex show not a lack of medical knowledge so much as belief that they can require a silencing and elimination of those who already exist, the babies, the children, the teens, the vulnerable in order to have a world that pleases them. Passionate eye, with the ‘it is just a phase’ wording like ‘when she first thought she was male’ invalidates doctors, specialist, parents and the individual. It is a shame that this is the ‘Canadian Values’, but it is not mine.
In Passionate Eye, most of the fathers have left. This is statistically standard. The mothers have had to change schools due to bullying, have confronted principals, teachers, day in and out to try provide the best childhood and thus adulthood for their child. All those interviewed, whether eight year old siblings, parents, friends all use the correct pronouns. Only the narrator ignores the AP rules and with dedicated consistency flashes up pictures (some times VERY early pictures) of the child in the program. The better adjusted the child, the longer we are told about a girl, with a girls name and shown film footage before we finally meet the boy they are supposed to be interviewing. So for Chris, in his mid to older teens, we don’t see him until three film footages of a 2-4 year old presumed girl, an interview with his aunt on his father leaving and why he shouldn’t have been a boy. Finally…we jump from a 2 year old grabbing a Xmas present to a 16 year old teen boy doing weight lifting in the basement.
This program of serious and in-depth journalism has this to describe the program: “What would you do if your young son was desperate to become a girl…..this shocking documentary..” (Shocking? To whom?). “into the world of children who believe they were born the wrong sex. Diagnosed with gender identity disorder, their childhoods include puberty blockers, hormone injections, cross-dressing and a struggle for social acceptance. How far are they willing to go to change their gender?”
The write up reflects a viewpoint in North America (one considered both lacking in medical foundation and harmful to the person from the UK and EU to the ruling of the Imam of Iran), that children are simply ‘confused’ and need therapy and negative reinforcement. They do not advocate gender specialist trained therapists but therapists to bring about gender stereotype conformity. What that conformity is depends on the comfort level of those adults in charge.
When born, there is your gender and your biology (the bits). It can take a few years for the gender of the child to make itself clear as often until the age of 6-7 a significant percent of children can engage in gendered activities other than biological gender. But then, they also will engage in activities of other species, and inanimate objects, like a fire engine. What researchers of brain biology have learned is that post birth, gender in most mammals, and in humans is fixed. Which is why the gender marker on the chromosome is considered the best determination of an individuals gender (this cannot be tested currently, but specialists in interviews and other tests have a 98-99% success rate). This is why the ISNA, and OII recommend, along with most specialist, that intersex babies not have surgery until gender is confirmed. One boy for example, changed from grade 2-4, which is when gender, meeting social expectation and interaction becomes most clear. Typically a boy may like dressing as a princess, but at 6 or 7 will stop, as social cues and group understand has them declare, "I am a boy!" So when someone viewed biologically as a girl is saying, "I am a boy!" at 7 and 8 and 9, that isn't a phase, it is the gender identity making itself known.
Patricia Highsmith for example spent until 19 telling everyone that "I am a male!" Coming from a well to do family, she was forced into a marriage, and tried both being with a female (as a male, in a suit and her trademark hat), then officially married under pressure, but did so to a gay male. Transgender teens, like the rest of the population may be gay or straight, as the gender marker has nothing to do with sexual orientation, thus trans doesn't automatically mean 'not a girl, but a gay boy' as parents or others often assume. Sadly, when Patricia Highsmith lived in the 1930's and 40's, transsexuals and transgender were barely known and never accepted. Pat wrote mysteries including Ripley's Game and The Talented Mr. Ripley, about a person who has to live life pretending to be someone and something they are not.
The show about young trans children is an important and ultimately uplifting topic: that in knowing there are already children with advocates in parents, doctors and principals more transgender and transsexual youth and teens will come out. And hopefully the next generation will be one with hope and a better life, borne from love. And that Canada, and our journalism might grow up. Already the age of coming out for transgender and transsexual individuals isn’t the secret kept until the 50’s but the 20’s. I hope for a future when it is the teen or as early as needed, in a society of acceptance of all diversity. As an nation of immigrants and ‘new starts’, we should lead the way in enshrining legal protection and medical support for transgender and transsexual teens. We don't, but we should.
Caregiving, which by definition is for one of the vulnerable members of society: a child, illness or disability, old age all have the capacity to be daily acts of courage. To set a standard, or as a mother said, she wanted above all to do no harm, and look in that mirror, whether in the silent success or the apologetic failure is an act of courage. It is this daily practice which allows us to become more, and to act not out of self interest but out of love. I am thankful for all those who act as caregivers and advocates, and whose silent sacrifice and courage make better lives. As Mother Theresa said regarding the point of exhausting herself on a dying infant, who would never thank her, never reciprocate, that the child would know that it was loved. It would die, but always knowing it was loved.
I think it is the knowledge that we are loved which allows us, in our vulnerable circumstances, to be brave ourselves and to endure. The 800th day of harrassment and bullying at school doesn’t make it any easier than the days before, nor knowing the violence always there, nor will the 801st day be any easier. In the same way, the fatigue, the pain of a chronic illness eats away at all joy just as much several years later as it did that first year. This is where the love, the caregiving, the knowledge of love without requirement, or condition can make the difference between being coping and moving on and simply waiting and hoping for death at your hand or anothers.
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