Monday, January 09, 2012

Sacrifice, love, trans kids and 'Canadian Values'

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.


Linda McClung said...

It made me mad when the narrator of the documentary kept using the wrong pronouns. Kids with gender disphoria have a tough enough time being who they are and putting up with their peers - they don't need adults to sensationalize it or use the wrong pronouns. I imagine it would have been very hurtful for the kids to watch the documentary about themselves and hear them being called he when it is she or vice versa.

I believe transsexuals to be some of the bravest people in the world.

I also agree that it takes courage and love to face the challenges of being a good caregiver.

Thanks for this blog Beth. I really appreciate all the effort it took to present the information to us in an understandable way.

D. Emerson Evans said...

I watched a similar UK documentary (Bodyshock: Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change) just after I moved to Wales this fall that had many of the same issues. The narrator and interviewers consistently used the wrong pronounds, and interviewers would continue to do so despite being corrected repeatedly by parents and the children themselves. It was particularly shocking and offensive to hear a trans man in his 50s who had been full time for several decades refered to a "she" by the narrator. There were also claims proffered by the program that "most children with gender disphoria outgrow it" that were not backed by any cited evidence. There was another moment where the narrator made a snide attempt to undermine the legitimacy of one girl's GD diagnosis because despite living full time as a girl she still enjoyed playing with stereotypically masculine toys (as though toy preference is somehow biologically innate, rather than something most kids are rigorously conditioned into practically from birth). I didn't mean to rant, but it sure feels good to rage against fear-mongering and intolerence.

The one bright spot in LGBTQI acceptance in the Canadian educational system has, in my experience, been post-secondary institutions. Perhaps this came from going to an art college (where the concept of "normative" is percieved as delusional at best), but when I was an undergrad anyone making even an offhandedly homophobic comment would be stared at as though they'd suddenly grown a second head. I've also had trans acquaintances say that university was the first place they felt socially accepted, even while transitioning. Unfortunately, even for LGBTQI youth who can secure the means to get to this environment, all too often a lot of damage has already been done.


Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

Well researched and well written, as always, Beth. I'll link my students to this.

Lorna, Bob and Liam

cheryl g said...

I have learned a lot about courage in the years I have known you. Thank you for this well written post. Thank you for continuing to be a voice for understanding and acceptance. I am pretty sure I would have been seething about the so called journalism very early in the documentary. I hate the scare tactics and the judgmental stance of the journalists. Transexuals are indeed some of the bravest people in the world. These journalists and others who spread the fear and hate are the cowards who fear anything “different”.

Why can’t people accept each other as they are? Why do the labels matter? If we are made in God’s image then I would say God is pretty OK with diversity and everyone else should be too.

e said...

Another insightful post, and I agree with your points...There is just too much ignorance, stupidity and bigotry on this planet...

I wish there were more people like you.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Linda: It made me mad too, particularly when the 8 year old sibling could get the pronouns right but the journalist and narrator couldn't.

It concerns me, as you say they are brave, but I think they need protection during the period when in transition and often do not have the legal protection of those who have transitioned. Also, if schools are only now going, "Gee, they get bullied, beaten up and picked the teachers...oh, and students" it means that enforcement of 'no bullying' is very lax and up to individual teachers/principals to advocate.

Being a caregiver of anyone with specific needs, whether chronic illness or transgender in childhood is an oft unsung job done daily in choices of courage.

Don Evans: ah, Bora Da! The UK can be particularly brutal in 'bullying culture' for kids, and I know Cardiff schools were considered one of the worse, as they bullied kids with cancer, and set one 8year old's head on fire after chemo. Yikes!

I am also shocked as the Gender Identity law in the UK means that doing the kind of 'outing' or showing pictures usually means a fine of up to 10,000 pounds. I guess the problem is in how they edit the material they were given.

Yes, I have heard this is a problem with the center in the UK, that the idea of what 'gender' is for them is so outdated if the trans females didn't show up in skirts saying they wanted to be homemakers they didn't get any treatment or help, I guess the same would be true for the guys (all supposed to be into weightlifting?).

I am glad this is true for Canadian universities, though that might be different from university to university as I applied to edit the university of Winnipeg paper and having come from UVic where the valentines day issue was always on gay rights and love, the editors were all bug eyed and went, "We don't do things like that here!" (and I thought, "Uh, yeah, I think you do, you just don't publish them I guess).

Lorna, Liam, Bob: Thanks

Cheryl: I agree with you about God, it says in Gen 3 that male and female created after God's image, and Jesus said that those who were intergender were created in Gods image as well (Matt 24). I think God is both beyond gender but also encompasses the entire diversity within gender AND biology, like intersex conditions. There is nothing 'wrong' or 'broken' about people, and without the unique points of view we all bring to the world, this would be a poorer place.

e: yeah, some days I seem to hit the walls of ignorance and such - but I think it is important to let Passionate Eye or similar programs that no, like ethnic slurs or other behavoir, that is not appropriate, and is not reflective of the Canada or world I am part of. To often in the silence it hard for people to know that they matter, that each person, both caregiver, and like Linda and others say, the courage of transsexuals, of open gay teens, of lgbtqi individuals and couples is acknowledged.

Neil said...

"Are you really sure you're committed to being a boy?"

"Are you really sure you're committed to being a journalist? Totally, 100% positive? Have you ever had times where you wonder if could have asked better questions, ever thought of being able to improve your research skills? Have you ever identified with your subjects, those you interview?"

(If the answer is No) "You're really not very imaginative or inspiring as a reporter, are you? Perhaps you should consider being a longshoreman."

(If the answer was Yes) "Ah, so you're NOT totally committed to journalism, are you, poor thing? What do you plan on doing after you leave journalism?"

As much as I support the CBC, I don't think I want to watch something so negative as the report you discuss. I'd rather spend time being more supportive, and watching better television.

As for the full-page ad in the National Fish-wrap, they're lying if they claim not to know how a transphobic ad appeared. Someone paid for it, someone allowed it to be published; any sensible editor would probably have questioned his supervisors about the ad. Someone at that paper was lying to cover a poor editorial choice, and an unfortunate choice of ethics.

And yes, I'm feeling cynical this morning.

Love and zen hugs,

Kate J said...

My comment seems to have disappeared! It really only said that Beth has said it all, and so well. Things have improved - according to 'trans' friends here in UK, but too slowly and there's still a way to go. For young people especially, it doesn't really get any easier, when there are few 'role models' and anyone a little bit 'different' is still going to get picked on and bullied.
Love & peace

Raccoon said...

Over the last few days, I've been reading a number of news stories dealing with, I guess, cross gendered individuals.

A six-year-old boy who sees himself as a girl, and wants to join the Girl Scouts. , which was a link posted in an article in The Gothamist(don't read it – the little bit that I saw of it wasn't very friendly)ranting against the transgendered.

A video of a girl who came out to her parents, friends and classmates at a Martin Luther King Jr. school assembly. Some of the comments are just… "a little kid being serious about being a lesbian because she felt the tingles one day at a play
How can anyone take this seriously" said "justaguy" ( with an article about "Lego Friends," which are Legos marketed towards girls, "because this is what girls said they wanted." and the "It Gets Better Project" I've been finding interesting, as well.

The San Diego homecoming King & Queen – a girl and her girlfriend – getting support from the Superintendent of Schools. (And they are both CUTE!)

And of course, American politicians…

At least the military DADT is no more.

I'm very happy in my heterosexuality, but it's been some interesting reading.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Raccoon: Our school didn't have king and queen but from comments and articles it seems the problems for most people is the assault on the idea of change. Sort of the same way a person comes back to their home town, sees change and rejects it simply because it is change.

I always assumed that you were okay with your gender. For orientation, most of the stories don't comment on that. I did follow up the girl scout link (Where do you find these links? I feel I am in the back corner of the internet to be so isolated), and girl scouts accepts all individuals who present, identify as a girl with parental support. So it isn't a boy who wants to be a girl scout, though under I think one of the sections (6 or 76?) as girls have been boy scouts for about 15+ years, the issue of boys joining girl scouts as boys probably should be addressed. In these cases, however, the Girl Scouts of America are only maintaining the essense of current medical understanding (unless anyone supports a 'drop your underwear' gender test for six or seven year olds, a system so antiquated it was dropped almost 30 years ago in sports - however, I notice the 'don't sell cookies bann' offers no reasonable alternative other than trying to put diversity into a binary system).

I agree, it is interesting times, seeing the binary boxes in neurology, in gender and in orientation start to unwind.

Thank you for the links - One Sick Mother comments on LGBTQI issues as well.

Neil said...

Raccoon: Thanks for mentioning the high school king and queen. I found a report from ABC news online that included a quote from one of the pair's Facebook page (I wonder if Facebook will sue for copyright infringement?); she sounded like a young Beth! The URL of the story is kinda long, so here is the link as a TinyURL:

Love and zen hugs,

Anonymous said...

No. I don't believe that ad happened 'by chance'. Someone has an agenda (oh gosh, which religion in the name of G*d do you think?)and will forever keep fighting to the end for what they are positive is religously proper. Doesn't anyone remember "love one another?". Fer pete's sake, let folks be folks, I've learned a lot from Beth and from you, too, Linda. Thank you, and love to you both.
Stay strong and wonderful,

Tina Russell said...

Thanks for the post, Beth. Wow, that sounds like every irritating cliché found in troubling trans-related documentaries. Quick, tell me: did they have one or more shots of young trans women primping themselves in the mirror, putting on lipstick and such? (That’s usually my first warning that I’m not going to like a trans documentary show...)

And I am sick of being asked if I’m “really, really sure;” all I can say is that I was miserable trying to live as a boy, especially once I fully understood the girl inside me, and I’m a much happier, more well-adjusted, and more fulfilled person living as a girl, now. Oh, God, and I’m also sick of hearing that I’m “confused”; my response tends to be that “you might be confused about my gender, but I’m not.” This is the girl I am, and anyone who doesn’t like it can suck my womanly cock.

Anyway, thanks for describing all these irritating stereotypes and pitfalls. I’m sick of being expected to like a documentary praising trans people and having to point out that they got pronouns wrong, talked about transsexuality like a freakish sort of mutation, scare parents away from the possibility of their children being trans, and so on. One of my biggest difficulties in coming out as a teenager was that people (like my parents) kept telling me that I had such a hard life ahead of me, why am I doing this? (Two answers: one is that living a lie is harder because it leaves no possibility of being truly happy. the other is that yes, I’m going to have a hard life if you persist in this framing that I’m somehow bringing prejudice upon myself, absolving you of any responsibility to treat me like a human being.)

Rrrgh. (hugs)