I Believe Trans Kids – Janelle Annemarie Heideman

Listening to (and supporting) Your Trans Child is Not Abuse

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Photo by Denin Lawley on Unsplash

A recent case in Texas has reignited right-wing opposition to the social transition of transgender kids.

The case is actually a custody dispute. A husband who lied to his wife about myriad things (and because of that the wife received an annulment of their marriage) was denied joint coverage of their child by a Texas jury.

If this were any other child custody dispute it would have stayed there, with the jury’s decision. Unfortunately, this is no normal case. The judge in the case overruled the jury after conservatives from Texas Governor Gregg Abbott to Senator Ted Cruz, to even Donald Trump spoke out about it.

Why all the outrage about a custody case? Why would a known liar be granted custody against the wishes of the mother and a jury?

Did I mention the child in question is transgender?

That’s right. The 7-year old — assigned male at birth — is a trans girl, under the care of gender specialist doctors and therapists, and living as a girl. Pursuant to WPATH standards of care and the American Academy of Pediatricians policy, the child is living socially as a girl and no one is considering any non-reversible medical interventions.

In fact, the first medical intervention that would even be considered would come just before puberty, when puberty blockers might be used to delay onset until the child can determine what is right for her.

And Here Comes the Right-Wing Hate Machine

That hasn’t stopped others (including the father) from injecting their own facts into the mix. The father has insisted that the mother wants to subject her daughter to irreversible medical interventions which would not be sanctioned by the medical professionals whose advice she is actually following.

What it comes down to is that this has become a good outlet for false outrage, a rallying cry for people on the right who don’t like or understand what it means to be transgender.

The concern trolling has reached a national level, as pointed out in a recent Rolling Stone article.

Based on this one case, in Texas, a Georgia law-maker is even proposing to make any gender affirming surgery for minors a felony.

The joke’s on her, of course, since gender-affirming surgery for anyone under 16 is rare and done on a case-by-case basis as a last resort. The majority of cases for trans kids involve, if anything, family support and affirmation, and possibly reversible puberty blockers when a child is pre-pubescent as I mention above.

Abuse? Have You Lost Your Mind? Oh Yeah…

And then there is Ted Cruz, who is always happy to find a right-wing culture war talking point to distract his constituency from his incompetence. He has gone on to call gender affirmation of trans kids child abuse. Because… Well, just because. Mostly because he doesn’t understand (and doesn’t want to) what it means for a child to transition or parents to affirm that child’s gender.

What Experts Actually Say

Turns out that Cruz and others are as clueless on this issue as on everything else. Affirming your child does not hurt them. In fact, the effects of dysphoria (for those who get it) and living in a world that is openly hostile to trans kids can be much more dangerous.

Early studies show that kids who transition early and have support of family report similar mental health rates than among cisgender kids.

And the American Academy of Pediatricians has confirmed that family affirmation and support are crucial to good mental health outcomes for trans children.

From the article quoted above:

“We know that family and community support are essential for any child’s healthy development, and children who are gender-diverse are no different,” said Jason Rafferty, MD, MPH, Ed, FAAP, lead author of the statement. “What is most important is for a parent to listen, respect and support their child’s self-expressed identity. This encourages open conversations that may be difficult but key to the child’s mental health and the family’s resilience and wellbeing.”

But, But What If the Kid Changes Their Mind?

Of course, some kids might decide when they get a little older that they really aren’t trans or really aren’t the gender they thought they were. It is important to remember, first of all, that these kids represent a very small percentage of all kids who undergo gender affirming care. Also, the recommendations for affirmative care through puberty are generally reversible. Dr. Jack Turbin has written about this in Vox:

Facts? Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts

I know. Some of you will try to pick apart the evidence I have presented, try to find a loophole. Present “what if” scenarios so ludicrous they would be funny if we weren’t talking about a child’s life and privacy (and the privacy of the family). “What if a 7 year old child is castrated and later wants to have kids?” “Kids can’t be expected to know or make such decisions at an early age”

In the first case, as I’ve mentioned, that is not how it works. No kid would undergo invasive surgery at that age due to the gender identity they have expressed. Until puberty, it is purely about how they live their lives and how people treat them. Trans boys get treated like boys. Trans girls get treated like girls. End of.

And I’ve personally known a lot of people who knew their gender no later than 5 or 6. In fact, most trans people I know at least had an inkling by that age. If you are a cisgender man, ask yourself at what age you realized you were a boy? I doubt you were much older than 5. If you are a cis woman, what age did you know you were a girl? Probably the same answer.

Also, as pointed Dr. Turbin points out, if someone determines they got their gender wrong, it is not the end of the world. Please note that none of the trans kids we hear about are without a doctor’s and therapist’s care. There are standards of care and best practice for every stage of development for trans children.

That’s Not How This Works! That’s Not How Any of This Works!

The narrative seems to be that kids are forced to present a certain way and forced into some kind of medical or surgical intervention against their will. More to the point, the narrative seems to emphasize a reliance on the parents’ whims, not medical expertise.

That is hardly the case. Any medical professional working with trans kids will tell you everything is driven by the child. And it doesn’t all happen overnight.

And yes — as I’ve already established — kids do know. It’s more a matter that the parents and their adult peers don’t want to believe them.

What if a child tells their parent their ear hurts. Would the parent say, “That’s ridiculous. You are too young to know what real pain is. You are just trying to get attention.” Hopefully not. Hopefully the parent would take the kid to a doctor.

So why would we believe a child about one kind of pain — caused by an ear infection — but not the kind of pain caused by living as the wrong gender?

Yes, it is a matter that most people don’t understand gender that well. But most parents could not tell you how an ear infection starts or how the treatment for it works, either.

The Trans Kids I Know Demonstrate the Actual Reality

I am a transgender woman. As such, I meet a lot more trans and non-binary people than most cisgender people probably would. Among those that I know well are several trans kids (and their incredible, affirming, loving parents).

Let me tell you. I’ve met trans kids from age 3 all the way up to those turning 18. They are truly amazing. They are some of the most well-adjusted kids I’ve ever met. I hate to imagine the condition these children would be in if not allowed to be themselves, if not loved and affirmed as who they are.

So I Believe Trans Kids

The way I see it, I could believe the kids themselves — who are just trying to live their lives the best they know how — or I could believe those who don’t really know the kids, who want to put them into some kind of box denoting something they are not.

And I am including a lot of parents and family members of trans kids in that category. Not everyone is attuned to the needs of their children, siblings, etc. Some members of my family expressed shock when I came out as trans a decade ago. But just because they didn’t know I was actually a girl when we grew up together, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t.

I was always a girl. They just didn’t realize.

And as for abuse, those who force kids to be what they know they are not, to deny who they are and live a more miserable life, those are the ones who are guilty of abuse.

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