“The catalog of her interests, behaviors and clothing choices”: On gender stereotypes in stories of transgender children.

If you pay attention to news stories about transgender people, especially young kids, you will notice that they are often brimming with stereotypes. Here are just some examples:

So I might have had a daughter who would paint her nails with me and play Barbies. I could have helped her braid her hair and, later, pick out her prom dress. I could have watched her walk down the aisle with pride. I am sure that life would have been good, but I promise it wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as the journey I’ve had with my son.

The above quote is from the mother of FtM child, who also describes her child as getting a ‘boy haircut’. The child, who is 16 years old, has also gotten “top surgery”, which is the cutesy name for a double mastectomy often used in these stories.

Another parent tells this story:

she requested that we get rid of the horrible “boy” things that had plagued her all of her young life. That year, she worked with a joyful, fevered intensity as she yanked down every single item in the house that hinted “boy” to her and dropped them with relief into the front room.

The mother of the child described by this quote goes on to describe how she suddenly realized that her child “never was a boy” because he didn’t make car noises when he played. She also says:

Quickly my mind raced through the catalog of her interests, behaviors and clothing choices, and I saw how many clues I had missed.

It cannot be said any clearer: this parent really believes that a child’s interests and clothing choices are significant indicators when it comes to administering medical treatment that will have to be continued for their entire lives.

She  goes on to describe her child like this:

My beautiful teenage daughter, with her flowing hair, strong sense of style and love of gossip

Apparently male children cannot have flowing hair, a sense of style and a love of gossip.

In another article, we find this quote:

Except both these girls were born boys. Within a couple of years, as soon as they could talk in fact, they were preoccupied with anything normally associated with girls – dresses, jewellery, dolls and girls’ names.

The toy preferences of toddlers are again taken as signs that there is something wrong with them (born in the “wrong body”). Male children playing with dolls are pathologized.

According to their parents, from an early age Lily and Jessica were very aware of gender. They became increasingly unhappy with their gender and were drawn to dresses and toys more typically associated with girls.

If a child is told that their interests are “wrong”, and that a specific toy or item of clothing is “for girls”, then OF COURSE the child is going to be “unhappy with their gender”. Children are growing up in a time where gender stereotypes are VICIOUSLY enforced, often by parents.

And not unhappy in the way a child might be unhappy if you forced them to tidy their bedroom or eat sprouts. Lily and Jessica were becoming uncomfortable and even distressed about being boys.

“If I had to live as a boy I would be really upset,” Lily says. “Really upset. But now I’m sort of living as a girl I feel much better.” It’s a medical condition known as gender dysphoria or gender variance.

Has anyone asked this child what he thinks “living as a boy” and “living as a girl” means?

The next article features a boy whose parents very obviously tried to enforce gender roles on him:

At 3, Mark asked to dress for Halloween as Dora the Explorer; his parents bargained him down to Darth Vader, which at least featured a cape. 

Why do parents have to “bargain him down” from a Dora the Explorer costume? For those who don’t know, Dora the Explorer looks like this:

dora-the-explorer

A pink t-shirt, orange shorts and a purple backpack. Speaking as a parent, the author of this post would be thrilled by such a straightforward and simple costume. No need for sewing, or complicated masks, capes or accessories. But apparently, to the parents in the article, this costume was so objectionable that they could not allow it.

The child’s father elaborates:

I’m in a conservative business; I sell software,” he says. “I want the normal life. And this was gonna be different, when my son is getting out of the car in a dress in front of everybody. But then you have to think about who are you protecting? Yourself or your kid? People would say, ‘I can’t believe you’d let your kid do that. That’s abuse.’ I’ll tell you what’s abuse: suicide. Do you want a live daughter or a dead son?”

A son in a dress, unacceptable. But a daughter in a dress, much better.

The article concludes:

though I am using male and female pronouns to differentiate between the time before and after the transition, her parents don’t. Out of respect for their daughter, they use “she,” or try to, even when talking about the past. Similarly, they have edited out of their albums and wall displays six years of pictures of Molly as a boy and have bought a new carved oak figurine to update the genders in a family crèche on the mantelpiece.

Does this strike anyone else as incredibly sad? They have literally edited their child’s history our of their lives.

Another story of a girl child with parents who have very clear expectations of her behavior and interests:

In the fall of 2009, we welcomed a beautiful redheaded baby girl into our family.  We swaddled her in pink and lace, bought baby dolls we expected her to play with soon.  But Lola had other plans. Lola had no interest in dolls, instead gravitating toward trucks, cars and dinosaurs. In stores, she would ignore the girls section and go right to the boys. “I want these, Mommy!” she would say, pointing to the blue Vans with airplanes on them, and the dark blue or red flannel shirts. We were open, so we indulged Lola with typical toys for boys.  But I started to wonder, and gently ask. Was this a phase or part of my daughter’s true identity?

If you describe letting your child play with the toys that interests her as “indulging”, you are not, in fact, “open”. And what is “true identity” supposed to mean in this context? The idea that which toys a child plays with are indicative of their “true identity” is a RIDICULOUS idea, and yet it is so pervasive.

Lola even started to come out to my family members. During a trip to California, she said, “Uncle Dave, I have something to tell you.”

“Yes, Lola?” he said.

“I’m a boy.”

“Well, OK!” he responded, not totally surprised given the previous indicators and their shared interest in “Star Wars” and dinosaurs.

This child’s entire family seems to be extremely invested in narrow gender roles.

The examples are abundant. Here is a boy who wanted to play with barbies:

At the toy store, Brandon would head straight for the aisles with the Barbies or the pink and purple dollhouses. Tina wouldn’t buy them, instead steering him to neutral toys: puzzles or building blocks or cool neon markers. One weekend, when Brandon was 2½, she took him to visit her 10-year-old cousin. When Brandon took to one of the many dolls in her huge collection—a blonde Barbie in a pink sparkly dress—Tina let him bring it home. He carried it everywhere, “even slept with it, like a teddy bear.”

But his parents are reluctant, trying to force other preferences on their child.

Tina had no easy explanation for where Brandon’s behavior came from. Gender roles are not very fluid in their no-stoplight town, where Confederate flags line the main street. Boys ride dirt bikes through the woods starting at age 5; local county fairs feature muscle cars for boys and beauty pageants for girls of all ages. In the Army, Tina operated heavy machinery, but she is no tomboy. When she was younger, she wore long flowing dresses to match her long, wavy blond hair; now she wears it in a cute, Renée Zellweger–style bob. Her husband, Bill (Brandon’s stepfather), lays wood floors and builds houses for a living. At a recent meeting with Brandon’s school principal about how to handle the boy, Bill aptly summed up the town philosophy: “The way I was brought up, a boy’s a boy and a girl’s a girl.”

Parents refuse their child to play with toys he’s interested in, because they are “for girls”. Parents then get very confused when child tells them he’d rather be a girl. How about we stop trying to make children “match” their genitals with respect to clothing, toys and behaviors?

14 thoughts on ““The catalog of her interests, behaviors and clothing choices”: On gender stereotypes in stories of transgender children.

  1. “Apparently male children cannot have flowing hair, a sense of style and a love of gossip.” Um actually this is like every male metalhead ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This blog is amazing, thank you so much for doing this.

      Have you folks come across this thread? http://www.reddit.com/r/asktransgender/comments/2rp152/why_does_it_seem_there_are_more_trans_women_than/

      Clash between trans men and trans women. The trans men complaining about getting overlooked in the community, not being listened to, their experiences trivialised. The trans women dismissing this, saying that trans men have it easy, and that butch women rarely suffer any harassment or abuse.

      At one point a tw says that butch women mainly get abuse from feminine women because “the femme women know that they can be as viscous and cutting as they want but they won’t get hit because the more masculine person will always get into more trouble in a fight”. So… masculine people never hit feminine people? And masculine people get “into trouble” while feminine people get off scot free? Now which other subreddit do we hear that sort of thing on… hmmmm…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Holy DOGSHIT. I have never been so happy to have conservative parents in my LIFE! If my mom had enforced this trans nonsense when she saw me screaming the Jem theme song with my big sister I would be a very upset adult right now.

    Liked by 2 people

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