Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Five-year old boy discovers he's a girl, unfairly maligned by parents, psychiatry, tabloids

I can remember that very moment I stopped trusting the Metro, when their review of The Matrix Reloaded kept insisting that the protagonist of one of the biggest film franchise of the 2000s was named "Nero".

Evidently things have not improved.

I read this story in the print addition, because it was lying on a seat on the bus and it was on the front page, and the whole thing left me near apoplectic with rage. The gist of the story is this: a five year old child, born biologically male, has adopted a female gender identity. On it's own, not exactly anything to stop the presses, certainly not front page material. Little things, that reflect an orthodox, inflexible gender binary that tries to fit all children into a pattern, often to the detriment of the child. Why is Dora the Explorer assumed to be "a television programme" aimed at young girls, when Thomas the Tank engine is, by extrapolation, dripping with testosterone? Why do they insist that there is something wrong with a child choosing an identity of than that society deems it should have. They refer to the child as "he", despite their apparent identification with femininity (which is understandable: I'm avoiding gendered pronouns myself because I'm not too sure what the correct etiquette would be). Why is the child said to be "trapped" in the "wrong" gender, instead of "liberated" from the constraints of biology? If they are trapped by anything, it's the frankly unhelpful attitude of their parents, who insist on treating the kid as abnormal because they don't meet their expectations. something was wrong because their five-year old boy announced that he wanted to be a girl, had him diagnosed (probably for life) with a mental disorder and sold their story to a second-rate sensationalist tabloid.

I think the thing that bothers me most is the fact that "Gender Identity Disorder" is a recognised condition. Not just a condition, but an "illness". I really am shocked to learn that transgenderism can still be considered a mental illness in the year 2012. Leaving aside the wider debate about the efficacy and morality of using labels for psychological conditions, I fail to see how identifying with a gender distinct from one's biological sex is a disorder. True, the child has body issues, having apparently attempted to amputate his penis (or "cut his willy off", as the Metro so helpfully narrates), but it seems to me that this neuroticism stems from an outside supposition that one's identity must be binary. Male/female. Yes/no. Black/White. Maybe if the parents they sat down and talked to the kid and made them feel comfortable in their chosen identity instead of diagnosing them with a "disorder" they wouldn't feel the need to mutilate their genitals...

There are little flashes of sanity towards the end of the story: The kid's school have approached the subject with more maturity and sensitivity than the Metro has by having gender-neutral toilets- which, incidentally, or probably a good idea for society at large to adopt. The other children are apparently unfazed- it's almost as if gender binaries are an artificial construct imposed unnaturally upon the young! Mermaids point out that identity issues tend to get sorted out at puberty (which is really what puberty is for) and Anne Atkins points out that slapping someone with a meaningless label is probably not conducive to beneficial long-term development.

I wonder how this story would have been different if it centred around a girl who had decided they were a boy, and glued a penis between their legs? Would it be the same transphobic bullshit? Or would it lionise the brave young amazon who has broken the shackles of her wretched femininity and joined us on the mighty plateau of manhood? Because everyone knows that being a man is the aspiration of every woman, but being a woman is the greatest curse one can inflict upon a man!

Every time a boy is forced to be boy, a girl is forced to be a girl. If you insist on strength in men, you encourage weakness in women. Every time you try to force an identity onto one child, you place every child in bondage to expectation.

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