I recently came across a comment along the lines of “being transgender is the new fad.”
I can see the thought process that likely went into that. Knowledge of transgender individuals and the issues that currently go along with being transgender — job discrimination, bathroom access, civil rights, medical choices, safety — is all over the media right now. Athletes, actors and actresses, celebrities and children of celebrities, and transgender folks from all walks of life are speaking up about their gender identity and the impact society’s reaction to that has had on them. Medical professionals, religious whackadoodles with an axe to grind, politicians, school boards and talking heads, they all have an opinion to share. Debate rages over whether someone who is transgender should be able to pee in the bathroom of the gender they identify with or be forced into the one that matches their original birth certificate.
It adds up to a lot of noise.
From there, a person might assume that being transgender is the new cool, interesting thing for bored teens to try on. A way to get attention, make a splash.
You’d be wrong.
I’ve heard it all. That a boy became transgender because he lacked a strong father figure, or his mother really wanted a girl and pushed him into it, or that he’s really just gay. Even that he’s trying to steal women’s spotlight when it comes to fighting misogyny, that he’s trying to steal their power. That a girl became transgender because she was trying to get by in a man’s world, that she was trying to be the son her father never had, that she’s really just a lesbian. That a cisgender child of course knows their gender by preschool, but a transgender child can’t possibly know until they’re older. But if they’re a teen, they’re just following a trend to get attention. If they’re an adult, why didn’t they know sooner?
Look, I get it. When I had a small child giving me every indication that the doctors at the hospital were wrong when they told me she was a boy, some of these thoughts crossed my mind. I thought that maybe she was just fabulously gay. That she was a princess boy. That maybe she was a fluid, flexible kind of kid. Or that it was a phase. I wondered if the fact that I allowed her to pick her own clothes and colors and toys somehow confused her about who she was. That I hadn’t correctly “taught” her who she was.
That line of thought is missing a few key data points. We like to try to find reasons for why something happens, and when we don’t have enough information, we plug in faux logic and apply observations that maybe worked in another context (“my kid liked Monster High for a few months, then changed her mind; kids do that”) to the new puzzle. It might feel logical, but it isn’t.
Yes, transgender rights are in the spotlight right now. A lot of people are talking about what it means to be transgender, what gender identity is, how our society has been treating people who happen to be transgender and how our society should be treating transgender individuals. Strides are being made toward equal rights and recognition of the gender spectrum, as opposed to a binary gender system, and important conversations are being held about all aspects of life when you’re transgender, gender fluid, intersex, agender, asexual, and so on. We’ve broken through the initial gatepost– what it means to be gay or lesbian — and have moved to the next level of progression in understanding gender and sexuality.
And this means that teens and adults who didn’t feel safe coming out as transgender a few years ago (or decades ago) are starting to do so now. And young children are growing up in a world where they know that what they’re feeling has a name and some of them are feeling safe enough to share their feelings with their families. I don’t think the number of transgender individuals in our world has changed any. I think our knowledge of the numbers has changed.
We are at a critical point. We have a chance to step forward, to become a more accepting, loving, supportive, unified society. But change is scary, difference is scary, religious books are open to interpretation, especially by megalomaniacs who profit off the fear and division they can sow in others, and politicians like to sound like they know what they’re talking about. It’s a messy, loud, sometimes chaotic sort of progress, and one that puts a vulnerable community in the crosshairs. We’re seeing some great strides being made. We’re also seeing what is likely to prove to be a jump in violence against the transgender community, perpetrated by bigots and fueled by ignorance and hatred.
This isn’t something a person is going to jump into for fun or attention. If someone in your life comes to you and expresses that they are transgender, believe them. Sure, they might be that very rare person who’s willing to go through the vulnerability and turmoil of changing their known gender identity for a lark. But realistically? The chances are darn low. If that turns out to be the case, they’ll figure out pretty quickly that changing every aspect of your life is a LOT of work. And they’ll still know that you love and support them. Most likely, overwhelmingly so, is that your loved one will feel the freedom of finally being recognized as their true self by a person they want to keep in their life. They will know your love and support.
And maybe you will come to realize a few truths as well. I have repeatedly come to new truths on this journey. The first was that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. The next was that my capacity to love my child outweighs any consideration I had for other people’s opinions. I know beyond a doubt that being a girl, this is my child’s truth. Not a fad or a phase. And my newest truth is hope. Because I see so much progress around me toward a better, more knowledgeable and understanding world.