Miranda Yardley: Common Threads And Narratives of Transgender Children And What This Means For Our Lesbian And Gay Populations

Miranda Yardley writes:

This is some original research I did for a larger project which for reasons of space I shall be referring to from that project. It’s good I think to have this out here in full as it would have been quite a long section that makes some points I believe are important.

In the UK, the national centre for the assessment and treatment of gender dysphoric children and young adults is the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, based in Leeds and London. Taken from the document ‘Gender Identity Development Service Statistics‘ we can see that in 2009/10, the number of referrals of natal males was 56 with 40 referrals of females, with a single referral of a child “of transsexual parent” with no apparent attempt to identify sex, total 97, split 58.3% male and 41.7% female. The latest reported figures for 2015/16 which show a total of 1,419 referrals split between 490 male and 929 female and a shift in composition to 65.5% female and 34.5% male. This represents a huge increase in the numbers of children and young adults seeking help for gender non-conformity and cross-sex identification, as well as a significant change in the composition of children and young adults seeking help; historically, the reported incidences of males seeking such help has far outstripped the numbers of females, yet this appears to no longer be the case. Overall, there has been a fifteen-fold increase in referrals of children and young people over a six year period, and a 23-fold increase in girls against an 8.75-fold increase in boys.

I have used public sources to examine the commonalities between the lives and experiences of children who claim a “transgender” identity. Historically, stories that made the media consisted mainly of adult males who announced to the world their new identity, however recently we are seeing more evidence of these young children and adolescents as well as females “transitioning” to male.

The following quotes are extracted from a selection of stories on the Daily Mail (British newspaper) website looking at young transgender males (sources are linked at the end of this piece):

They had presumed their prancing, pink-loving son who squirreled away cousins’ girl toys was gay… He wore sweatpants around his head to mimic ponytails and dressed as a princess for Halloween. And he hated boy things – especially his body.[1]

Sources said the youngster had confided in friends that he wanted to be a girl and would put on a bikini to go swimming and use a Barbie towel. He rode to primary school on a pink scooter and wore pink ribbons in his hair.[2]

While Blaine preferred playing with trucks and cars, Keat liked dolls. At school he liked playing dress up with the princess dresses… Keat was so happy in her skin but I dreaded that first day back at school where she would be going back to class with pigtails and a pink backpack.[3]

She grew her hair out, pierced her ears, and wore dresses everywhere – even to kindergarten… growing up Jazz’s bedroom was filled with girly things – pink bed linen, a closet filled with dresses and an ample collection of stuffed animals.[4]

When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, “Hi, I’m Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I’m vegan, and I’m transgender. Who are you?”‘ Sage said.[5]

“I’m wishing for the one I love to find me!” the preschooler would enthusiastically sing into the toilet, copying Snow White, who sings into the echoing wishing well in the animated Disney movie. Six months after her second birthday, her parents say Ryan was drawn to all things pink and sparkly. Ryan, the boy, wore pajama pants on his head, pretending it was long hair, or acted out girl roles from movies.[6]

Danann Tyler, who was born male but now dresses as a little girl and has long hair,… he never had any interest in the toys his elder brother Liam had loved. His sippy cup had to be pink. When a family friend playing dress up put him in a princess gown, he refused to take it off.[7]

The commonality of these narratives is striking, within these seven stories mention is made of the following: a preference for pink (7/7), hair (6/7), princesses and dresses (5/7), ‘toys for girls’ (5/7).

This does not appear to be unique, and is filtering through to childcare organisations.

Interviewed in 2015, the CEO of the transgender children’s charity Mermaids Gender said:

She’d go into my wardrobe, put on dresses and she even put my bra on at 18 months. At nursery Jackie never played with the boys, always took a female role in the games played and would treat the soft toys like babies or pretend to have tea with them. She couldn’t wait to get into the dressing up box. She’d come out as Snow White with a jumper on her head and the arms trailing down to make it look like she had long hair.[8]

This segment published on the NHS Choices website ‘My Trans Daughter’ shows that the cultural acceptance of this narrative is more widespread than newspapers and parenting sites:

When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes. At that age, it doesn’t really matter. You just think they’re trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.

But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl. I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn’t. It got stronger. One day when Nicki was six, we were in the car, and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his ‘willy’ and give him a ‘fanny’. His older cousin had told him about these things.

The Tavistock Clinic wouldn’t give her hormone blockers. [The Tavistock Clinic follows British guidelines, which suggest not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. However, these guidelines are under review.] In the end, we went to a doctor in the US. I found him through the WPATH network (The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It’s put her male puberty on hold, and given her time to think.

Looking at equivalent stories of transgender females for commonality produces results that have a different emphasis. It is interesting that the stories about transgender females are generally fewer and the age of the subject is usually old enough for them to be able to indicate their sexual orientation:

…Alfie, from Harpenden, Hertfordshire, who was born Ana and changed his name two years ago after feeling like he was trapped in a girl’s body from the age of seven… described his ‘depression’ when he started puberty… even as a young girl, he rejected all things female, Alfie said: ‘I was into sports and skateboards, but never into girls’ toys, dolls, princess or anything pink.’ (M)y mum would say it’s just a phase and you’ll like makeup and boys once you get to high school… (i)n his mid teens, Ana started dating boys in an attempt to be normal, but found he was more attracted to girls and came out to his parents as lesbian. [9]

‘I remember thinking I was just like any other boy… I remember getting a haircut when I was around eight and afterwards turning to my mum and asking if I looked like a boy now. I felt like one and wanted to make sure I looked like one too.’ As Jamie grew up, he was always attracted to women, meeting his current girlfriend Shaaba, now 21 at a postgraduate at the same university, at college when they were 16.[10]

‘I believe I am a boy and want surgery’… (f)rom a very young age he knew he did not want to be a girl, wear dresses, grow his hair long or have breasts or female sexual organs… ‘I would look up like boy changes to girl, and girl changes to boy, and im like wow, theres people who feel EXACTLY the way i feel and then i knew like thats what transgender is,’ he wrote. He added that he was about six when he knew he was attracted to girls – but he has no plans to date any just yet, adding: ‘I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.’[11]

Kasey, who has been in a relationship with a woman for five years… ‘I previously thought I was a lesbian, but in April I said out loud for the first time that I was transgender and it just felt right….’ Kasey came out to his parents as gay when he was 15, shortly after cutting off his long blonde hair.[12]

In all these cases, the striking commonality is the sexual orientation of the individual concerned, although other cultural preferences are evident, and every single one of the stories for boys indicates a childhood preference for pink. To understand the significance of this, and that it’s nature is foundational in culture, we should look at the history of colour in clothing. As explained by J Maglaty in “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?”:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid [….]

Article continues at Miranda Yardley: Common Threads And Narratives of Transgender Children And What This Means For Our Lesbian And Gay Populations — ‘Gender’ hides the problem