June 20, 2015

"Transgender kids?" I don't think so.

My mother figured out early on, that she wasn’t like the other girls. While her peers played with dolls, she searched the creek for frogs. While the others hosted tea parties, she climbed trees. (Remarkable, seeing as she was born without a right hand.) She never wore a dress, or put up her hair, except under compulsion for Sunday morning Mass.

Clinical diagnosis, anyone?

For the past couple of years, I’ve been reading news stories about children who felt uncomfortable in their own skin. They don’t fulfill the roles, or display the behaviors, that “society” expects of them. And their enlightened, sensitive parents do…what?  They respect the child’s desire to self-identify as the other gender.

I refuse to believe that any eight year-old can know, intuitively, that she was born in the wrong body. That he should use the other bathroom. That she should lead a secret life under a different name. Insecurities? Yes. Confusion? Of course. Childhood is a strange time of discovery and uncertainty, even before the accelerated changes of puberty.

But when a parent affirms those muddled thoughts and supports the “other” sexual identity, I cannot accept that it’s truly in defense of the child’s wishes or true nature. Nay, this can only be a political calculation where Mom and Dad impose their own values on a malleable spirit with no other frame of reference.

I recall the birth of my son, 16 years ago. He relied on his mother and myself for absolutely everything: food, drink, clothing, shelter, dry diaper, every minute of every day. Today he’s practically maintenance-free, but that doesn’t mean that our job is any easier. With each passing year he faces new challenges: peer pressure, calculus, dating, driving, religion. And his questions only get harder and more complicated as he gets older.

We’re the grownups, and it’s our job to give him answers. To correct his faulty thinking and point him in the right direction. To rebuke his poor choices and bad behavior. Even when he doesn’t like it, even if it makes him cry. To be a soft place to land, when life beats him up. Our objective is not to make him happy, but to make him righteous and responsible. This is love. This is parenting.

As for my tomboy mother? She didn’t gather bugs in jars because she wanted to be a boy. She did it because she wanted to be around them. And it worked: She met the young man who would become her husband, at age 15.

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