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

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. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I… a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, (i)n 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

Maglaty goes on to explain the cultural and commercial significance of pink:

John Money, a sexual identity researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, argued that gender was primarily learned through social and environmental cues. “This was one of the drivers back in the ’70s of the argument that it’s ‘nurture not nature,’ ” Paoletti says.

Gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985. Paoletti remembers that year distinctly because it was between the births of her children, a girl in ’82 and a boy in ’86. “All of a sudden it wasn’t just a blue overall; it was a blue overall with a teddy bear holding a football,” she says. Disposable diapers were manufactured in pink and blue.

Prenatal testing was a big reason for the change. Expectant parents learned the sex of their unborn baby and then went shopping for “girl” or “boy” merchandise. (“The more you individualize clothing, the more you can sell,” Paoletti says.) The pink fad spread from sleepers and crib sheets to big-ticket items such as strollers, car seats and riding toys. Affluent parents could conceivably decorate for baby No. 1, a girl, and start all over when the next child was a boy.

Thus, the association of pink with girls is itself cultural; devoid of culture, pink has no meaning with respect to the preferences of children, or even adults, of either sex. Notably in the stories for young transgender females, many include a rejection of pink, dresses and princesses, the diametric opposite of the stories from transgender males. The most striking similarity in the stories from young transgender females is sexual orientation; in all five of these stories, the subject had previously identified themselves as being a gay woman, a lesbian. This is a recurring topic within feminist politics, it is perceived that the transitioning of young girls boys is, in the words of these feminists, a form of gay eugenics, this is taken from ‘How do you know if you’re “transphobic”, and what is to be done about it?‘ by R Gerlich:

There are many lesbians today who say that if gender identity politics were as prevalent when they were young as they are now, that instead of growing up to recognise and embrace their gender non-comformity and same-sex attraction, they would have thought they were boys… (i)ndeed, there are many critics of transactivism who say that this new trend for medicating young people on the basis of gender identity is a form of gay eugenics… Transactivist Scout Barbour-Evans said, himself, on RadioLive, that gender is a “social construct”, and he was right about that. And when young people are medicated, to the point of sterilisation, just to better align with and conform to social constructs – that is eugenics. And because gender conformity has so much to do with compulsory heterosexuality – it’s a form of gay eugenics.

Is it such a leap to suggest that for girls who are masculine (or boys who are feminine), such personality traits are being interpreted as an indicator that the child’s “gender identity” is not correspondent with the child’s sex? Is this not tantamount to suggesting that personality determines sex?

Just as cultural ideas of gender are not stable over time, neither does the gender non-conforming behaviour of children appear to be stable over time either. In a review of eleven follow-up studies from 1972 to 2013, James Cantor concluded as follows in ‘Do trans- kids stay trans- when they grow up?‘:

…all the studies have come to a remarkably similar conclusion: Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks. The exact number varies by study, but roughly 60–90% of trans- kids turn out no longer to be trans by adulthood.

If we can agree that masculinity in females is socially coded as being lesbian and femininity in males is socially coded as gay (as Gerlich observes) there is a real danger that gender non-confirming behaviour in children is being interpreted not as this being a child who will grow up to be homosexual, rather our feminine boys and masculine girls are being perceived to be and treated as being “transgender”. Should children continue to transition at the increasing rates we have been seeing, there is a danger this will annihilate our lesbian and gay population.

References to the research material referenced follow:

[1] “Call me Katie: U.S. boy, 8, to live as a girl after being diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1184245/Call-Katie-U-S-boy-8-live-girl-diagnosed-gender-identity-disorder.html

[2] ‘Boy, 12, turns up for school as a girl after sex swap during the summer holidays’ 21 September 2009 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1214314/Boy-12-turns-girl-summer-holidays.html#ixzz4YOLdKdlZ

[3] ‘The schoolgirl who was born a boy: Parents defy local bullies to support child’s transition after she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder at seven years old’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2611975/Little-girl-9-born-boy-determined-live-normal-life-despite-backlash-hate-campaigns-local-community.html#ixzz4YOMRZtKc

[4] ‘”He’s asking what parts of a boy I have”: Transgender teenage girl, 12, faces new problems as she starts dating’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2264745/Hes-asking-parts-boy-I-Transgender-teenage-girl-12-faces-new-problems-starts-dating.html#ixzz4YOO1SRq3

[5] ‘’We’re just like everyone else’: Transgender girl, 11, writes speech in response to Obama’s historic inaugural address because she wishes he’d spoken about her community too’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2267777/Sadie-Croft-Transgender-girl-11-writes-speech-response-Obamas-inaugural-address.html#ixzz4YOPMLMHz

[6] ‘This is Ryan’s first day as a girl, and everyone better be nice’: How transgender kids are navigating school challenges with increased support’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2332346/This-Ryans-day-girl-better-nice-How-transgender-kids-navigating-school-challenges-increased-support.html#ixzz4YOQRQNpw

[7] ‘”When kids said I was a boy it made me sad”: Transgender eight-year-old reveals why she’s much happier living as a GIRL’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2062296/When-kids-said-I-boy-sad-Transgender-child-says-shes-happier-living-girl-born-male.html#ixzz4YOS7Eout

[8] ‘Transgender children: “I first realised Jackie was different when she was 18 months old”‘ https://www.daynurseries.co.uk/news/article.cfm/id/1571947/Transgender-children-How-nurseries-can-support-those-with-gender-identity-issues accessed 13 February 2017

[9] “’When I was a girl’: Transgender men share pictures of themselves before transition and reveal what it’s REALLY like to change sex” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3270572/Transgender-men-share-pictures-transition-reveal-s-REALLY-like-change-sex.html accessed 1 March 2017

[10] “Transgender student takes a selfie EVERY DAY for three years to document his transition from a girl to a man” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3264587/Transgender-teenager-takes-selfie-DAY-three-years-document-transition.html accessed 1 March 2017

[11] “R. Kelly’s 14-year-old Jaya comes out as transgender and reveals the singer hasn’t spoken to him since he announced he’s a boy” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2655163/R-Kellys-14-year-old-Jaya-comes-transgender-reveals-singer-spoken-announced-hes-boy.html accessed 1 March 2017

[12] “Transgender man who says his body feels ‘completely wrong’ starts crowdfunding to raise £5,000 to remove 34DD breasts” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3301747/Transgender-man-says-body-feels-completely-wrong-starts-crowdfunding-raise-5K-double-mastectomy.html accessed 1 March 2017

9 Responses to “Common Threads And Narratives of Transgender Children And What This Means For Our Lesbian And Gay Populations”

  • Dan

    That’s a dark take transitioning as eugenics on homosexuals. Seriously sends chills down my spine.

    Simultaneously I wonder about the shift in patient composition, and wonder what did all those women do before this nifty eugenics program was available to them?

    Final takeaway was the low percentage that still trans identify as an adult. They would maybe have accepted themselves as homosexual possibly?

    Thank you Miranda, this was exactly the information that I needed.

  • A

    Hi Miranda, really interesting. I wonder if you have looked at differences between narratives from different sources? I suspect these stories get into the Daily Mail just because they fit this template, and are possibly not very representative. It would be difficult to get a more representative sample probably, but worth considering the possible source of bias I think. A

    • miranda

      Thanks. I used this source as they cover these stories regularly and are a widely read publication. Ultimately I’m trying to identify cultural vectors.

  • sally

    Thanks for another interesting addition to the gender debate. Have you ever done the S.A.G.E. Test? http://www.hemingways.org/GIDinfo/sage/test.htm
    Just wondering what you think of it? This is my result in brief (as a 58 yr old individual)
    I’m pretty sure that with my result, if I were growing up in today’s world I could be vulnerable to pressure to believe I was not “cisgender”. Back in the day, I lived with moderate pressure from close family to wear makeup. heels, dresses and be “ladylike”, but over time decided that I’m just me, I’ll wear and do what I like.

  • sally

    Sorry Miranda, Don’t want to mess up the Comments thread – I think it doesn’t like pasted stuff! In brief – my result states that I’m overall androgynous with androgynous brain processes. Born female with female appearance and socialisation. It states I have mild conflicts about my gender identity, and that my psychological state has probably prevailed since I was quite young. I am heterosexual by the way, which seems relevant after reading this.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Pornography And Autogynephilia In The Narratives Of Adult Transgender Males | Miranda Yardley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.