About a Girl: Coy Mathis' Fight to Change Gender
October 28, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

About a Girl: Coy Mathis' Fight to Change Gender (single link rolling stone. previously: 1, 2)
One night in January 2010, Kathryn was tucking him in for bed under his pink quilt, and Coy, then three, seemed upset. "What's wrong?" she asked. Coy, his head resting against his kitty-cat-print pillow, hugged his pink stuffed pony with the glittery mane that he'd gotten for Christmas and said nothing, his mouth bent in a tight frown. "Tell me," Kathryn urged. Coy's chin began to quiver.

"When am I going to get my girl parts?" he asked softly.

"What do you mean?"

"When are we going to go to the doctor to have me fixed?" Coy asked, tears now spilling down his cheeks. "To get my girl parts?"
posted by yeoz (153 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously, Previously
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:20 AM on October 28, 2013


from the article:

A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that 85 percent of children who expressed some form of gender nonconformity actually grew up to not be LGB or T, but straight.

i see this statistic thrown around a lot but i have not seen the original study nor have i ever ONCE seen someone explain exactly what the standards are for "some form of gender nonconformity." i mean for crying out loud a little girl wanting to play with GI Joes instead of Barbies, or a little boy doing the opposite is considered gender nonconformity by everyday society and if that's the kind of standard used in that study then basically it's a shit study that proves nothing. i'm aware that the answer to how they define gender nonconformity may only be a google search away from me but it's less about my personal knowledge of it than the fact that i have literally never at all seen anyone else provide any context for the statistic in all of the many times i have seen it tossed out as evidence of ... some vague anti-trans position

(also if this is the study then it really looks to me like it is, in fact, little girl wants to play with GI Joe levels of gender nonconformity being studied)
posted by titus n. owl at 8:21 AM on October 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


augh, hit post too soon -

although if that is the study referenced i retract my accusations that it's a shit study - it's just not actually meant to study whether children who are gender non-conforming grow up to be trans, and any study that was about that would need to have a higher bar for "gender non-conforming behavior." you know, crying because they're the wrong gender is an extremely different proposition than likes the color pink. i basically feel that bringing up this statistic in regards to trans* stuff amounts to a derail or an act of bad faith or something
posted by titus n. owl at 8:23 AM on October 28, 2013 [27 favorites]


Yeah, I used to worry about kids being pushed into transitioning by parents and doctors who found transgender easier to understand than gender nonconformity or a gender spectrum, but then it dawned on me that A. they're not my kids to worry about, and B. I have no way of knowing if they're a statistically significant number because that kind of data would be ridiculously hard to get.

At any rate, Coy is clearly not being pushed by anyone.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:37 AM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Leading Focus' charge to push people back into the closet is its "gender-issues analyst" Jeff Johnston, himself a proud "ex-gay" – now a married father of three boys – who blames what he calls the "sexual brokenness" of LGBT people on a combination of poor parenting, molestation and original sin.

Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on October 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


I was all on board with the article until I hit about page four when the author started being gross about trans men and women who don't pass at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. Jesus, one of my friends from college was the keynote speaker at that exact conference. Tell a short FTM guy with a beard or a trans femme that they're overcompensating to their face, why don't you.

Trans justice isn't about creating transpeople who pass better in society as it exists now, and it makes me mad that the reporter would slant Coy's story that way. (AFAIK Coy's family doesn't buy it either.)
posted by Tesseractive at 8:43 AM on October 28, 2013 [36 favorites]


kids being pushed into transitioning by parents and doctors
I wish! Overwhelmingly, it is the opposite thing: family and doctors refusing to do anything positive for trans kids at all because what if you change your mind~ you're too young~ it's probably a phase~ protecting confused cisgender people from accidentally falling into the awful terrible transgender hole is more important than providing consistent and quality healthcare for gender nonconforming people who need it~
posted by byanyothername at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


OH my god, Tesseractive. It's been almost 10 years since I was last at THC, and things might have changed a lot (I hear the guys basically took over the entire event for a few years there), but certainly in the first couple years there was this air of almost militant exuberance about the place. This was especially apparent among some of the women, who felt liberated from having to conform to some feminine ideal just to justify their existence. Someone saying something like that about "overcompensating" would have been gently but very quickly escorted out. For their own protection.
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trans justice isn't about creating transpeople who pass better in society as it exists now, and it makes me mad that the reporter would slant Coy's story that way.

I totally agree with you, and the language there is troubling. However, I understand the idea the author wants to express. The earlier on that you can help a trans child, the less trouble they will have being stealth if that's what they want. I don't think there's anything wrong with expressing that idea, but the author doesn't do it that way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


he earlier on that you can help a trans child, the less trouble they will have being stealth if that's what they want. I don't think there's anything wrong with expressing that idea, but the author doesn't do it that way.

That shouldn't be the motivation for giving kids access to treatment. If you can give a kid access to hormone blockers (or whatever) and so on, they will be saved some anguish and that's motivation enough.
posted by hoyland at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, hoyland, I agree with that, too.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2013


Ugh... there's a lot in my last comment that I don't really want to imply, but the point is that passing shouldn't enter into the equation.
posted by hoyland at 9:08 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


they're not my kids to worry about

This is a problematic framing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The understanding of gender variance in childhood, as well as practice recommendations for how it should be addressed, is contentious and ever evolving. Supporting gender variant kids can look lots of different ways. Stories about gender nonconforming kids whose parents take a wait-and-see attitude aren't dramatic or exciting enough to warrant articles in the Rolling Stone, but they are extraordinarily common.

Management of the transgender adolescent. Olson J, Forbes C, Belzer M.
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011 Feb; 165(2):171-6.

"Most children aged 5 to 12 years diagnosed as having GID do not persist in having GID as adolescents; rather, most become homosexual or bisexual adolescents and adults."

Gender Variance: An Ongoing Challenge to Medico-Psychiatric Nosology by Rosario, Vernon A. (2011) Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 15: 1, 1 — 7
"Green’s prospective study of gender-variant boys (1987) followed into adolescence and young adulthood found that 75% of those who could be reassessed had developed a gay or bisexual orientation, and only one was primarily transsexual. Subsequent studies of girls and boys have continued to find that the majority of gender-variant children grow up to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation rather than identify as transsexual (Drummond et al., 2008; Wallien & Cohen-Kettenis, 2008)."

Report: Critique and Alternative Proposal to the “Gender Incongruence of Childhood” Category in ICD-11
GATE Civil Society Expert Working Group (www.transactivists.org)
Buenos Aires, April 4-6, 2013

"First, there is no clear consensus among researchers and health care providers with regard to the need for or global applicability of such a diagnosis.11

Second, gender variance in childhood does not require any medical interventions such as hormone therapy or surgical procedures. Rather, children need information and support in exploring their gender identity and expression and dealing with sociocultural environments that are frequently hostile to gender variance.

Third, attaching a medical diagnosis to gender diversity in childhood contradicts WHO’s commitment to respecting rather than pathologizing sexual diversity. Specifically, research indicates it is impossible to reliably distinguish between a gender-variant child who will grow up to become trans and a gender-variant child who will grow up to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but not trans.12 As such, by conflating gender variance and sexual orientation, the proposed GIC category amounts to a re-pathologization of homosexuality."
posted by Wordwoman at 9:34 AM on October 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Like titus n. owl said above, and like has been discussed in every single thread about trans children, children diagnosable/diagnosed with GIDC and children for whom medical intervention at puberty is considered (and for some subset of whom it will be deemed appropriate) are not the same group.
posted by hoyland at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also:
Report of the APA Task Force on Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder
Approved by the Joint Reference Committee, July 2011
Approved by the Board of Trustees, September 2011

"An additional obstacle to consensus regarding treatment is the lack of
randomized controlled treatment outcome studies of children with GID or with any presentation of GV (2). In the absence of such studies, the highest level of evidence available for treatment recommendations for these children can best be characterized as expert opinion. Opinions vary widely among experts, and are influenced by theoretical orientation, as well as assumptions and beliefs (including religious) regarding the origins, meanings and perceived fixity or malleability of gender identity. Primary caregivers may, therefore, seek out providers for their children who mirror their own world views, believing that goals consistent with their views are in the best interest of their children.

The outcome of childhood GID without treatment is that only a minority will identify as transsexual or transgender in adulthood (a phenomenon termed persistence), while the majority will become comfortable with their natal gender over time (a phenomenon termed desistence) (3-6). GID that persists into adolescence is more likely to persist into adulthood (2). Compared to the general population, the rate of homosexual orientation is increased in adulthood whether or not GID was treated (2, 4). It is currently not possible to differentiate between preadolescent children in whom GID will persist and those in whom it will not. To date, no long-term follow-up data have demonstrated that any modality of treatment has a statistically significant effect on later gender identity."
posted by Wordwoman at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that 85 percent of children who expressed some form of gender nonconformity actually grew up to not be LGB or T, but straight.

Aside from the question of what constitutes noncomformity, and the problematic use of "straight" excluding trans people, did they keep following up with the same people and see if things changed later?

Because I had what I would call very minor gender noncomformity when I was a kid. I "grew out of it." And then it came back, very gradually. In my own journal at around age 17, I was basically describing myself as "two-spirited" without knowing that term existed or that anyone else on the planet ever felt like they didn't have exactly one gender. A few times since I questioned but the questioning didn't go far. I was 39 before I really started researching and working it out.

If I'd been raised in more of an environment where the diversity of gender was understood, maybe I'd have figured things out a bit sooner. Yet I don't blame my parents for forcing me to be masculine, because that honestly didn't happen. I wonder if I'd have been happier if I'd been a bit more "girly" throughout my life, or if that would have made it a living hell thanks to various bigotries.
posted by Foosnark at 9:40 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


FWIW, the correct term now is gender dysphoria and not GID.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:41 AM on October 28, 2013


I don't trust that featured quote-- "when is the doctor going to alter my genitals to make me right?" is not standard three-year-old logic.

One, gender identity in young, non-sexual children is about hair and clothes and choices in movies; not what's in your underpants. Two, a three year old isn't generally going to assume that an issue with their body is something that needs a doctor's correction-- unless there was a lot of discussion of respective sex organs and gender-reassignment in the house. Then I suppose it's reasonable.

I hope the quote's fabricated, because it sounds like the typical "wise soul with simplistic language" type of stuff that people use to put words in kids' mouths. Otherwise, it's creepy that the kid has so much medical knowledge before she can tie shoes.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:45 AM on October 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


when i was really little i told my mom i wanted to be a boy and i was told multiple times in multiple ways by her and by society that this was not possible and so i went on to grow up thinking i was a girl and would have ended up showing up as a statistic of "was gender variant as child then changed mind and was happy with gender" if you had interviewed me at any point after my childhood "delusions" were shattered and before i turned 28. just sayin'
posted by titus n. owl at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


One, gender identity in young, non-sexual children is about hair and clothes and choices in movies; not what's in your underpants.

This is super far away from the truth. Plenty of trans girls have tried to cut off their own penises before elementary school age.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


One, gender identity in young, non-sexual children is about hair and clothes and choices in movies; not what's in your underpants.

without meaning to refute your underlying point i must argue with this, because i definitely remember being a kid and not knowing what sex was but still having seen, in encyclopedias and such, diagrams of what the difference is between boys and girls, and wondering when it would be possible for me to turn mine inside out so i could be a real boy
posted by titus n. owl at 9:47 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]



-they're not my kids to worry about

--This is a problematic framing.


Yeah, that was poorly put. I don't mean that I don't care about the kids; I mean that I'm not in a position to second-guess their parents and doctors.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:48 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a heartbreaking article. I feel fortunate that my kids are growing up in Vancouver, where their gender non-confirming friend is able to present as a boy, while adhering to feminine pronouns, since she hasn't worked out her identity. I feel glad for her that our district allows her to choose her sports teams and washrooms. Even though she lives in a very traditional, mostly ethnic Chinese, affluent area of Vancouver, she seems to have lots of friends and acceptance. Yet I know she still has many struggles - now and in the future. It breaks my heart that kids in other places are treated the way Coy has been. I'm glad Coy has parents who are looking out for him.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Titus: I was the exact opposite, LOL.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:53 AM on October 28, 2013


One, gender identity in young, non-sexual children is about hair and clothes and choices in movies; not what's in your underpants.

Well, it can be. But generally when a three year old asks "when am I going to get my [other gender] parts?" it's not taken as a literal request for surgery. I don't remember exactly how this family story goes down, but I either asked my mom when I was getting a penis so I could stand up to pee like my dad, or one of my younger brothers asked when their penis was going to go away (reasoning that since my mom and I don't have penises and are older, this must be conditional on age and not sex). Either way, there was LOTS of talk in my family about what it meant to have a penis vs. a vagina and how it all worked. Nobody ever assumed that anyone was trans. None of us grew up to be trans. It strikes me as kind of problematic for a parent to pathologize a kid asking perfectly normal questions about anatomy into "my kid needs gender reassignment surgery".

That said, I don't think there actually are parents out there pushing such young kids into that. My guess is that the main culprit in stories like this is journalistic hyperbole and simplifying the process of how little boys who like pink unicorns sometimes grow up to be women, and how decisions like that work within families. "Three Year Old Asks For Gender Reassignment Surgery" gets more clicks than "Three Year Old Acts Like Normal Three Year Old".
posted by Sara C. at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's increasingly difficult for me to google this, because the results are skewing more toward gender nonconforming children and transgender children (which is good! I think; greater awareness), but it's pretty agreed upon in child psychology that one's internal concept of gender crystalizes somewhere between ages three and five. Kids absolutely do understand what gender they are, and a tremendous part of that is about what "parts" they have. It's something kids internalize quickly and talk about/reinforce amongst themselves. And, because the consensus is usually a teleological "I have [X/Y PARTS] and I'm a [GIRL/BOY] because I have [X/Y PARTS]," trans children will often express distress over not having a consistency between [GENDER] and [PARTS].

Me, I just fought about it. Girls can too have [WRONGPARTS]!
posted by byanyothername at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not getting what the research links posted in the thread are getting at.

My thoughts are "Not enough data to draw a conclusion" yet there seems to be a passive hint being dropped that "we are doing it wrong".
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't trust that featured quote-- "when is the doctor going to alter my genitals to make me right?" is not standard three-year-old logic.

Sure it is. Broken arm, appendectomy, antibiotics--there's a thing wrong, and you go to the doctor and the doctor alters your body or gives you medicine to make it right. I don't think it's an especially big leap to go from "doctors fix things with bodies" to "I think this thing is wrong with my body; the doctor can fix it for me". When you're little and the body you have doesn't line up with the body you want, it seems pretty normal to me to expect that things can be done to make it right.
posted by MeghanC at 10:05 AM on October 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sure it is. Broken arm, appendectomy, antibiotics--there's a thing wrong, and you go to the doctor and the doctor alters your body or gives you medicine to make it right.

Most children are (thankfully) removed from the surgical aspect of medicine. I don't have any evidence that the quote is fabricated and I shouldn't have said anything because questioning the narrative gets you admonished here-- I should have kept my suspicions to myself.

So I'm going to change it to "Wow! I'm glad my little kid isn't that urbane!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


You didn't get admonished. You made a comment and then someone else made another comment.
posted by sweetkid at 10:16 AM on October 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


You didn't get admonished. You made a comment and then someone else made another comment.

No, not yet. Everyone's been remarkably civil about it given the subject matter, and that's awesome. I wasn't complaining, just realizing that I may have greased the tracks. This is a touchy subject on this site.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:20 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley, you don't have to kid glove this subject, speak for yourself and defend your suspicions, it wasn't a bad comment and if your spidey senses tingle, this is a good place to examine it, so long as you check any biases and take a deep breath when the hackles get raised.

Seriously, if there exists manufactured statements in an article about trans children, that will do more harm to transgender people than you stating suspicion on metafilter ever will.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:31 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley: does the fact that Coy is a triplet, with the other two representing both of the major plumbing types, affect your sense of the plausibility here? (It seems to me that it makes awareness of the difference in question a lot more likely.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 10:37 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Count me as another very troubled by the statistic claiming, essentially recidivism, for young kids that identified as gender nonconforming. Not only is it lazy surveying to completely elide the possible other, completely logical, explanations, it's lazy reporting to not point that out, and it fits too well with the narrative of "oh good we don't have to worry about that any more", as if treatment methodology should be modified because of how few are affected. Taking a statistic that's only meaningful in a group context and trying to make it mean something for one child isn't effective, and in the case where the outcome is going to mean a refusal of treatment it's arguably unethical.
posted by odinsdream at 10:50 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was growing up, my sister was a tomboy. She had short hair. We told the neighbors that her name was a male name that sounded similar to her name. She liked playing with the boys better than playing with the girls.

During a parent-teacher conference when my sister was maybe in third grade, one of my sister's teachers told my mother that she was going to have sexual problems in the future if she didn't start hanging out with girls.

This is one of those instances in which I wonder how different our lives would be if we have been born 20 years later.

Side note: sister and her husband have been together for ~10 years and married for three. Deal with it, crappy third grade teacher.
posted by kat518 at 10:51 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


MC, the kid never said the word "surgery." Medicine and magic can be indistinguishable to a 3-year old. The quote is really not implausible.

odin, one of the sort of fundamental goals of medicine is "good outcome," so figuring out some set of guidelines that helps achieve those outcomes for trans and cis kids is legitimately difficult. From my lay understanding, delay of puberty seems like the best harm-reduction approach we have available, but it seems to have risks too, such as the bone density concerns from the article.
posted by kavasa at 10:56 AM on October 28, 2013


My guess is that the main culprit in stories like this is journalistic hyperbole and simplifying the process of how little boys who like pink unicorns sometimes grow up to be women, and how decisions like that work within families.

well, the article also describes coy being despondent and depressed and not wanting to go outside because she couldn't wear a dress among other things. it doesn't really seem to me like they simplified it.
posted by nadawi at 11:09 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


as far as if the quote seems real - not only is she part of a group of triplets, but the family deals with other medical issues, so it seems fair to assume that doctors and how doctors help fix you was a topic around the house even before discussions of transition happened.
posted by nadawi at 11:11 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Medicine and magic can be indistinguishable to a 3-year old.

Yea, I remember thinking when I was very very young that it was plausible that I could turn into a white person. Possibly because the vast majority of people I had met besides my parents were white people so it just seemed like something that would happen eventually.
posted by sweetkid at 11:15 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


not wanting to go outside because she couldn't wear a dress among other things.

Well they should let the kid wear a dress, then.

That actually seems much more journalistically suspect, to me, than a kid whose family is already aware that there's some gender non-conformity happening, and supporting that, wondering what the best way to help him in a medical context is going to be.

Like, the parents aren't letting the kid wear a dress, but they're contemplating gender reassignment surgery? That seems highly unlikely, somehow.
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that 85 percent of children who expressed some form of gender nonconformity actually grew up to not be LGB or T, but straight.

At the risk of sounding all "what about the non-gender-conforming cis children", even if that statistic is accurate, those kids aren't being well-served by the whole "assigned sex = gender identity = gender performance (and all of those are binary and static)" angle. I was one of those kids, and though my confusion and uncertainty was a drop in the ocean compared to what trans* children go through, I wish I'd gotten some indication that people experience gender a lot of different ways and that's normal and okay.

(and, though it shouldn't need to be reiterated--it's not as though this is going to lead to some sort of bizarre slippery slope where the moment a child expresses some gender confusion they get whisked off to the Institute of Transition, forever locked into their choice.)
posted by kagredon at 11:25 AM on October 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Speaking of, what is the approach from outside the family if a kid has clear gender dysphoria (or, hell, just wants to experiment with doing gender non-conforming stuff) but the parents aren't supporting it?

Like, what happens when you're the child psychologist, and Coy says s/he's sad because s/he wanted to wear a dress today and Mom said no? Is there any recourse? Is this considered abuse, or a reason to call in CPS, or just "sorry, your mom won't let you express your gender identity, sucks to be you"?
posted by Sara C. at 11:30 AM on October 28, 2013


A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that 85 percent of children who expressed some form of gender nonconformity actually grew up to not be LGB or T, but straight.

Why was the Harvard School of Public Health getting gender identity confused with sexual orientation?

Shit, I didn't even go to Harvard and I know those are two different things. If this means I'm smarter than a Harvard professor, lemme know, I'll tell my Mom.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like, the parents aren't letting the kid wear a dress, but they're contemplating gender reassignment surgery? That seems highly unlikely, somehow.

That's addressed in the article:

When it came to gender, they would have to choose one or the other, pink or blue. It also struck them that, by allowing Coy to be a girl at home and forcing him to be a boy at school, they had effectively helped their child to carve out a closeted double life. "We were thinking, 'If we give you a safe space to be who you are, that's our way of being supportive,'" recalls Kathryn. "But we were really sending the opposite message: It's not safe, but we'll give you a place to hide." They were ready for a new approach. Coy had long since made his choice; it was time to fall into line behind him. "This whole wishy-washy 'What are we doing?' That was done," says Jeremy.

posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mayor Curley: does the fact that Coy is a triplet, with the other two representing both of the major plumbing types, affect your sense of the plausibility here?

Yeah, that's the missing piece-- the kid knows what to expect from development because of two siblings exactly the same age, knows that she's developing into an x despite being a y.

I still have this weird feeling about a three-year-old connecting a doctor with gender identity, but kavasa's got a point about 'magical thinking,' and it's possible that being multiples, the kids have spent an inordinate amount of time in medical situations.

There isn't really a reason for me to not have given the benefit of the doubt. I shouldn't have rung my bullshit alarm. Sorry, everyone!
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Like, the parents aren't letting the kid wear a dress, but they're contemplating gender reassignment surgery? That seems highly unlikely, somehow.

did you read the article?
posted by nadawi at 11:37 AM on October 28, 2013


Is it considered correct form for an article to switch gender references once a preference is stated, or is it different for children?

For the next year and a half, while his parents indulged his desires, Coy returned to the happy, playful child he'd once been

four-five paragraphs later:

At recess she and the other kindergarten girls played Mommies with their baby dolls, and at pickup time her friends would call out her name and wave elaborate goodbyes.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:38 AM on October 28, 2013


and i don't mean that rudely - i really do mean, you seem to be saying stuff that isn't in line with what the article says and saying it's suspect, so i'm wondering if you're just putting that together from comments or if we just got totally different things out of the article...
posted by nadawi at 11:38 AM on October 28, 2013


Yeah, the multiples thing explains a lot about the connection in Coy's mind between doctors and getting an aspect of your body "fixed". I know a few families with triplets, and it seems like all of them had multiple planned childhood surgeries to deal with ongoing health issues.
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 AM on October 28, 2013


from the article : Their oldest, six-year-old Dakota, was autistic, and one of the triplets, Lily, had been left severely brain-damaged by a bout of viral meningitis as an infant.

so, yeah - lots of doctor stuff in that house that coy would have known about.
posted by nadawi at 11:42 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yea I felt like most of the articles I've read about Coy referred to her as a girl throughout, even when talking about her pre -self identification, which makes sense because that's how she identifies now. I thought it was odd that this article refers to her with male pronouns part of the time.

Not to trivialize with this comparison but articles about, say, Bob Dylan wouldn't refer to him as Zimmerman before he changed his name, would they?
posted by sweetkid at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Things that make me wanna die:

"Focus on the Family's Jeff Johnston expresses disappointment with the ruling. "We don't think it's healthy for girls to be exposed to a boy who thinks he's a girl in a bathroom," Johnston says. And he gently invites the Mathises to seek counseling and stop screwing up their kid. "It's got to be painful to reject your own masculinity. That's painful internal conflict for a child," he reflects. "You want to affirm his essence and the goodness of being a boy – that your masculinity is a good thing, and it comes from God."
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:46 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


did you read the article?

Yes, and that whole angle just seems highly suspect and fucked up, to me.

It's also a pattern I notice almost every time I read journalistic writing about transgender and children. So often, the inner conflict isn't really what gender the kid should be, it's that the parents have fucked up ideas about gender they are playing out on their kid. (Which is part of why I'm wondering what the standard of care is when a professional notices the parents aren't supporting their kid's gender dysphoria.)

I have a cousin who was born female, but wore boy clothes, played with "boy" toys, talked extensively about how she was going to be a boy when she grew up, and had a boy name that she sometimes liked to go by. My aunt and uncle just let her be. Rolling Stone didn't publish any inflammatory articles about her. Everyone lived through it.

It always seems to me like the parents in these stories can't just let their children be. There are always rules passed down from above, and they always seem to center around what other people might think.

Which really grabs me when the article then goes immediately to what kind of surgery the kid needs. More than surgery, the kid needs parents who aren't assholes.
posted by Sara C. at 11:47 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The article also mentions that one of the triplets had bacterial meningitis which means Coy is probably quite familiar with hospitals being where you go to "fix" things. That is not an unheard of way to explain illness to a small child.
posted by atomicstone at 11:48 AM on October 28, 2013


Annika Cicada - from my reading it looks like rolling stone uses "he" right up until coy officially designates as "she" when she goes back to school after christmas break. i think it's probably better to go with she the whole way through, but i do have friends who are trans who talk about their own life that way, referring to themselves as their pre-transition name, lumping themselves with their assumed gender at birth (and then all us guys, blahlblah, and met up with some girls later, blahblah").
posted by nadawi at 11:49 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It always seems to me like the parents in these stories can't just let their children be. There are always rules passed down from above, and they always seem to center around what other people might think.

Okay, but when what other people think could get your child killed, I think it's really odd to say that they're "not letting their child be" because they didn't let her wear a dress before consulting with doctors and professionals to find out how to make Coy's transition as smooth as possible.
posted by kagredon at 11:49 AM on October 28, 2013


I guess all the part about Coy being despondent and sobbing and having reactions in school to being misgendered were just....nothing?

I mean, I was a tomboy. I didn't like to wear dresses and I mostly thought dolls were boring. But I didn't think I *was* a boy. I wasn't distressed about my body. I just didn't like the "girl" role, though I probably couldn't have explained it like that when I was young.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on October 28, 2013 [22 favorites]


Yes, but perhaps your parents didn't believe "when it came to gender, they would have to choose one or the other, pink or blue."
posted by Wordwoman at 11:51 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


when what other people think could get your child killed, I think it's really odd to say that they're "not letting their child be" because they didn't let her wear a dress before consulting with doctors and professionals to find out how to make Coy's transition as smooth as possible.

This gets to the heart of what I mean when I say "journalistic hyperbole". It sounds like the real story is, "Kid starts to exhibit signs of gender dysphoria. Parents initially don't react well, but talk to experts and figure out how to support their kid properly." Which isn't really a story.
posted by Sara C. at 11:52 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


One other thing, this article totally reinforces a gender binary narrative which is something I am really struggling with. Gender is whatever it is for yourself. Just because I, or someone else may feel like a "girl" (whatever that means?) it does not mean that if you are genderqueer or agender or whatever else that my narrative speaks for, determines, or overshadows your own gender experience. I think that nuance tends to get lost in these discussions and is a way we unknowingly make people feel invisible without realizing it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:52 AM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, but perhaps your parents didn't maintain "when it came to gender, they would have to choose one or the other, pink or blue."

I'm not sure why we're judging these parents on the author's crappy purple prose. Or even their crappy pink-and-blue prose.
posted by kagredon at 11:53 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


they bought coy a bunch of pink clothes, they let her wear pink panties to school, they let her go around with barrettes in her hair - still when it came to segregating boys and girls, she was very upset every time and when she got home from school she'd immediately strip down and put on her dress. i don't really understand where people are getting the idea that her parents didn't try all sorts of things before they decided to let her try presenting as a girl to the world.
posted by nadawi at 11:54 AM on October 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


I have a cousin who was born female, but wore boy clothes, played with "boy" toys, talked extensively about how she was going to be a boy when she grew up, and had a boy name that she sometimes liked to go by. My aunt and uncle just let her be. Rolling Stone didn't publish any inflammatory articles about her. Everyone lived through it.

Your cousin, however, was also not the subject of a landmark civil rights case in Colorado. That's why Rolling Stone did the article on Coy. If, for example, the Coy's elementary school just let her use the girl's bathroom this article would have never been written.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:54 AM on October 28, 2013 [22 favorites]


people who are trans often have to reinforce the gender binary narrative because not passing can lethal.
posted by nadawi at 11:56 AM on October 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


Your cousin, however, was also not the subject of a landmark civil rights case in Colorado. That's why Rolling Stone did the article on Coy. If, for example, the Coy's elementary school just let her use the girl's bathroom this article would have never been written.

Fair enough.
posted by Sara C. at 12:04 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


News stories like this are always problematic; it's generally obvious the writer is struggling to learn the terrain as they go. But it seems to me that I'm seeing more and more articles where the underlying message is "it's okay to be trans*," and I think there's great value in that, even when the nuances are clumsily addressed. The fact that metafilter has become a safe place to address those nuances in a positive way makes me very happy.
posted by rikschell at 12:33 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


they bought coy a bunch of pink clothes, they let her wear pink panties to school, they let her go around with barrettes in her hair - still when it came to segregating boys and girls, she was very upset every time and when she got home from school she'd immediately strip down and put on her dress. i don't really understand where people are getting the idea that her parents didn't try all sorts of things before they decided to let her try presenting as a girl to the world.

I've talked with Jeremy, the father, at my school.

(Actually, when we were introduced, I said - "Oh, there's a sometimes great but somewhat problematic Metafilter thread you should read" and directed him to the site.)

As mentioned above, he and his wife are raising five kids, one of whom is quadriplegic. The mom is homeschooling the children. They've been ostracized by the other parents in their community. He was taking classes at three different colleges and working his ass off in the process. I cannot even imagine what this family has gone through these past few years, especially when I compare the work they are doing to understand and help Coy to my own "well, at least they're clothed and fed" attitude towards my kids whenever circumstances get overwhelming. Coy is so lucky to have been born to the parents she was because they're not going to settle on a compromise, for their own sake or anyone else's.

And it make me livid whenever anyone accuses the parents of seeking attention (not that anyone in this thread has done that). They would not have time or effort to escalate a boy-likes-pink phase to a legal campaign. Their daughter was suffering, not quirky. They know she's not the only one who has been hurt because of other peoples' ignorance - which unfortunately we have in bulk in our fair city - and they want to ensure that whatever progress they make enables a clearer understanding of issues trans* children have to face.

Jeremy told me he was worried about the day Focus on the Family started showing up outside their house. They've moved to the Denver area, which is our loss, but hopefully a much better environment for Coy.
posted by bibliowench at 12:44 PM on October 28, 2013 [43 favorites]


*opens mouth to speak*
*thinks better of it*
*sits in the corner of the thread*
*listens, thinks and tries to learn as much as possible*
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:47 PM on October 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Mayor Curley: " No, not yet. Everyone's been remarkably civil about it given the subject matter, and that's awesome. I wasn't complaining, just realizing that I may have greased the tracks. This is a touchy subject on this site."

My thinking about the quote was initially similar to yours, but I was concerned about coming across as too dismissive so I thought it better to keep my mouth shut. Coy's quote just didn't strike me as likely for the average three year old.

I'm glad you spoke up and also for the straightforward responses you've received. They've been educational. Thank you. And thank you to everyone who replied so calmly and matter-of-factly.
posted by zarq at 12:48 PM on October 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


people who are trans often have to reinforce the gender binary narrative because not passing can lethal.

Being trans can get you killed, regardless of what you look like. 'Passing'* isn't about how normative your gender is or how normative your gender presentation is--it's about whether you're being perceived as trans.

There's a separate issue, which is that access to medical transition has traditionally hinged on having the right 'narrative'--of knowing you were trans when you were three and so on--and being gender normative. (Depending on where you are, this remains the case to varying degrees.)

*Which I've used twice in this thread, but actually needs to be flagged up as problematic. The problem is that all the circumlocutions I know of are either really clumsy or invite the same implication of deception, so people I talk to sigh and use it anyway, mentioning the problem.
posted by hoyland at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


oh absolutely! i was just saying that asking why people who are trans aren't tearing down all gender lines - putting the onus on trans people to go above and beyond in that regard - ignores the societal pressure people who are trans are under.
posted by nadawi at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that it's 2013 and this is even a debatable subject. The fact that people have different sexualities and sexual identities should be as boring as oatmeal and just as controversial.

Also, the whole separate bathroom thing. Really? Is that still important?

We all have bodies, we have have sexual feelings and the more we just accept our differences and celebrate them, the happier we, and our kiddos will be.

Who cares where a kid pees or what a kid wears or how a kid plays?

The fact that Rolling Stone can still write this article just frosts me. It was groundbreaking in 1980, now it's just sad.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


and you're totally right to pull me up on that - my phrasing could have been better and included my full thought.
posted by nadawi at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2013


..."sorry, your mom won't let you express your gender identity, sucks to be you."
The reaction from professionals whose opinion it is that a kid is trans and would benefit from XYZ degree of treatment, whose parents are in denial and don't allow gender nonconformity, pretty much has to be this. There's not really any recourse to take. As a trans person who was a trans kid who talked about being a trans kid in my limited kid-grasp of it all, I do think just denying and pretending it's going to go away are abusive, but I don't expect any society on earth to ever agree with me, really. I do think maybe if the growing social trend toward awareness and acceptance of trans people continues, the US might eventually be a place where most people can see how it would be traumatic, but it's all still so shaky.
This gets to the heart of what I mean when I say "journalistic hyperbole". It sounds like the real story is, "Kid starts to exhibit signs of gender dysphoria. Parents initially don't react well, but talk to experts and figure out how to support their kid properly." Which isn't really a story.
No, it is, because that isn't how it usually goes. It usually goes, "Kid starts to exhibit signs of gender dysphoria. Parents initially don't react well, and probably continue to handle it badly. If therapists, doctors or other professionals get involved, they're probably ignorant and possibly bigoted and either refuse to offer help and treatment, or attempt to 'set the kid straight' or 'let them just be' because their professional interest is more in preventing cisgender kids from accidentally transitioning and then regretting it than in treating transgender kids whose lives will be greatly improved and possibly saved, etc. etc." It's a story because, when it actually goes well and works out, that's news that stands apart from the usual pattern. Remember this is a kid whose accidental fame is from people losing it over her use of school bathrooms, in a state where anti-gay, radfem and conservative hate groups have harassed and sent death threats and blatantly lied about a minor's history and behavior because she is trans (and currently on suicide watch) and exists.
"We don't think it's healthy for girls to be exposed to a boy who thinks he's a girl in a bathroom"...
I'm really kind of tempted to make a comic about a Republican Christian teenage unicorn superhero whose power is only being trans when in a bathroom to mock this kind of hate. Like, the bashful, bumbling fool Uma Korne must lure dastardly villains into a public men's room, where she becomes ULRICHORNE! Man of Reified Concrete & Sudden Common Sense!
posted by byanyothername at 1:52 PM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I really liked how the author ended the article, even though I do agree with some of the criticisms of other portions posted above.

And at her birthday party in September, under the pink and purple Chinese lanterns that hung from the Mathis' living room ceiling, wearing the Wonder Woman outfit Grandma had sent as a gift, Coy stood with wide eyes as her pink kitty-cat cake appeared, topped with a glowing candle shaped like the number seven. She closed her eyes and made a wish.


It's bad form to ask someone what they are wishing for. If they tell, it won't come true, right? But when I read that paragraph I imagine if she had a different family in a different place and was being offered a very different birthday party...I am almost certain what that Coy would be wishing for. I'm really happy she can be who she is and that doesn't have to be something that is only a wish.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny: " Who cares where a kid pees or what a kid wears or how a kid plays? "

Irrationally, lots and lots and lots of people. Sometimes, other kids do. Most of the time I bet it's parent- (or grandparent) instilled. Many parents worry about everything regarding their children. Including whether their kid will be perceived as "normal" by others. Or be somehow scarred when faced with nudity from another gender.

One of the previous threads about Coy saw a mefite say that exposing a child to another gender's genitals could be considered child abuse.

I agree with you. But I sort of feel like what you're describing are attitudes with a hell of a lot of cultural inertia that needs to be overcome.
posted by zarq at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2013


[A couple comments removed. This is a hard subject; proceed with a little more caution or go do something else.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2013


"It strikes me as kind of problematic for a parent to pathologize a kid asking perfectly normal questions about anatomy into "my kid needs gender reassignment surgery"."

Something to be sensitive about is describing this in terms of pathologies. It's only pathologizing if you think that being trans is a disease or mental illness.
posted by klangklangston at 4:56 PM on October 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of the previous threads about Coy saw a mefite say that exposing a child to another gender's genitals could be considered child abuse.

This is where knowledge of actual trans children comes in handy. The LAST thing a trans child wants is for anyone to know that they have the "wrong" genitals. That's what stalls are for.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:29 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also if people want to not bring up debates and conflicts from old threads with people who aren't even here, that would be excellent.
posted by jessamyn at 5:42 PM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, but perhaps your parents didn't believe "when it came to gender, they would have to choose one or the other, pink or blue."

I missed this earlier.

My mom? Probably true of her. My dad not so much, but I didn't live with him so whatever.

But so what? Coy's parents thinking that [these parts] mean you are a boy and [those parts] mean you are a girl is the least unusual or remarkable thing about them. They didn't think they were raising a gender-free child, or a trans* child, or anything other than a boy child, and that hardly makes them strange in this culture.
posted by rtha at 5:51 PM on October 28, 2013


My problems with this article:

1) pronoun stuff
2) gender essentialism unchallenged and even un-contextualized
3) calling a trans kid "a radical social experiment"
3a) withholding context so that uninformed readers don't have the tools to challenge the phrase "radical social experiment"
4) implication that being T is in itself simply a radical extension of being LGB: "final frontier" nonsense
5) everything in (and not in that should be) this sentence: "And so while most doctors still consider this "social transition" for kids under the age of 10 to be controversial, already these intrepid young pioneers have begun venturing out into the world – including, in rare cases, female-to-male trans kids who undergo "top surgery" as early as age 13."
6) bemoaning the lack of uninformed cis people "discussing" what is good for trans people, and the plea for Republicans to shut up and let the other uninformed cis people have a say
7) tired old "85% of them grow out of it" useless bullshit statistic
8) using me and other trans people who did not transition before puberty as horrible shambling Mrs. Doubtfire bogeymen
9) more gender essentialism all over the place like Coy's "undeniable" girlness - presumably the rest of us are a lot more deniable
10) treating puberty blockers as a scary mystery like they aren't used all the time in cis kids
11) buying into gatekeeping FUD crap by acting like this whole thing is super huge and terrifying with the potential to be a "colossal mistake" - truly there is no possible worse mistake in all of parenting than letting your kid wear a dress and delaying puberty a few years
12) hating on beards.

As far as I can tell, the author did not talk to a single trans person or have a trans person critique the article along the way, which seems to be a really stupid and exploitative way to write a piece about a trans person. It read to me like someone who had never thought about trans people before learned of Coy's existence, was amazed, and set to work putting together a complete outsider's report on this incredible phenomenon. (I cried anyway, for several reasons, but it could have been a lot better.)
posted by Corinth at 6:14 PM on October 28, 2013 [27 favorites]


I guess all the part about Coy being despondent and sobbing and having reactions in school to being misgendered were just....nothing?

I mean, I was a tomboy. I didn't like to wear dresses and I mostly thought dolls were boring. But I didn't think I *was* a boy. I wasn't distressed about my body. I just didn't like the "girl" role, though I probably couldn't have explained it like that when I was young.


I was thinking about this today, as I got my hair cut. I was never a girly girl at ALL, I hated skirts and pink shit and was basically a huge nerd, and although I knew I was a girl I don't think it ever would have occurred to me to think of it as my ~identity~. Until I cut off all my hair.

At age 10 or 11 I saw a picture of a really pretty woman with a cool short haircut, I decided I wanted it, and my parents, who were pretty chill, allowed me to get it. Problem was, I hadn't yet hit puberty, and a prepubescent girl in jeans and a t shirt is indistinguishable from a boy.

The night I got my hair cut, we went to some event at my school. When a woman called me 'mister' I was perplexed- was this woman some sort of idiot? When a second woman, who I'd held a door open for, said "thank you, young man!" I immediately burst into tears and ran off and hid while my parents awkwardly tried to explain to the very concerned woman why I had freaked out. Within a week I had gotten some clip-on earrings, which I wore until I could get real ones. No one thought I was a boy when I wore earrings. I'd never had any interest in them before, but now I needed them.

It's really hard to explain why it was so, so upsetting to be taken for a boy. I didn't dislike boys, I enjoyed a lot of 'boy stuff,' hell if you had to rank all the girls in my class from most to least girly I might have come in dead last. But it was awful, and frustrating, and confusing, and it made me want to hide in my room so that no one would ever see me and call me 'sir' again. That experience, the inexplicably terrible experience of being constantly mistaken for something you know you're not, has stayed with me. It's not the reason I stand for trans rights, but it always jumps to mind. I only had to deal with being misgendered for a few days, until I figured out how to 'pass' as what I actually, ya know, was. I can't even imagine being born that way, and having to deal with it for your entire life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:55 PM on October 28, 2013 [43 favorites]


I'd like to request everyone read corinth's comment two or three times and really think about it. IMHO one of the best in this thread.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:48 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What are children gravitating to when they decide that they are this and not that? Pink clothes and Barbies aren't universal indicators of femininity; either parent or both may do the housework or the heavy lifting; what makes children select a particular gender and how do they identify it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


What are children gravitating to when they decide that they are this and not that? Pink clothes and Barbies aren't universal indicators of femininity; either parent or both may do the housework or the heavy lifting; what makes children select a particular gender and how do they identify it?

It's less that girly MEANS pink and more that girly is heavily associated with pink. You don't want pink; you want to be a girl. And girls, in American culture, like pink.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:00 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, but how do they know what a girl is?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:13 PM on October 28, 2013


I am a cis girl/woman and can't define what it is or feels like. That tripped me up with this stuff forever but I figure that's my privilege talking - I don't have to think about it, I just know, and everyone in the world treats me according to what I know, and that's the end of it. Or something. It's decidedly not like that for trans* people.
posted by sweetkid at 8:22 PM on October 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


How do you pick up ideas of gender identity? From everything everywhere all the time.
posted by bleep-blop at 9:05 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


10) treating puberty blockers as a scary mystery like they aren't used all the time in cis kids

Maybe you could elaborate on this? The only time I've ever heard puberty blockers discussed was in the context of a fairly severely disabled girl and even then it was controversial.

Puberty blockers might be the right thing in some circumstances but that doesn't make them any less radical or worthy of careful consideration.
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe you could elaborate on this? The only time I've ever heard puberty blockers discussed was in the context of a fairly severely disabled girl and even then it was controversial.

They're also used if a kid has some sort of condition that causes puberty to come way earlier than normal, I think that's why they were originally developed.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:24 PM on October 28, 2013


Yes, but how do they know what a girl is?

We are pattern recognition engines, information sponges. The amount of deductive and inductive and relational work the human brain manages to do on a daily basis, starting from infancy, is stunning when carefully considered.

The process of passive language acquisition alone in early childhood is a fantastic, almost unbelievable feat, and that's something for which small children get very little practical help, the best of intentions from storybook-reading, word-repeating parents notwithstanding. Essentially no one has the time or the energy, setting aside the question of rarefied educational skillset, to actually teach a child to speak. Kids just learn it. Under the right circumstances, they'll even actively invent actual languages as a synthesis of the hodgepodge of trade languages their parents half-speak, which is where linguistic pidgins come from.

Asking "how do they know what a girl is" is like asking "how do they know to breathe". You don't need to know it in some active, concrete sense; you probably can't know it, in some from-a-distant, academic sense for a long time. But you grow up steeped in your culture, you absorb all the things that people say and do and perform and condone and reject. You breathe it.
posted by cortex at 9:30 PM on October 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


cortex: "Yes, but how do they know what a girl is?

We are pattern recognition engines, information sponges. The amount of deductive and inductive and relational work the human brain manages to do on a daily basis, starting from infancy, is stunning when carefully considered.
"

On top of all that, everything you do gets filtered through gender as well. Sometimes, the exact same actions get gendered, regardless of the gender of the child (what long legs - must be a dancer, wait it's a boy, must be a football player). Everything Coy does is backfiltered through that genderfication process: are we really expected to think a five month old clutching a blanket is anything at all to do with gender? Really?

No, it's part of the gendered narrative performance. It seems to be a feature of all of these 'OMG TEH KIDS ARE TRANS' articles, where the parents are explicit in their gender typing (I still recoil reading the quote along the lines of "I don't know where he got it from, in our community men are manly men") - I assume it's to avoid the 'you turned them gay/trans with your nonconformist ways' trope, but I'm beginning to find it unsettling, given the way the medical and social systems enforce gender for trans* people.

To sum up: what I feel about this article doesn't match how I feel as a person. This article makes me upset about the gendering process kids go through, makes me side-eye the whole fucking thing (which is more a feature of the homebirth/parenting forums drama than anything actually to do with Coy) - as for my feelings? Jesus, let the fucking kid be, she is who she is.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:44 PM on October 28, 2013


cortex: Asking "how do they know what a girl is" is like asking "how do they know to breathe".

Except that I'm 45 and I still don't know what a girl, or a woman is. Oh sure, I've been fed all the cultural stuff, but does that really mean anything? And sure, I know the biological part, but as I've learned, that is not what defines one as a girl or a boy.

So I'm left with... what, exactly?

As a child, I knew I was a girl because I'd been told so, and because what I'd been told about female body parts matched mine. And those are still the reasons why I now call myself a woman. Because that's all I've got.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:52 PM on October 28, 2013


I just meant to say, we don't all know what we are, boy or girl or neither. Some of us don't feel it. Sorry, I'll shut up now.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:54 PM on October 28, 2013


"As a child, I knew I was a girl because I'd been told so, and because what I'd been told about female body parts matched mine. And those are still the reasons why I now call myself a woman. Because that's all I've got."

It's easier to reason this through for men, because the genitals are external, so do your own substitutions: Is a man still a man if, say, he got his dick shot off? Most people would say yeah. So body parts are an explanation that's generally sufficient, but not a necessary component. Combine that with the vast, vast majority of humans going through a developmental phase where they reify external concepts, including gender. Just as people develop sexuality (later than gender, generally), people tend to develop a gendered conception of themselves. You knew you were a girl because you were able to internalize what you were told regarding your gender identity. For many people, the gender they're assigned at birth never fits their conception of self.

I have mixed feelings about the biological determinism argument about a lot of things, including gender, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't a neurochemical marker for gender.
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 AM on October 29, 2013


No one knows what a girl is. It's like trying to define "green." Trying to attach strict definitions to concepts without definite borders does nothing but start fights. But we do work from linguistic conventions. All of us do. We have to, to get by in daily life. If I say "sandwich," you'll never get the exact same image in your head that I have in mine (even attaching a string of adjectives never quite gets there), but you get an image that's close enough. Hopefully.

When I was in high school (in the 1980s), a person in my class who'd always been known as a female came back one fall (junior year, I believe) identifying as a male. Same person, same body, new first name. He dressed pretty much the same as he had before. Jeans, t-shirts, long hair. In fact, he acted the same in all respects. (During his time as a girl, he'd been always very "boyish.") I believe what happened is that his parents had finally come clean with him over that intervening summer about a terrible surgical accident that had occurred at his circumcision.

I can't begin to imagine how his life transformed at that point. I certainly don't think we, his class, had the foggiest idea how to deal with him, which is horrible. Yet to be honest, I'm not sure what group of 16-year-olds (especially back then) would have. We were confused. Were we boys suddenly supposed to forget he'd been a girl our whole lives? (Maybe?) Erase his prior existence? (No?) Were the girls supposed to forget this new boy sitting in English class had shared bathrooms and locker rooms with them for years? I still have no idea. And I've been thinking about it for years.

I remember thinking that it would've been much easier on him if his parents had helped him make that transition with a move to a new school, or between high school and college, or something. Honestly, I have no idea. And maybe they had zero control over the timing, anyway. My point is, the middle of high school seemed like the absolute worst time to do it. Saddling him with us, his cohort, a bunch of stupid teenagers, already struggling to figure out sexuality, and who could not suddenly erase our years of prior memories of him even if we'd wanted to, seemed wildly unfair. In a new town, or even just at a new school, or on a college campus, he'd have a had a fresh start. And yet on the flip side, it also seems wrong to expect him to move away just to be who was supposed to have been all along, so that can't be the answer.

I've thought about this a lot over the decades. Maybe there's no avoiding the consequences of a mistake. His parents apparently tried to push it away, and pretend it never happened. I assume puberty and hormones and questions and such eliminated that stupid dream. Maybe as soon as that scalpel slipped, he was destined to pay for it somehow. But it seems like the transition surely could have been easier on him. I don't know. I'd like to think maybe a high-school class in this day and age would be more embracing to this sort of circumstance. More supportive. More mature, and understanding. And yet I sort of suspect not.
posted by azaner at 12:47 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


You knew you were a girl because you were able to internalize what you were told regarding your gender identity.

I have no idea that that means. Was I? How do you know?

I knew I was a girl because they told me, and there was nothing for that to clash with. My conception of self doesn't feel gendered.

But I really don't want to make this about me.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:48 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my opinion the binary representation of gender as the predominant gender model creates all kinds of problems for people trying to understand how they fit into the world. Two quick examples, but by no means exhaustive or even representative might be, say, a cis lesbian saying to me "but you aren't a girl" (and if she doesn't like my body type, I can live with that...) to say, a bisexual pangender person who might love being glamorous, fab and femme, but really wants to interact in the world as a man, not a sex object.

We need better language models for this stuff. I think if we were all better tuned to the cues, we could easily see this in people and respond appropriately. I think most of us, however, (even some transgender people!) are stuck at an almost preschool aged level of gender understanding. Searching for an analogy, it seems like it could be an emotional intelligence type thing.

I know myself, I'm a fairly run of the mill trans story that falls into a binary spectrum, and with dysphoria added to the mix means that I'm moving to whatever version of "girlmode" works best for me. That does not mean the gender binary model is most correct, in reality it causes huge issues for me, many unresolvable under the current regime.

If we as a species can get into that nuance and form a deeper understanding of gender, then articles like the one in rolling stone can be written in such a way as to not accidentally cut out people for whom gender divides in the current model with indivisible remainders.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:20 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Too-Ticky, maybe the way your conception of self doesn't feel gendered is the way someone else's conception of self feels gendered, and when people tell them something there is something else there for that to clash with? Your experience is not everybody's experience, and there's a certain amount of philosophical danger in extrapolating. Instead of saying "wuh? but I don't feel that way," just be all "oh, you feel that way. cool." We're not going to arrive at The One Metaphysical and/or Physical Truth of Gender here on MeFi sharing and comparing personal anecdotes, so insofar as we're not aspiring to that lofty goal the "yeah but"s don't really get us to many new places. I can't really tell you how I know I'm a woman any more than you can tell me how you know (or don't know) you're one, but apparently we both are!

There are a lot of analogies of varying utility, if you need some.

Can you feel your forearm bones? I don't mean with one of your hands - can you scrunch up your face and concentrate and feel them? I can't! But I bet you we could if we broke our arms - we'd be all over feeling our bones then. If I broke my arm and you didn't, I'd be feeling a strong need to fix my aching bones and you still wouldn't be noticing yours at all.

Have you ever been addicted to cigarettes? A friend of mine once described it as another kind of need - a third meter to fill alongside hunger and thirst. I didn't tell him I didn't believe him because I didn't feel it and couldn't fathom it, I simply accepted that other people can feel legitimate things that I don't.



Re: puberty blockers in cis kids: They are routinely used to treat precocious puberty.

Procedure for cis kids:
1) Oh, treatable precocious puberty? Yikes!
2) Here, take this.
3) Ready for puberty? OK, go!

Procedure for trans kids:
1) Oh, you're trans?
2) Really? Are you sure?
3) Find a different doctor.
4) Really? Are you sure?
5) You understand how horrible and terrifying and probably morally wrong it is to stave off puberty, right?
6-10) alksdlaksjdlahsdyashdksanjmaskdjlasda
11) Roll a d6. If 1-3, then 11a. If 4-6, then 11b.
11a) Repeat steps 1-10.
11b) Here, take this.
12) Ready for puberty?
13) Which one? You understand how horrible and terrifying and probably morally wrong it is to choose the exogenous one, right?
14) OK, go!
15) Take this ticket and go to the next desk for your allotted amount of discrimination and hate.
posted by Corinth at 3:35 AM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


I simply accepted that other people can feel legitimate things that I don't.

I don't dispute this. What I'm trying to understand is how Coy could identify as a girl at such a young age. I don't think my kids were especially slow developers, but they were vague on the difference between girls and boys until four or older. I suppose the desire for "girlish" clothes and so forth at the age of two could be put down to aesthetic preferences, but at the age of three Coy identified "boy parts" and "girl parts" and and expressed the need to get them "fixed" to present correctly That's a very, very, definite self-image and gender identification that I haven't seen with kids that age, and the classification of people into male and female based on their genitalia seems oddly sophisticated. Is it just precocity, or is this level of insight common among transgender kids?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:17 AM on October 29, 2013


I vividly remember, probably at the age of four or so, wondering whether I was actually a boy and they just made a mistake thinking I was a girl, and justifying it to myself by the fact I had girl parts and they would have seen that when I was born so I must be a girl. I was definitely aware from a young age that boys and girls were different and got treated differently. Part precocity, part environment, I suspect.
posted by corvine at 4:29 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


For whatever it's worth, at two and a half into three years old my kids unequivocably knew their own and each other's genders. They asked. We told them. They were obsessed for a while. A popular subject.

At three they started demanding certain clothes (my daughter, to my private and unexpressed chagrin, demanded pink clothes all the time and would get upset if not given a pink option) and they both refused to wear each others shirts, shorts and pants. My son knew dresses were for girls. They would get upset if we put the "wrong" socks on them and demand the ones they knew were theirs. With my daughter that started earlier than 3.

"Daddy, that's for BOYS!" "Those are [sibling's] socks!" Etc.

I found it a bit frustrating at times. Plain white socks are plain white socks, after all. But I often offered them each other's clothes as choices in the morning to see how they felt and what they liked.

"Would you like to wear this today?"
"No, that's for girls." Or boys.

This separation of genders may be a behaviour which developed naturally because they are twins and around each other all the time. It might be (and I suspect this is the case) a healthy way they established their individuality. But yes, they knew the difference between penises and vaginas at two or three years.
posted by zarq at 4:44 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


For whatever it's worth, at two and a half into three years old my kids unequivocably knew their own and each other's genders. They asked. We told them. They were obsessed for a while. A popular subject.

I thought this was a typical stage of development for kids, where they go through a stage of being a bit obsessed with genitals (and secondary sex characteristics more generally) because they're learning how to sort people by appearance.
posted by hoyland at 4:55 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Probably. Perhaps it just happened with Joe's kids later than mine.
posted by zarq at 5:00 AM on October 29, 2013


Corinth, I'm more like "wuh? but I don't feel that way. Others apparently do. What's it like to feel that way?"
In order to better stop making this thread about me, though, I've posted an AskMefi that is about me. Because I can accept, but I'd rather also understand, if I can.

/me butts out, with a friendly smile.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:12 AM on October 29, 2013


Well, now I'm going to boast that my kids were reluctant to judge people by appearances.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:13 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


-they're not my kids to worry about

--This is a problematic framing.

---Yeah, that was poorly put. I don't mean that I don't care about the kids; I mean that I'm not in a position to second-guess their parents and doctors.


I’m a relative MeFi noob, so somebody let me know if it’s not kosher to go back and elaborate on my own previous comment like this, but it's has been turning over in my head all night and I wanted to write it down.

I’ve read any number of stories about trans* kids that follow this narrative:
  1. Little Johnny wears long hair and skirts, paints his nails, and plays with dolls.
  2. Mom and siblings are OK with it, but Dad is upset.
  3. Dad insists on getting Johnny a haircut and takes away the dolls, skirts, and nail polish.
  4. Johnny is miserable.
  5. The family sits Dad down and says, “Dad, don’t you realize Johnny is really a girl?”
  6. Dad says, “Phew, is that all? I can live with having another feminine daughter!”
  7. The happy, reunited family goes to the doctor and starts preparing for Johnny’s transition.
I used to read these stories and say, “Hey, wait a minute, the family isn’t really exploring any other options.” Now, I read them and say, “These stories aren’t giving us (and possibly aren’t able to give us, due to time and space constraints) enough details about the family’s process to know if, what, or how they questioned or explored other options.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:57 AM on October 29, 2013


The Underpants Monster - but this piece didn't do that. it talked about lots of other things they tried, they talked about coy's depression, they talked about how it wasn't just about the clothes or the pink. i agree that narratives about people who are trans, especially kids, are sometimes shoehorned in the way you say, but this story doesn't seem like one of those cases.
posted by nadawi at 6:07 AM on October 29, 2013


The Underpants Monster: " I’m a relative MeFi noob, so somebody let me know if it’s not kosher to go back and elaborate on my own previous comment like this, but it's has been turning over in my head all night and I wanted to write it down."

It's totally okay to do that. Threads are basically big discussions.
posted by zarq at 6:19 AM on October 29, 2013


so, i'm pansexual. when i was a kid i knew i'd grow up to marry a boy because that's what everyone said i was going to do, but i never felt it strongly (although, i did figure i'd marry a boy and still kiss mary-claire). and then as i got older i felt pretty strongly that i did not have a preferred gender to pair with. i knew that all the "your straight!" messaging was cultural and not related to me as a person. but - that doesn't mean that i think straight or gay people are just living under societal constraints that aren't real or that they're lying. i can love the spectrum and still understand that most people feel very strongly about what gender they're open to having sexy times with.

for me - this is like people who don't innately feel their own gender or (like myself) are genderqueer. just because our gender is fluid and unfixed doesn't mean that gender is fully a societal construct, it just means that we're fluid where other people are stationary.
posted by nadawi at 6:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I have no idea that that means. Was I? How do you know?"

Because you identify as female. Because being addressed as female doesn't feel wrong or unsettling. Because you have consistently lived as female, and have persisted in your identification.

Some people, when told, do not internalize that description; it always feels wrong to them.
posted by klangklangston at 8:24 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]




The Underpants Monster - but this piece didn't do that. it talked about lots of other things they tried, they talked about coy's depression, they talked about how it wasn't just about the clothes or the pink. i agree that narratives about people who are trans, especially kids, are sometimes shoehorned in the way you say, but this story doesn't seem like one of those cases.

Right, it absolutely didn't, as I specifically pointed out in my very first comment.

I apologize if my contribution to the conversation has been too much of a derail from this specific article and into the topic at large.

I've been describing my progress away from having the same sorts of reactions I'm seeing some people have, and toward having the reaction I typically have now, which is, "There's no way I have enough information about this family to doubt them even if I were inclined to do so, so I'm choosing to trust that they know what they're doing."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


For those still wondering what gender identity is and feels like and how does anyone know, and those suggesting that it's something soaked up sponge-like from all the social cues around us (well meaning as that is, I think it confuses gender identity, the essential core "you are a [gender]," with gender presentation, the "[gender]s like [things]"), showbiz_liz's comment is an excellent illustration. You really do know and understand this already. Imagine waking up one morning and everyone outside your door treats you as the "wrong" gender, using "wrong" pronouns, "wrong" social interactions entirely. You glance at yourself in the mirror, and your face looks shockingly ["wrong" gendered], almost a caricature of masculinity/femininity as your heightened sense of gender allows you to see every fine detail you wouldn't ordinarily notice. Your voice startles you every time you speak. Try to imagine this seriously, not as a joke or a cartoon, but as something that can actually happen to you. Really try to remember your childhood--I guarantee you, at a very young age, you almost certainly understood your gender on an innate, axiomatic level.

The fact is you're probably overthinking this. There is no persistent inner voice demanding that, "I am a girl! I am a giiiiirrrrrrrlll!" or "BOYBOYBOYBOYBOY" for transgender people. Our sense of gender identity is, really, just like everyone else's: subtle, innate, something we can't really point to but just know, trust us. Everyone--allies, curious people unfamiliar with transgender people, bigots--knocks their head against this, overthinks it, makes it out to be something far more complex (and, honestly, a little bit dehumanizing for us [because the Internal Narrative way of understanding this is something that stems from misunderstanding being trans as "choosing" gender, or otherwise that a transgender person's identified gender is not innate, "real"]), than it has to be.

Really try and reflect about what it's like to be the gender you are. It's a "fish explaining water" thing for transgender people, because we've been out there, but you don't get gender identity by growing lungs and legs and being an awesome little amphibian. You've already got it; it's just so congruent with your experience, so natural, that you don't think you do.

Also: yeoz's link is awesome and great and should be read by everyone.
posted by byanyothername at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


For those who insist that those who do not define themselves as "genderqueer," "trans," etc. must surely comfortably inhabit the gender binary such that they do not even notice it -- the "fish cannot feel water" argument -- some actual research on the topic:

Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals

"In contemporary psychology, normal development is contingent on the establishment of a coherent, universal, stable and unitary ‘core gender identity’. The present study assessed the perception of gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals in Israel using the newly constructed Multi-Gender Identity Questionnaire (Multi-GIQ). The Multi-GIQ includes 32 items assessing gender identity (Feeling like a woman, Feeling like a man, Feeling like both a man and a woman, Feeling like neither), gender dysphoria (Contentment with affirmed gender and the wish to be the ‘other’ gender, Contentment with one’s sexed body) and gender performance (Compliance with gender norms in clothing and language). Of the Men (n = 570) and Women (n = 1585) that participated in the study, over 35% felt to some extent as the ‘other’ gender, as both men and women and/or as neither. Although such feelings were more prevalent and on average stronger in Queers (n = 70), the range of scores for all measures of gender identity was highly similar in Queers and non-Queers."

posted by Wordwoman at 9:58 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


...okay? I don't think anyone was insisting that.
posted by kagredon at 10:11 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


That there is an "essential core" of gender identity is a completely unsubstantiated theory. I don't disparage those who believe it, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What else in humans is an "essential core" of identity? Do other mammals have an "essential core" of gender identity? What about "gender" is so special and unique in human experience that it cannot be readily explained and discussed without appeal to a nebulous, invisible, internal quality that is only sensed by a subset of people?

The World Health Organization defines gender as "the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." To assert that "gender" is really something else is a remarkable claim that isn't supported in the everyday usage of language.

I don't dispute anybody's internal beliefs or internal senses. I know people who "know" there is a personal God because they have a personal relationship with him, and that the reason I don't share their belief is because I don't share the deep inner knowledge of what is "true." I respect their beliefs. However, I don't believe that public policy should be made on the basis of such claims, or that they should be taught as fact in schools. Gender theory should be discussed, but pointing people to "Trans 101" as if its take on gender is established truth is closer to religion than I'm comfortable with.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:14 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Underpants Monster - sorry. i missed that. i don't think it's too much of a derail, i just didn't go back up and read every comment of yours in the thread before i responded.
posted by nadawi at 10:15 AM on October 29, 2013


Thank you for finally coming out and speaking your mind, wordwoman.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, I don't believe that public policy should be made on the basis of such claims, or that they should be taught in schools.

You could, however, proceed from the assumption that public policy should treat all equally and with respect and, lo and behold, you'd be agreeing with those of us not backhandedly suggesting trans people are insane.
posted by hoyland at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


uh, you're welcome?
posted by Wordwoman at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2013


Wordwoman:

To me, there is gender, then there is dysphoria. Does the "true source" of gender in this discussion matter very much? Is it a Choice? Not a choice? Does that even matter? To me that's not really at the center of the discussion. The point is there's something there and whatever it is it is real and it is not going away and we are not crazy for being this way, and hell even if I am crazy, then there's a way to live my life so I don't feel crazy and that should be okay too.

I appreciate your diligence to stick to facts and research, it keeps the world moving forward in a truly progressive fashion. I will say your comments come off a little odd. I sit with them checking my feelings, trying to parse what you are getting at.

So what I think you are saying is that you think there's too much magical thinking going on in regards to our gender discussions on Mefi? That's an interesting POV, and one that I wholeheartedly accept as a righteous critique. Magical thinking is dangerous. I'll check myself to make sure that I am not doing that. I don't think I am, but please call me out where you see fit.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The WHO definition you have cited is what I would call in my "everyday language" gender expression

Do other mammals have an "essential core" of gender identity?

I don't know...we cant exactly ask them. Plenty of mammals, and non-mammals seem to have gendered behaviors, even in the absence of a culture through which to reinforce socially constructed cues. Some people do not want to believe there is a difference between gender identity and gender expression, and I respect their beliefs, but I don't believe that public policy should be made on the basis of such claims.
posted by polywomp at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


We also don't really need to have, for any reason that I can figure out, one singular definition of "gender identity" that applies to 100% of people. We don't need to assume that all binary-identified people have any kind of strong and persistent gender identity, while at the same time acknowledging that some cis and trans people alike both do. For some of us it is as simple as "hm well they say I have a vagina/penis so I guess I'm a girl/boy, cool, let's go with that" and for some of us it isn't.

Figuring this out has been incredibly useful for me personally because I haven't decided where I'm at with all of that and I'm not really sure I need to.

It is helpful for a lot of people who are trying to wrap their mind around trans identities for the first time to talk about the stuff like "there are people who try to physically alter their genitals when they're little kids and who confirm really well to the societal role of their self-identified genders". It isn't the end of the conversation.
posted by capricorn at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


So, I think this pullquote, from the abstract of the study that Wordwoman linked, is worth a look:

We conclude that the current view of gender identity as binary and unitary does not reflect the experience of many individuals, and call for a new conceptualisation of gender, which relates to multiplicity and fluidity in the experience of gender.

I think the place where I depart from Wordwoman's point of view is that I think the existence of nonbinary, genderqueer, and non-gender-conforming people reinforces rather than negates the reality of gender identity. It makes it all the more unlikely that assigned sex and/or societally determined roles are the sole determinant(s) of how a given person experiences gender.
posted by kagredon at 11:06 AM on October 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


"What else in humans is an "essential core" of identity?"

Quite a lot of things, actually. From sexuality, to handedness, to proprioception, to self-recognition… Claiming an essential core for something that's a developmental phase isn't really an extraordinary claim.

" Do other mammals have an "essential core" of gender identity?"

Most other mammals demonstrate a far more reified gender difference than humans do. Your example is going the wrong way for your argument — and that corresponds to humans generally being more second-level on learning, e.g. almost all mammals instinctually swim; humans have to be taught.

The only way this argument makes sense is if it turns on "identity," but that seems an odd objection.

"What about "gender" is so special and unique in human experience that it cannot be readily explained and discussed without appeal to a nebulous, invisible, internal quality that is only sensed by a subset of people? "

What about "consciousness" is so special and unique in human experience that it cannot be readily explained and discussed without appeal to a nebulous, invisible, internal quality that is only sensed by a subset of people?

What about "depression" is so special and unique in human experience that it cannot be readily explained and discussed without appeal to a nebulous, invisible, internal quality that is only sensed by a subset of people?

What about "desire" is so special and unique in human experience that it cannot be readily explained and discussed without appeal to a nebulous, invisible, internal quality that is only sensed by a subset of people?

There's bad definitions in "subset," there's an argument from ignorance re: physicality, there's an argument from ignorance re: unique…

It's just poor argumentation pretty much all the way around in a way that is also perversely grounded in appeals to biological essentialism (through the implication that without such, gender identity isn't real).

"The World Health Organization defines gender as "the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." To assert that "gender" is really something else is a remarkable claim that isn't supported in the everyday usage of language. "

The World Health Organization uses that as a sufficient definition for its purposes, but that doesn't mean that's the sole definition or the most complete or accurate one. Specifically, that definition is entirely about gender expression and performance, for which that definition is sufficient. However, it is not necessarily a definition of gender that encompasses all important aspects thereof.

"I don't dispute anybody's internal beliefs or internal senses. I know people who "know" there is a personal God because they have a personal relationship with him, and that the reason I don't share their belief is because I don't share the deep inner knowledge of what is "true." I respect their beliefs. However, I don't believe that public policy should be made on the basis of such claims, or that they should be taught as fact in schools. Gender theory should be discussed, but pointing people to "Trans 101" as if its take on gender is established truth is closer to religion than I'm comfortable with."

Well, here's an excellent opportunity to think about why religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs and gender identity may be different.

For God, is there any reasonable evidence to assume that one exists? I'd hold, and I think you agree, that there is not. Slightly more difficult, is there reasonable evidence to assume that free will exists? That's certainly a wider-shared belief, but even then, it falls down pretty hard when you examine the underpinnings versus the alternative of material determinism. Is there reasonable evidence to assume that gender identity exists? I'd say yes. We see it as a regular stage of childhood development, there are reasonable biological hypotheses that are consistent with what we know now about neurochemistry, and it's something consistently held across cultures — the expression differs, but the sense doesn't seem to.

The reasonable position seems to be that gender identity is more real than free will.

I used to be much further into the camp of social construction for pretty much everything, but I think that as science has advanced, we've been able to see that there's more propensity toward certain outcomes than was previously thought, e.g. there may be a neurochemical inclination toward religion.

In terms of policy, there are fairly huge drawbacks to allowing religious beliefs to influence laws and public spending. There are some, but fewer apparent, drawbacks to allowing a belief in free will to influence laws and public spending. There seem nearly no drawbacks to allowing a belief in gender identity to influence laws and public spending. The drawbacks seem much more tied to regulating gender expression.

Finally, while you and I agree that religion is likely bunk, one of the fundamental documents of Western liberalism is Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, which lays out a case for a functionally secular government that tolerates all religions within it. As religions are likely bunk, but tolerating them is a fundamental pillar of a free society, and gender identity likely not bunk, shouldn't tolerating it be reasonable from a policy standpoint?
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 AM on October 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


true story, this guy said to me irl a few months ago that being trans is a mental disorder in a way that made it pretty clear that he thinks that means it's Not Real, you know how i mean here, right? that insulting way?
and i'm like
okay so like setting aside the part where you totally obviously said that in an attempt to make me feel bad about myself as a human being, what exactly is your point? even if it is "just a mental disorder" that's........ still a medical condition that needs treatment and you treat it by letting them transition

i mean shit, my depression is "just a mental disorder" and without treatment i regularly get intrusive thoughts of suicide but oh it's "just a mental thing" so it's NOT REAL don't treat me or take me seriously or anything i guess
posted by titus n. owl at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think the place where I depart from Wordwoman's point of view is that I think the existence of nonbinary, genderqueer, and non-gender-conforming people reinforces rather than negates the reality of gender identity. It makes it all the more unlikely that assigned sex and/or societally determined roles are the sole determinant(s) of how a given person experiences gender.

I absolutely agree. Given the opposition, hatred, exclusion, violence, isolation, etc. that trans* and other people who transgress societal gender roles can face, it's hard to imagine *most* people would so unless necessary for them.

I know for myself it certainly wasn't a choice, even if I couldn't define what it means to be a woman more than anyone else. I only have my own experience, and I think other's have put it correctly in that a gender identity that is incongruent will stand out like a broken bone, while to a cis person may go unnoticed.
posted by polywomp at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I absolutely agree. Given the opposition, hatred, exclusion, violence, isolation, etc. that trans* and other people who transgress societal gender roles can face, it's hard to imagine *most* people would so unless necessary for them."

That argument is hard for me to accept as someone who doesn't accept religion as inborn — people have been willing to be martyred for their religions for centuries. (That might argue for the hypothesis that propensity toward religious belief is inborn.)

However, gender identity and variations thereof are consistent with current views of childhood development and neuroscience.
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on October 29, 2013


Most other mammals demonstrate a far more reified gender difference than humans do. Your example is going the wrong way for your argument — and that corresponds to humans generally being more second-level on learning, e.g. almost all mammals instinctually swim; humans have to be taught.

Such differences correspond to the biological sex of the animal, not to a felt sense of "gender."
posted by Wordwoman at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, your objection is "identity," and an argument from ignorance. Other mammals certainly do perform gendered behaviors. Whether they have a meaningful identity in any of the terms that humans conceive is an open question; persistent self-recognition in some species is about the closest we've come to answering it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


At what if some part of what is conceptualized as gender overlaps, generally, with biological sex? Such categorization seems to be a somewhat longstanding trend amongst humans after all (at least as far as written records are concerned). There are sexually dimorphic differences between the brains of the two sexes. Does anyone propose currently that all gender is 100% socially constructed?

I don't think it's unlikely that there's a neurobiological intersex condition that causes one's sense of gender identity to be at odds with their external phenotypic sex (some research has been done supporting this: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/85/5/2034.full) This actually seems like the most logical explanation to me, but unfortunately our understanding of the inner workings of the brain rather vague, so we'll have to wait for more research.
posted by polywomp at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


i don't see the point in even trying to bring in things we literally have no way of knowing until somebody figures out a way to read animals' minds. like there is absolutely zero useful information or anything you can get out of it as far as i can see.
posted by titus n. owl at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


do animals have an "essential core" of gender identity?
do rocks have an "essential core" of identity"?
do other human beings really exist or are you just imagining them in your head?
what if an alien was living on a meteor in outer space and the alien was wearing its purple hat because it was tuesday, does that alien have an "essential core" of gender identity?
would i still be transgender if i were a baked potato?
posted by titus n. owl at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


would i still be transgender if i were a baked potato?

I think we can all agree you'd be transtuber.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:58 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


yeah, titus n. owl has a point--if your 'support' for transgender people is conditional on teasing out some sort of evidence that gender identity is 'real' by some arbitrary standard, you are not actually being supportive of trans people

I think we can all agree you'd be transtuber.

trans-potat-ion
posted by kagredon at 11:59 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


A sweet potato is what.
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


isn't a baked potato dead? oh wait now everything seems upside down
posted by sweetkid at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2013


I yam what I yam. I guess titus n. owl yam too.
posted by Corinth at 12:04 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


So, I'm Popeye the Sailor Ma'am? Or am I Sailor Moon?
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:06 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, your username itself kind of implies that you do have a gender identity, Wordwoman, that it is a thing in as much as anything human beings commonly experience is a thing. And I don't intend that as a personal attack*, it just seems like a blatantly obvious "fish not seeing water" thing right now.
I think the place where I depart from Wordwoman's point of view is that I think the existence of nonbinary, genderqueer, and non-gender-conforming people reinforces rather than negates the reality of gender identity. It makes it all the more unlikely that assigned sex and/or societally determined roles are the sole determinant(s) of how a given person experiences gender.
Yes, this is how I feel, and I don't think we'll ever be able to pin down what gender identity is with full objectivity. Heck, I acknowledged in my earlier post that it is an intangible, and treating an intangible, essential element of personhood as if it's a concrete, unchanging absolute seems a bit silly to me. That even cisgender people can and do experience fluidity of gender, that transgender people exist, seems like a suggestion that, no, "gender construction as 100% social" is just as absolutist and wrong as "gender as 100% biological sex."

* Little note here because I am going to try to say with civility and good intentions that I do feel a bit attacked (but can't really read intentions, so assuming the best), and that your position may be in bad faith and could possibly have connotations icky to me. If that's really and truly not intended, then um...I guess just try to be aware that this isn't a purely intellectual debate for a lot of us popping in here, and that it's fine to examine something from multiple angles but when I pick up on a vibe for arguing against the existence of trans people that is slightly triggering. I try to keep that in mind myself, and see the good even in its imperfect expressions, and MetaFilter has gotten much better overall about this, but I think it's still worth acknowledging from time to time.
posted by byanyothername at 1:11 PM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


hoyland: Being trans can get you killed, regardless of what you look like. 'Passing'* isn't about how normative your gender is or how normative your gender presentation is--it's about whether you're being perceived as trans.

Not for this trans person it isn't. Passing is about me being read as my chosen gender. Whether I get read as trans or cis, I don't really give two figs, as long as people can figure out the right set of pronouns to use. To be fair, my language use tends to be more specific - passing as cis, passing as a woman (with regard to myself - other genders are available). 'Passing' as a short-hand definitely means the latter to me, though, without that meaning 'cis woman'.

Wordwoman: The World Health Organization defines gender as "the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." To assert that "gender" is really something else is a remarkable claim that isn't supported in the everyday usage of language.

That's a shitty definition which is basically circular. You can't define gender with reference to men and women as they do any more than you can define food as being "things suitable to be served as either starters, mains, and/or desserts" - completely meaningless without a pre-existing conception of the term.
posted by Dysk at 10:35 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was on the radio this morning as I drove to work:

I know three boys named Elliot but no girls and you can't change the spelling to make it a boy's or girl's name. People question me -- even challenge my answers -- countless times; at the pool, at career day. Soccer referees make the mistake, even though boys can't play in a girl's league. People act like I am a wrong puzzle piece, like it is my fault that I don't fit their expectations.

She's an 11-year-old girl. Eleven. She wants to be who she is, which is an 11-year-old girl who doesn't care about "looking" like a girl, but that is apparently beyond the pale for an awful lot of people who should fucking know better.
posted by rtha at 9:06 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not for this trans person it isn't. Passing is about me being read as my chosen gender. Whether I get read as trans or cis, I don't really give two figs, as long as people can figure out the right set of pronouns to use. To be fair, my language use tends to be more specific - passing as cis, passing as a woman (with regard to myself - other genders are available). 'Passing' as a short-hand definitely means the latter to me, though, without that meaning 'cis woman'.

Interesting, around here it very much seems to be the opposite (but we're separated by about 3000 miles I think, so quelle surprise), though it's not like I've conducted extensive polling.

Anyway, I came to say I saw an extract about gender and his kid from S. Bear Bergman's new book.
posted by hoyland at 9:32 AM on October 30, 2013




"Exploitative-but-probably-maybe-better-than-nothing" was the intended amalgamation. Sorry.
posted by Corinth at 3:54 PM on October 30, 2013


Interesting, around here it very much seems to be the opposite (but we're separated by about 3000 miles I think, so quelle surprise), though it's not like I've conducted extensive polling.

Around here it very much seems to be the opposite in general, too, which is one of the reasons I tend to speak up so much - my position differs from the norm in trans circles, and I can't imagine there aren't other people who feel similarly to me. I know my heart jumps a little for joy on the rare occasion I see someone talk about things in a way I can relate to.
posted by Dysk at 1:55 PM on October 31, 2013


i've always used "passing" to just mean "passing for the correct gender in public" - but then since i'm a dude "passing as cis", specifically, isn't really as much of a potential physical safety issue as it is for ladies, so it is perhaps a distinction i've never thought to make just because it didn't seem important to me
posted by titus n. owl at 2:54 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Passing for me is all kinds of distressing. Mainly because I don't at all. I mostly look like a slightly feminized gay man. Then there's the embarrassment to work through, because I'm a middle aged person with the social graces of a 10 year old person trying to figure what clothes are about and how to get my look "right" so that I don't come off as an old creep when I pass a woman in public and become enthralled with her outfit.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:15 PM on November 2, 2013


i get read as a butch woman no matter how hard i try and i think that's just going to be my lot in life until i get on T and stay on it long enough to grow some kind of facial hair
posted by titus n. owl at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2013


A Case Study in Transphobia: Rolling Stone’s “About a Girl: Coy Mathis’s Fight to Change Gender”
Ederly misgenders Coy throughout the article’s first third, which is unpleasant for transgender readers.

The piece’s real transphobia, however, occurs during Ederly’s encounter with the transgender adults at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, whom she portrays as cautionary tales: misshapen, grotesque adults, who serve as warnings to her for parents reluctant to start their trans children on pubertal suppressors and cross sex hormones.

Ederly makes no effort to hide her disgust at the transgender adults she sees. She prefaces her transphobic descriptions of the conference attendees by suggesting their very existences serve as the testimony of “the ramifications for not taking action,” with regards to pubertal suppression.
posted by yeoz at 4:20 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


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