“I've been a boy for three years and I was a girl for six.”
July 1, 2015 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Esteemed PBS series Frontline has produced a new documentary profiling a number of trans children and their families in the U.S. today: Growing Up Trans. There will be a Google Hangout with the producers and several of the film's subjects on July 1, at 3 PM EST. Inside, please find a number of articles released by Frontline to flesh out the film. posted by Going To Maine (35 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
In similar news, I saw that TLC is premiering a show about a transgender teen later this month: I Am Jazz. Glad to see so much out there!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite blogs is gendermom, which is written by a mom about her young transgender daughter. Her recent blog post, "My daughter, Caitlyn Jenner, and Laverne Cox" is really awesome, but all of her entries are great. I really look forward to watching this documentary.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I should mention that there has been some blowback from Jenn Burleton of the TransActive Gender Center about the documentary's content. That said, I trust Frontline to do due diligence about these things, so I'm kind of skeptical.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2015


With respect to Jenn Burleton's blowback mentioned by Going to Maine, I was watching this with my boyfriend, and the ONE line that he really took away from the documentary was a line saying that the majority of youth with gender dysphoria do not grow up to be transgender. He said, "Yeah, I don't think 13- and 14-year olds should be allowed to transition. Maybe put them on puberty blockers, but as the documentary said, most of them will deal with whatever gender dysphoria issues internally, so transitioning them that early would be an irreversible mistake."

When I heard him, I thought, "So, this is what the transgender folks mean when they talk about getting crapped on by LGB folks..."
posted by subversiveasset at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I watched this last night and keep thinking about it today. From my perspective, as an outsider to trans* issues, I thought it was fairly well done. I cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up with gender dysphoria and it seems that for most of the children they had supportive parents (minus the one father, but the Mom in that instance was supportive) which surprised me.

It seemed like the case they chose to highlight where the older man was having second thoughts of going through with hormones and surgery and was having regrets was interesting as well. He didn't seem to be upset about transitioning, more upset that he was stuck injecting himself with a foreign substance for the rest of his life and that he wasn't able to experience growing up without constant medical supervision.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 12:07 PM on July 1, 2015


This was an excellent documentary and it would have changed my entire destiny if I had seen it at 13 or 14. I have no doubt in my mind that it will save some kid's life.
posted by desjardins at 12:41 PM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


Excellent fpp; I knew about this but was caught up in other TV/dinner/stuff. Cannot wait to dig into the links. Thanks.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:47 PM on July 1, 2015


Yeah, I don't think 13- and 14-year olds should be allowed to transition. Maybe put them on puberty blockers, but as the documentary said, most of them will deal with whatever gender dysphoria issues internally, so transitioning them that early would be an irreversible mistake.

Saying this as a cis person: comments like this are such a good illustration of why hormone blockers are so awesome and maybe would have been for me; like Ariel says in her video, they give you a space to explore that transition between childhood and adulthood as a girl and test out your identity. I guess I might have had something like gender dysphoria when I was younger and I never had that chance - I went through (female) puberty at age 9 and it was actually pretty traumatic for me at the time. After very deliberate questioning and exploration I determined that I definitely do not identify as male, and I'm now happy presenting and living socially as female (if pressed about my gender identity, I just shrug), but those preteen/early teen years SUCKED.

These videos also made me think about that perennial question of "how come the trans kids in these things are always pretty gender-conforming, and what is to become of the trans girl tomboys and so on?" because it really drove home the point, to me, that traditional gender roles are one of the few ways trans kids have to assert their identities when many of them lack the words to say "hey, I'm trans" and are left with basically nothing in their tool kit but very pointedly and obviously presenting their gender.
posted by capricorn at 12:50 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


The "older dude" - who was still only about 19 - specifically said several times he had no regrets about transitioning. He said he wished he would have been able to go through puberty at the same time as his peers, i.e. been able to take cross-sex hormones (testosterone) while everyone else was going through puberty. Instead, he's going through it in his late teens (hence the obvious acne). And yes, disappointment in not being able to produce hormones naturally (and thus having to inject oneself or take pills) is a very common among trans people.
posted by desjardins at 12:50 PM on July 1, 2015


Given that children today begin puberty years earlier than they used to, hormone blockers sound like they're just restoring the former status quo (so they're not unnatural or harmful). And if that gives children more time to consider their gender identity, and lets them eventually choose with an older and more mature outlook, then all the better.

...the ONE line that he really took away from the documentary was a line saying that the majority of youth with gender dysphoria do not grow up to be transgender.

Was a source provided for that statistic?
posted by Rangi at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2015


Cannot wait to dig into the links. Thanks.

I should add that “articles” is probably a little overblown - “posts” would have been more correct.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:56 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Trans kids - and some trans adults - are sometimes gender conforming because they want to be easily identified as their correct gender. It's easier to be instantly perceived as "boy" if you have short hair and you're wearing boys clothes. The vast majority of people-with-long-hair-who-wear-dresses are female so it's a great shorthand. One of the kids - can't remember which one - said that appearing non-binary led to far more bullying than being gender-conforming trans.

That, said there are plenty of tomboy trans women and feminine trans men. I just think it's harder as a kid.
posted by desjardins at 12:58 PM on July 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


These videos also made me think about that perennial question of "how come the trans kids in these things are always pretty gender-conforming, and what is to become of the trans girl tomboys and so on?" because it really drove home the point, to me, that traditional gender roles are one of the few ways trans kids have to assert their identities when many of them lack the words to say "hey, I'm trans" and are left with basically nothing in their tool kit but very pointedly and obviously presenting their gender.

I think that many grown-up transitioners are pretty gender conforming too. A friend explained that the reason is simple: gender means a huge deal to trans people and a very clear and obvious presentation gives others less opportunity to impeach it.
posted by Thing at 12:59 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


desjardins, that was what I was going for, you just wrote a little more clearly than me I think. I hope I didn't accidentally imply something different.
posted by capricorn at 12:59 PM on July 1, 2015


Gender conforming dress is a semiotic. I call it the "Streets of Laredo Effect." As the song goes: "I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy...."

If one aspires to be considered a member of a gender opposite to one's own biology, one will insist, as the wonderful film showed, to wear the symbolic "outfit" that signifies that gender membership, the more stereotypical the better. This is a subset of the apparently irreducible human need to use costumery to signify one's cultural affiliation, e.g., when wealthy lawyers dress up as faux Hell's Angels to ride around on $20k Harleys at Daytona "Biketoberfest."

I was struck by how strong an aversion each of the featured gender dysphoric children had to the traditional "outfit" of his/her biological gender. The wearing of boys/girls "uniforms," as applicable to each person, was obviously an affirmation of how strongly each aspired to transition to their gender preference: an outward sign of their inward identification.
posted by rdone at 1:34 PM on July 1, 2015


I thought it was excellent, though I'm interested to hear of criticisms from trans folks. I wanted to hug every one of those kids and tell them I thought they were amazing and deserved to be happy.
posted by emjaybee at 1:38 PM on July 1, 2015


I saw a TV show where a preacher was interviewed wearing a white suit.

What I wanna know is, why are all the preachers wearing white suits? I have my theories, let me tell you. And it must be weird for preachers to spend every waking moment of their lives wearing that white suit. It must mean something very, very special to them.

Because that is clearly what the TV has shown me to be true about preachers.
posted by nom de poop at 1:47 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


As far as regrets go, the shit part of being trans is there's only so much you can do to solve for dysphoria. The solutions we have are better than what we had 180 years ago, but there's a hell of a lot more research we CAN and SHOULD do. The options we have today are pretty good, but still pretty crude in my opinion.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:55 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Was a source provided for that statistic?

Unless I missed that part, nope.
posted by subversiveasset at 2:03 PM on July 1, 2015


If one aspires to be considered a member of a gender opposite to one's own biology, one will insist, as the wonderful film showed, to wear the symbolic "outfit" that signifies that gender membership, the more stereotypical the better. This is a subset of the apparently irreducible human need to use costumery to signify one's cultural affiliation, e.g., when wealthy lawyers dress up as faux Hell's Angels to ride around on $20k Harleys at Daytona "Biketoberfest."

A counterpoint: the old “Testosterone” episode of This American Life includes an interview with a trans guy who used to be an extremely butch lesbian. After transitioning, he found that he no longer had to perform butchness because he default presented as male. Anecdata, obviously, but this all seems to be anecdata at present.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:10 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's difficult as a nonbinary person to present in a way that signals "nonbinary" (whether it's agender, androgyne, or otherwise). The language of fashion does not have those words yet. Where androgyny exists in appearance, it's very much tied to body type and facial features in a way that is inaccessible to many people -- we can't all be David Bowie and/or Tilda Swinton. Unfortunately.
posted by Foosnark at 2:24 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


David Bowie and/or Tilda Swinton

Actually David Bowie and Tilda Swinton are the same person. Whenever you see them together it's a trick that's been done with mirrors.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


the old “Testosterone” episode of This American Life includes an interview with a trans guy who used to be an extremely butch lesbian. After transitioning, he found that he no longer had to perform butchness because he default presented as male.

This is super common. Often the thinking goes "hm, I like to wear boys clothes, I like girls, ergo I must be a lesbian" because there is no other frame of reference. Trans men are often invisible; popular depictions of trans people are almost always focused on transfeminine folks. (And until very recently, trans women were almost always portrayed as jokes or deceitful or freakish.)

I was very happy to see all the trans boys in this documentary. I literally did not know that female-to-male medical transition was possible until I was in my 20s. I wish to god someone had sat me down when I was in high school, when I was wearing ties and vests and wingtips, and said, "you know... there are kids out there just like you, and transition is an option." Instead it was *shrug* "I guess she's a tomboy."
posted by desjardins at 3:32 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I did not figure out I was trans until college, but if hormone blockers had been available to me at puberty, no questions asked and no judgement, I would have taken them. I felt pretty strongly at the time that puberty was a raw deal and a bad idea, but I wasn't really clear on why at the time. Now I know.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:41 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Gendermom, linked above, put together an excellent video and post debunking the citation to the 80% regret study .

Also, paraphrasing a friend on social media -- Frontline also went out of its way to give the impression that treatment of properly evaluated transgender youth with pubertal suppression and cross-sex hormone treatment was venturing into 'uncharted waters' for which there was little to no clinical data. This is simply not true. The program failed to acknowledge that The Endocrine Society, the professional medical association that established practice guidelines for pediatric endocrinologists, RECOMMENDS pubertal suppression treatment in properly assessed adolescents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published articles demonstrating overwhelming positive outcomes for youth given the benefit of pubertal suppression.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 5:14 PM on July 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


The program failed to acknowledge that The Endocrine Society, the professional medical association that established practice guidelines for pediatric endocrinologists, RECOMMENDS pubertal suppression treatment in properly assessed adolescents, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published articles demonstrating overwhelming positive outcomes for youth given the benefit of pubertal suppression.

While not emphasized in the program (boo!) it is discussed in one of the supplemental posts.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:16 PM on July 1, 2015


Puberty hit my like a truck when I turned 11 years old. I went into 6th grade six inches taller with an adult male voice and a scruffy mess of chin hair with matching dirtstache. When he got tired of looking at it, my dad had to shave my face for me the first time; I couldn't find the words to explain how much I hated what was happening, how scared I was. It didn't even occur to me to tell him about the dreams I had when I was 5, the dreams I knew I wasn't supposed to have; I saw how everyone responded to boys who wore dresses. When my 8th grade school portraits came in, I hid them in my room and refused to let my mother see them. Early on in 9th grade, I was about to hang my long winter coat up in my locker at school when I suddenly realized oh god, everyone can see what I look like, what I've become and then I hid every day inside that coat until it was 90 degrees outside. I was given the nickname Trenchcoat Mafia, which at least kept everyone away. I'd found my way: baggy jeans, XL plaid shirts, I said I was bringing grunge back, but I was really just covering up. Later that year my parents found out I was cutting myself. They asked me why, but I still didn't have the words.

The internet was awful in the early days of Google. I didn't even know the word "transgender" until all my gay friends were wondering what the T was all about at the end of their LGB. Even then, finding this word, feeling it stir something, I pushed it down. It didn't feel available to me; by then, I thought it was too late to transition, and there was enough misinformation out there to make it seem like a terrible idea anyway. Man, if only I had YouTube and Tumblr.

Seeing these kids, I want to hug them and help them, but at the same time, I can't help but feel intensely jealous, even a little angry.

Daniel hears he has breast development starting and looks horrified, and then the doctor tells him there's something that can be done. My heart breaks for him, but why couldn't someone do something for me?

Lia gets to be prom queen. I actually got myself elected as homecoming queen one year with a write-it campaign, and instead of getting my crown, I got scolded by the student council president. I wish I had the privilege to not feel trans.

Ariel is so amazingly insightful about her gender and what it means to express it, and all I can think about how she unified her double life at 13. And here I am, at 30. The same hiding, the same waiting, the same starting over. Watching her cry when she thinks about pregnancy, I started bawling.

These kids are sharp. So brilliant and emotionally aware. Kyle and John joke about the constraints on masculine gender expression. Isaac and AJ are looking into themselves to see who they are and coming up with answers that are articulate even though they're uncertain. Lia pulls apart gender roles and expectations with clarity that baffles me coming from someone her age. Listening to Alex and Ariel look forward to being open about their identities, their bravery makes me want to do the same.

And then there are other moments. Alex and his friends diving into the confusion of teenage masculinity. Kyle's depression. John's father. Oh god, John's father. Your son is crying in front of you, and I'm crying with him, and you shrug. Even with all these options and all this information, it's better, but it's not easy. It's heartbreaking.

I just started hormones yesterday, and I'm coming out at work tomorrow, so I'm a bit of a mess right now. There's a lot here to dissect and analyze and critique , I'm sure, but all I can do right now is react. These are stories that need to be told.

Going To Maine, thank you for sharing this.
posted by WCWedin at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2015 [42 favorites]


I just started hormones yesterday, and I'm coming out at work tomorrow

CONGRATULATIONS!!
posted by desjardins at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


seriously, congratulations :)
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:05 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Congratulations!
posted by SarahElizaP at 9:47 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


WCWedin.... Big congrats!! So thrilled for you and your bravery on taking this next step to become your real truth. Ahhhhh!! Your post gave me tears and goosebumps!! This internet stranger is THRILLED for you!! 😊😊😊
posted by pearlybob at 10:04 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


WCWedin, high fives and hugs!!!
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:18 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Aw, thanks, everyone! <3
=*D
posted by WCWedin at 6:48 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wanted to add this little girl's story to the thread. April is such a rockstar.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:59 AM on July 2, 2015


I think that many grown-up transitioners are pretty gender conforming too.

So are many cis people, children and adult. The stereotypes that people conform to don't magic out of nowhere, after all. But somehow, people don't quite wring their hands about the epidemic of gender-conforming cis people the way they do about trans people.
posted by Dysk at 1:40 AM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


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