On her blog Uncommon scents Natacha Kennedy, London based scholar on trans children and activist for trans positive education engage in a ferocious, rabid attempt to knife bio-ethicit and intersex-as-DSD advocate Alice Dreger down on the ground that she publishes an article “Transadvocates” in which she argues the problem with trans kids is not the kids but the parents and the cis system (my word). Dreger does this with the use of some dangerous analogies that makes Kennedy highly indignant.
But how transphobic is this writing actually? Is it intended to be so?
Two important things on which I agree wholeheartedly without reservations: it is 99% cis people that push apparent trans children in a certain role, be it forcing them to be trans or to behave like “a real boy/girl”. And second: I do agree with Dreger’s conclusion just like Kennedy. But putting Dreger in the transphobic bucket of Janice “Transsexual Empire” Raymond and Sheila Anti-pornography Jeffreys … that is some steps too many for me.
Dreger choses a weak and suspect analogy of a boy wanting to be a train “Actually this child—let’s call him Thomas—believed he was a locomotive”. And “I had already met a surgeon interested in using his craft to provide people with wings“. Definitely very dubious, suggestible imagery. Reason enough to be sceptical because when people use this kind of examples they usually do not engage in sincere discussion. But Dreger does, in my opinion.
However what she says is also realistic on many points. Peggy Cohen’s (VUmc gender team, orfessor on transsexulism) first hand research corroborates that many at young age apparent trans choldren grow over it, find other ways, may still end up genderqueer, but not -directly, apparently – transsexual (for what the term is worth). I’d like to define that term for now as feeling the need to physically transition into another gender/sex.
And here Kennedy is absolutely right to say that it is an even worse suggestion to say that trans people may want trans kids to transition asap. That would be plain stupid. For one reason because only later on one can be reasonably sure that they themselves really feel and need to physically transition. No need to put that way ahead in the future, but I really would be inclined to indeed have these kids live the gender role they want (maybe cautiously slow).
Second: keep those ‘good willing’ cis people off their backs. Many portray exactly the lack of priority for the child’s wishes Dreger accuses many people of. Natacha Kennedy found out in research that many of these chldren know early on of their being different and in this cis and straight normative society have to live conscious of their difference without being to do anything about it usually. Which contributes to stress, gender stress even.
I side with Natacha that the ‘common sense’ Dreger indicates that most trans children grow up non-trans and happy about that, is all but solid evidence. Personally I have met several people who in their early youth or puberty were defintely transgendered but found a way to deal with it somewhere on the edges of the trans spectrum, by being gay/lesbian. And only by working or living with other trans people started to realise this. How htis would have been without all the pressure, if they would have grown beautifully transgedenred or something else, we cannot tell. The “growing up cis” part of Dreger I believe, the happy part is where I’m sceptical about. In some cases we do know how the children grew up when left to their own devise with parental support. Not all of them grow ‘heavily’ transgendered.
I am inclined to tell Dreger that for a scientist of her standing and experience, she should be more consious of her own writing. She ought to know better than use such analogies, be more precise in what she refers to. You owe that to being a scientist. But transphobic .. not consciously, I find too little proof of that. And I know that people can even when living near the smithery may make bad horseshoes. I suspect Dreger to such a scholar.
The problem I guess: we cannot know how it would be without cis pressure. Even seemingly idyllic environments have their restrictions and their problems. Same applies for aforementioned Dutch trans children. A dutch poem says “Between dream and act, stand laws and moral objections” and nightly gloom. Let’s keep stimulating these kids to use their inventiveness to find ways to be true to themselves, let’s keep educating – with all means possible – the parents, neighbours, teachers, scientists, politicans, shrinks and doctors. many of them just need good education whcih can take quite some effort and may not give the result wished for. And maybe – I may be way too hopeful but still – also Alice Dreger grows in the right direction.