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Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

Currently reading

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc
David Elliott
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
Julia Serano

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children

Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children - Rachel Pepper

(I listened to this on audio.)


This is an edited volume of essays written by mothers of transgender and gender-variant children. I listened to it because my children and their peers are interested in gender issues, and are vocal proponents of gender fluidity and societal acceptance, and I wanted to read more about it. It's definitely a topic of conversation that I think is fruitful for everyone on the planet to have: how binary is gender, really, and why are we not more accepting of fluidity in gender identity? I just bought plane tickets, and because of this new awareness brought on by my kids, I was taken aback for the first time that TSA forces you to choose your gender in order to fly, and your choices are "male" or "female."   


Transitions of the Heart expressed very starkly something that I hadn't thought of before, which is that entire families undergo the transition, not just the transgendered person. Families have to get their friends and relatives to understand and accept their loved one. Parents and siblings have to let go of their son or daughter or sister or brother and transition to thinking of them as they really are. There's sometimes a feeling of loss (e.g. you've lost your daughter, but you've gained a son, and yet weren't they the same all along?), and there are a lot of habits to break. So it was fascinating in that way--in making that sensation real for a person who hasn't experienced it.


The book nearly raised more questions than it answered, however. The stories are pretty uniformly uplifting, and also uniformly...uniform. Nearly all of the cases involve children who recognized their gender non-conformity very early in life (one story involves a one-year-old baby cutting her new dress--the dress she's wearing--with scissors while her mother in on the phone) and often had behavioral problems, anger, or depression before vocalizing the problem. The mothers, though from different backgrounds, races, and sexual orientation, were uniformly upset by the news, gradually or quickly accepted their child's real identity, and the child became settled and much happier when their parents helped them transition socially (and then legally). All of the children but one in the book do in fact appear to fall into a binary gender identity--their true gender just doesn't conform with their assigned gender at birth. Almost all of the stories talk about the child being born that way. In other words, the concept of "fluid" never entered into this book. Is it because sociology types think we need to take this one step at a time--that we have to believe it's congenital in order to accept it? What does the current research say about gender identity changing over a lifetime?


Interestingly, all of the young children express their early preferences through clothes and toys. But why should a girl who is born in a boy's body necessarily violently eschew sports, and only want to play with dolls? Don't many girls do both (or even only do sports)? Do all girls want sparkly pink shirts and pink- and purple-everything? What does this say about the strength of societal pressure, that a three-year-old boy wanting to identify as the other gender would fixate so wholly on such odd cultural trappings of superficial femininity? 


I wanted to know more about children with fluid gender identity. I wanted to know whether the terms used in the book would be used by teens and young adults. The book is only a year and a half old, but I had this nagging worry that it was outdated, or out-of-touch, or so focused on some internal goal that it deliberately left information out. "Gender non-conforming," "transgender," and "gender-variant" in particular seem to be vetted terms in the book...but don't even these terms imply, etymologically, that there is a normal way to experience gender, and other experiences represent a change from that norm?  Aren't there kids and teens who feel that gender is to some extent fluid for most (if not all) people in the world, and that the problem is precisely the assumption that there's a "normal" to deviate from?


Another term mentioned was "gender creative," which as far as I could tell was only applied to the boy who has famously become My Princess Boy. If I were a teen, I might think the word "creative" implied dabbling, or flightiness, and I might be offended. And finally, the introduction mentions "pink boys" but then the book never defines the term, or gives an example.


I guess I'll wait a week for Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out to be released, with hopes that it answers some of these questions.