What are the odds you’ll stop harassing trans kids? (Gender Analysis)

Previously: Debunking common myths about transgender youth, Transgender youth fact check

Let’s connect some dots. On December 22nd, the Kansas City Star reported:

It didn’t take long for two public reactions to erupt on the announcement this month that Avery Jackson, a 9-year-old girl from Kansas City, would be the first known transgender individual to be pictured on the cover of National Geographic.

The first and most overwhelming reaction to her appearance on one version of the magazine’s January cover continues to be an outpouring of support.

The second: hate — scorching and violent messages. One suggested that the only way Avery would be safe is if her mother were “exterminated.”

“It’s a bunch of internet trolls,” said Debi Jackson, 42, Avery’s mother. “And what they do for fun is find people to make fun of and start threads. This one particular group likes to target the trans community — a lot of them try to target people and harass them so much so that they’ll commit suicide.

“They’ve started a thread about me, (describing me) as a horrible and abusive parent who is using my child for fame and fortune, and obviously I have a twisted sexual deviancy issues to make my boy act like a girl…”

“They found information (about our family) and put it out there. People later commented, ‘Yeah, she’s definitely one who needs to be cyberbullied until she commits suicide.’ ”

Obviously this harassment is horrible and completely unacceptable. What kind of person would target a child and her family in this way? Who could be behind something like this?

Take a guess.

“I’ve been pretty upset, there’s a new cover of the National Geographic […] So I actually did some research on this kid’s background and their family […] Shoe-on-head actually DMed me the Twitter profile of the mother of the child […] Her Twitter handle is @transgirl_mom […] Her profile cover photo is of her and her two kids, one holding a gay flag and one a transgender flag […] Her bio reads that she is a trans activist, so right off the bat, flag number two, I’m thinking, hmm, what are the odds that a transgender activist gives birth to a kid who ends up being transgender? […] She’s been doing press and interviews and talks for years about her kid […] She also has her own organization called Trans-Parenting […] And I hope to God that despite every bit of this story looking like the mom encouraged the kid to live this way and be this way, it’s not the case…”

“Looking like”? “Every bit”? How can anyone look at this family’s story and arrive at that conclusion? Is the idea of a mother advocating on behalf of her child so alien to them that the possibility just never crossed their mind?

Apparently so. Ever since I responded to Blaire White’s latest video, I’ve received comment after comment along the lines of:

“You do realize that during the video she posted she was mainly concerned with the mother encouraging the child to be trans, not the child being trans and the mother supporting it, right? Did you fully watch her video? This video you referenced has nothing to do with the research, it has more to do with the fact that a lot of parents can and will encourage a child ( whom is like a sponge when they are a toddler ) to be something they are not.”

Did I watch her video? Yes. Here’s your answer:

How dare you?

It’s mystifying that you would think such a claim is worthy of being considered seriously at all. It’s indefensible that you would believe this bizarre line of logic justifies declaring that “children transitioning equals child abuse” as Blaire White did. If she, or any of you, had done the barest of research into the family that you are now personally targeting, your baseless suspicions would have been resolved in short order. Here’s what Avery’s father wrote in an essay for the New York Times in 2015:

Once our daughter had the words to express who she was in her heart and her brain, we began to seek help from medical experts.

We took her to see her pediatrician, a child psychologist, and a gender therapist. Our child was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, and we were told that allowing her to socially transition to live as a girl was the proper “treatment.” At that point my wife and I poured over every bit of information we could find about transgender children.

And here’s what Avery’s mother told the Kansas City Star in 2014:

“We were just parents going to work, sending our kids to day care, and this happened to us, … I had never even heard the term ‘transgender.’ “

This article also noted that Avery’s mom “grew up in the South, a Republican raised Southern Baptist by a conservative, Christian family.”

If you’ll only read just enough to find something marginally compatible with what you already wanted to believe, if you can’t work up the effort to inform yourself in the slightest degree, but you’re still so passionate about this that you’ll accuse someone of “child abuse” on the basis of absolutely nothing, you have a problem. Yet you’re asking me to entertain an implausible claim with zero evidence, which also happens to have an impossible timeline?

Sure.

Think really hard about what you’re proposing here. If it were possible for parents to “make” a young child just start being another gender, the world would be a very different place. Consider how many parents hope to have a boy or a girl – they don’t always get what they wanted. If there were some mechanism by which they could simply influence their children to “become” another gender, we would see it happening all the time, beyond a shadow of any doubt. Instead, what we do see are practices of sex-selective infanticide, abortion, and neglect against female newborns, which have now added up to a demographic deficit in Asia of more than 100 million women. Why would any parent do that if they could just as easily “decide” that their girl was going to be a boy?

If this could be done, another factor would be in play as well: transphobia. A truly disappointing number of parents want a cisgender child so badly that they will deliberately inflict harm upon their transgender kids, believing that this will cause a child to identify with their assigned sex. According to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 27% of trans people who were out to their families were forced to dress as their assigned sex (James et al., 2016). 14% were forced by their families to receive treatment from counselors and other professionals with the intention of making them stop being trans, 10% were subjected to violence from family members, and 8% were kicked out of their home.

We can see that there is a real effort by parents to influence the gender of their children, but rather than encouraging their kids to be trans, these parents discourage this. We can also see that these efforts to change a child’s gender are clearly ineffective. Even as so many trans people endure years of abuse at the hands of their family, they continue to identify as their gender. Try to imagine what someone would have to do to convince you that you’re actually another gender. Take five minutes and really try to figure out what could possibly persuade you of this. What would it take for you to want to present as that gender, live your life as that gender, and be recognized by others as that gender? It’s not that simple, is it? I don’t understand how you can think that a person being an advocate for trans people can cause their child to “become” trans, but you don’t seem to believe it’s possible that a child being trans can cause their parent to become an advocate on their behalf.

What are the odds that the child of a trans activist would be trans themselves? When you leave the question hanging like that, it’s probably because you don’t want to tell people what the answer is. Blaire White tries to imply that this is so rare, there must be another, more likely explanation for it. Many people will believe this is improbable, because they have no knowledge of the statistics and demographics of trans people. But trans people aren’t that rare, and neither are trans activists. All else being equal, the odds of a trans activist’s child being trans are 1 in 189. According to a 2014 U.S. government survey, 1 in 189 adults in the U.S. are transgender (Crissman, Berger, Graham, & Dalton, 2016), and like all adults, they were once children.

Find 189 trans activists with kids, and at baseline, you can assume that at least one of them will have a child who is trans. Factor in the basic human reality that many of these parents love and support their children and will speak out on their behalf, and that number will rise. Then consider that there are 1.3 million trans adults in the U.S. Among respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey who were out to their families, 82% said that at least one immediate family member was supportive of them, such as by standing up for them to family members or friends, doing research to find out how best to support them, helping them fund their transition, or helping them change their identity documents. That’s a lot of trans activists with trans children. You have no reason to single out one supportive mother and assume that there’s anything anomalous, questionable, or even uncommon about her child being trans.

The deceptive cry of “Somebody think of the children!” is one of the oldest weapons of prejudice, wielded against same-sex parents, parents in interracial marriages, and now, parents of trans kids. These baseless allegations of abuse pose a real threat. Groups like Trans Youth Family Allies advise parents to keep what’s called a “safe folder”: a file of medical records and statements from doctors, counselors, school faculty, and others, to ensure that the family will be protected in the event of false accusations.

This is a particularly insidious tactic, because it cloaks itself in feigned concern for children while actually calling for the mistreatment of those same children. A study published in Pediatrics in 2016 found that socially transitioned trans kids aged 3 to 12 who were supported by their families had low levels of depression and anxiety, comparable to their cisgender peers (Olson, Durwood, DeMeules, & McLaughlin, 2016). For trans children, family support for their transition is healthy and good for them. Conversely, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that respondents who were rejected by their families were more likely to have attempted suicide and more likely to have experienced homelessness. Another study also found that family rejection was associated with higher rates of substance abuse (Klein & Golub, 2016).

Allowing trans kids to live as their gender is the better choice for their healthy development, and denying their gender is known to be worse for them. Medical professionals know this, recognize this, and recommend that families support their transgender children. Just listen to the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 64,000 pediatricians and pediatric specialists (Dreyer, 2016):

As I sat at the AAP Districts II and VIII joint meeting in late June listening to two families talk about their experiences with their young transgender children, I felt privileged to witness such love and acceptance — and such normal, happy children who just happened not to fit their “assigned” or birth gender. […] I’ve learned so much from these children and their families. First, gender dysphoria can start very early. Both children experienced strong opinions about their gender at the age of 4 or 5. […] Both families stressed how important it is for home to be a safe and accepting space for the transgender child. When those children walk through the door of their homes at the end of a school day, they should be able to be themselves without any judgment. As one of the fathers passionately said, “I won’t be my child’s first bully!” The pediatrician’s office, and the entire health care setting, should be a safe, accepting place as well.

In light of this, the comments I’ve received casting aspersions on this child’s parents are inexplicable. You won’t listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional organizations, you won’t listen to the overwhelming body of evidence, you won’t listen to these kids and their families, but you’ll listen to a know-nothing blowhard on a personal crusade against trans children even existing?

Let’s be clear: There is no “debate” here. There are no “two sides” here. There’s a family doing their best for their daughter based on the medical consensus of doctors and researchers who want to help these kids – and there’s a mob of unforgivable harassers lashing out at innocent people on the basis of nothing more than deliberate ignorance. There is no question of who is in the right.

What kind of person is surprised that a mother would support her daughter? Of course she would, knowing that her child will have to grow up in a world full of people like you.

I’m Zinnia Jones, and I hate having to mop up after your garbage. Stop credulously believing this nonsense. Stop harassing trans kids. Stop threatening their families. Period.


References

  • Crissman, H. P., Berger, M. B., Graham, L.F., & Dalton, V. K. (2016). Transgender demographics: a household probability sample of US adults, 2014. American Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303571
  • Dreyer, B. P. (2016, August 3). Letter from the President: Pediatricians should not be transgender children’s first bully. AAP News. Retrieved from http://www.aappublications.org.
  • James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
  • Klein, A., & Golub, S. A. (2016). Family rejection as a predictor of suicide attempts and substance misuse among transgender and gender nonconforming adults. LGBT Health, 3(3), 193–199.
  • Olson, K. R., Durwood, L., DeMeules, M., & McLaughlin, K. A. (2016). Mental health of transgender children who are supported in their identities. Pediatrics, 137(3), 1–8.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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2 Responses to What are the odds you’ll stop harassing trans kids? (Gender Analysis)

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