What do you think of if I say "transgender"? Drag queens in dodgy dives and Pride parades? The big reveal in The Crying Game? (Oops. Sorry.) Middlesex, if you've read it? Now what if I say "transgender child"? Ross from Friends wearing a dress and throwing a tea party? Maybe the stupid captions that the trashy magazines throw at Shiloh Jolie-Pitt from time to time when they've run out of pregnancy rumours for Jennifer Aniston? (Angelina was pregnant with Shiloh when I was expecting Dash. And Gwen Stefani with Kingston, and Jennifer Garner was just ahead by a month or two with Violet. That's a link that can never be broken, the celebrity-pregnancy-sister link.) (Wait, is Jennifer Aniston actually pregnant now? I can't keep up.)
Transgenderedness (I don't know if that's a real word, but I bet it is) is not something that affects my children or anyone I know right now, but it came up recently and was so interesting that I feel like I need to spread the educational word. What follows is my own very lightly educated opinion. If I've got something wrong, please let me know. I aim to enlighten.
Our society, for whatever reason, has decided to lump transgender in a box with gay, lesbian, and bisexual. But transgender - in children, at least - is not about sex, it's about gender.
Sex is a biological fact; gender is the boy/girl identity, and everything that goes with it, that people assume, usually at a very young age. For most of us the two things mesh and we go about our lives thinking gender just is another word for sex and blithely misusing it all over the place in an effort to save granny's blushes. (You are finding out the sex of the baby, not its gender, no matter how much more polite you might think that sounds.) To put transgender in simple terms, I think it's possible to say that a person's body grew one way, but their brain is wired for the other.
Transgender is also not about sexual preference. This is the Very Important Thing to remember. This is why it is perfectly possible for a child to be officially diagnosed as transgender when they are as young as four years old. They are not deciding that they find boys, or girls, or both, sexually attractive. They are telling the world that they are a boy or a girl, no matter what the world tells them they should be, based on their physical appearance.
These children face a huge struggle in their lives ahead. If they are lucky, their parents will listen and take their feelings to heart, and read good books and consult trustworthy experts, and let the child identify as they wish to. They might make it through elementary school unnoticed and unquestioned in their "new" identity. But when adolescence hits, they'll have to make some huge decisions about hormone treatments and eventual possible surgery, and their lives will always be marked by their difference.
And those are the lucky ones, in today's society where we understand that such a thing is possible. The unlucky ones walk a much sadder, lonelier road.
That's my PSA for today, so that in the unlikely event that this issue comes your way, you might face it with a tiny bit more education, insight, and compassion than otherwise.