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Stephen Ira

Views & Voices

It’s 2012. Do you know where your transgender children are?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It’s 2012. Do you know where your transgender children are?

Cisgender America, frightened of change and anxious about its identity, is in a panic over the growing visibility of gender-variant kids.

You’ve probably heard about the Girl Scouts of America’s decision to include trans girls, and you’ve probably heard about the decision’s considerable backlash.

You might have read about the bravely loving Maines family, who’ve supported the female identity of their now fourteen-year-old trans daughter, Nicole — or you might have read the many diatribes directed at the Maines family, calling them foolish, abusive, and other worse epithets.

Something out of the ordinary happens when cisgender adults talk about transgender children. People who wouldn’t normally make a child’s genitals a public issue are suddenly desperate to publicly scrutinize and debate the intimate details of children’s bodies. Some of these bodies belong to kids as young or younger than seven, like Bobby Montoya, the first openly trans Girl Scout.

Reactionary adults write op-eds insisting that Nicole Maines is a boy, because they perceive her body to be a boy’s, and they question her family’s decision to listen to their child about her needs. They organize boycotts of Girl Scout cookies, claiming that letting children with “male” bodies into Girl Scout camp will put the other Scouts in danger of sexual assault. They coach a preteen girl to speak transphobic hate in a propagandic anti-Girl Scout YouTube video.

Plenty of trans-positive people have called out these reactionaries on their transphobia and their quickness to judge, but as yet no one has stood up and said in the loudest voice they can: “You guys, this is creepy.” I’d like to say that now.

You guys, this is creepy. We are having a public conversation about whether children have the “right” or “wrong” genitals. We are allowed to do this, publicly, without any consequence–as long as those children are transgender. This is more than creepy. It is deeply unsettling. It frightens me.

These adults frighten me because what they want is not as simple as an all-cisgender Girl Scouts. The adults want something serious and impossible from Nicole Maines, from Bobby Montoya, from me, and from all transgender people, children and adults: they want an end to all confusion about gender.

They want never to feel ambiguous about the matter again–which is, of course, impossible. “What is gender and how should we deal with it?” is one of the great human questions. These adults might as well look for a straight answer to “What happens after we die?” or “What is the definition of love?”

They want a world of men and women. They want the women to have vaginas and breasts and then men to have penises and no breasts. They want the categories of gender to be inviolate and clearly marked. They want to know which one I am, which one Bobby Montoya is, and which ones Nicole Maines is, because they are under a sad misapprehension. They think that by scrutinizing the bodies of Nicole and Bobby, they will be able to understand their own gender, and never fear ambiguity within themselves again.

These people fear nuance in a naturally nuanced subject, and it is fear born in their own narcissism. Of course I don’t want to judge how they relate to their gender–I don’t like to judge the gender of others! I don’t feel a need to. And there is the kernel of the matter: I do not need to justify my own gender by legitimizing or delegitimizing the genders of others. I know what and who I am.

The desire to regulate trans people’s gender is motivated by a larger anxiety about gender, and that larger anxiety is in turn motivated by an anxiety about one’s own gender. What am I? What should I be? We are taught that only transgender people need to ask themselves these questions, but that is plainly not true–otherwise why would all these cisgender grown-ups be in such a flurry over what makes a seven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old male or female? They use us to answer questions about themselves.

But why do they keep talking about children, about the bodies of children? Why are they so obsessed with whether or not Bobby Montoya can be a Girl Scout, or Nicole Maines can use the girl’s bathroom?

America has realized something about transgender people: Not all of them are adults. This was promptly followed by a more sinister realization: the children are easier to get to. Sure, back in the day we could debate whether Renee Richards was female enough to play women’s tennis, and now we can fight over whether Thomas Beattie’s pregnancy makes him less of a man, but they can both speak for themselves. In the past, Richards did interviews. Later, she wrote a book. Beattie speaks through various venues–talk show, television, memoir.

Nicole Maines has stepped up to the plate–she is admirably articulate for a fourteen-year-old, and has testified before her local legislature on trans politics–but are we really going to demand that a fourteen-year-old constantly justify her genitals to adult strangers? Bobby Montoya doesn’t have the tools to defend her gender identity. She’s seven. She just wants to go to Girl Scout Camp.

All I want to do is talk to those kids and make sure they know just how creepy their adult bullies are. Not just wrong or hateful, but creepy! Straight-up, plain old, Peter-Lorre-whistling-In-The-Hall-of-the-Mountain-King creepy.

Cisgender adults can talk until they go blue in the face about these kids, because they know that they’re grown-ups, and the kids can only contradict them up to a certain point. What a relief, transgender people who can be silenced completely! After all, this was never about the feelings or thoughts of trans people. It was never about trans people at all! It was always about the anxiety cisgender people have about the gender binary, the creeping sensation they get sometimes that “man” and “woman,” “boy” and “girl” are so simple that they don’t completely describe anyone.

It’s not really important to have trans voices in this discussion; all that’s needed are examples of trans bodies to scrutinize. And isn’t it easier to deal with a smaller body? One you can hold down?

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