A few months ago, this video was making its way around FB.

It tells the story of a little girl named Ryland who insists she is a boy. It’s a series of photographs and a video clip of a cute little kid with written narration of her increasing determination to be recognized as a male. As early as 2, the kid is dressing up in Dad’s tie and dress shoes, and by the age of 5 or 6, the parents decided to help Ryland transition to a male identity. The final scene is Ryland speaking at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast. It would be too aggravating to try to refer to Ryland without using gender pronouns, or to keep going back and forth, so for the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to Ryland with male pronouns. That is his preference, and since I’m invading his space by telling his story, I think it’s the least I can do.
The reactions I saw to this video fit cozily into two categories – “Accept transgender people!” and, “Accepting transgender is wrong!” While those positions are definitely positions –
Yeah, I don’t know what to say about either statement. They both make me bored.
There is something very interesting about this video, though, and it has everything to do with LGBTQ acceptance. When I saw this, I was incensed at the intolerance of these parents. Yeah, you heard me. They’re bigots. This is one of the worst cases of gender stereo-typing I have ever seen. Actually, it is the worst. It pisses me off.
“She began to show aversion to anything feminine.”
“Some told us it was ‘just a phase.’ The trouble was, phases end, this was only getting stronger.”
“Ryland began to display increasing amounts of shame. She said, when the family dies I will cut my hair so I can be a boy.”
“We cut his hair, we changed pronouns to he/him, we changed his room, we sent out a letter to friends/family to explain.”
My son plays with baby dolls. He wears pink hand-me-down sandals. He makes bracelets on his sister’s Rainbow Loom and asked for one for Christmas. No matter how many times I correct him, he calls his underwear panties. There’s maybe a 2 inch difference between my haircut-resistant son’s do and my brushing-resistant daughter’s do. My eldest girl got a Leatherman for her 10th birthday, and now her younger siblings can’t wait to turn 10 so they can get their own. My girls and my boy hunt, they hike, they climb trees, they think Tim Allen’s Home Improvement is the pinnacle of visual art, they want shoes and jackets made for boys because boy stuff lasts through more than a day of rough play. Legos and art supplies are the two most-loved toys in our house. Hands down, no contest, everyone’s favorite. See, if one of my kids prefers to play with “girl stuff” or “boy stuff” he or she is going to have a heck of a time figuring out what, exactly, that means. Toys are toys. Colors are colors. Haircuts are haircuts. Why does anyone at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast care what Halloween costume a kid wants to wear or what color his room is painted? Is there something notable about having a blue room and a vulva?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, here. This is big, so pay attention. A SIX YEAR OLD DOESN’T UNDERSTAND SEX. Sure, you can explain it, but he doesn’t get it. That’s why we call it abuse when someone uses a six year old for sexual gratification. There is no such thing as consensual sex with a child because a child doesn’t have the experience and the hormonal cocktail that make sex both meaningful and pleasurable. Until you understand sex, you can’t really truly understand your own gender. I would argue that understanding and appreciating your gender is a life-long pursuit. Sure, kids identify as boy or girl at some point in the preschool years, but their understanding of that identity, not to mention their ability to express it to adults, is about equivalent in complexity to a preschool drawing of a Reuben painting. “Yeah, I think that’s The Fall of Phaeton he’s trying to convey there. Stand back here by the window. I’m pretty sure those are horses falling out of the sky. No, no, turn your head kind of clockwise and squint your eyes a little.” That’s what Ryland’s parents are doing to Ryland, and they’re using that demented judgment as the basis for choices that have life-long consequences. His name and his picture and his story are all over the world. Everyone who is acquainted with the family knows that Ryland has transitioned from a female identity to a male identity. That’s a pretty heavy burden to put on a kid. And what are parents of Ryland’s friends supposed to do? On the one hand, you don’t want to leave this kid friendless, but on the other hand, if I was faced with this ridiculous situation I would be hesitant to invite the influence of knuckleheads like those parents on my children.

scribble reuben
This summer, I was at the library with my kids, when a family we knew from basketball walked in with what I assumed was a neighbor boy. I was looking at the door, waiting for the daughter who had played on the same team as my girls, when the mom smiled and said, “That’s her. She wanted a really short haircut, and I figured it’s her head, her choice.” The neighbor boy was the daughter. I smiled back, we laughed about the terrors of long hair and that was it.  All of it.  I didn’t need to comment on her daughter’s choice of hairstyle or clothing, my kids neither wanted nor needed an explanation. There was no reason to pry into this little girl’s feelings about her gender. She wanted short hair. It’s her head. It’s not the Alphabet Soup Organization of Victimhood’s head, it’s not Harvey Milk’s head, it’s no one’s head but her own.
If you are unaware of the genetic differences that can cause gender confusion and ambivalence, please read up a little. Some children are born with extra x’s or y’s or other variations that don’t lend themselves well to neat and tidy gender classification. This is not a Bilderberg conspiracy to trick you into accepting she-males. Some people are born different. They deserve just as much love, understanding, and respect as every other human being, and they deserve the time and the space to figure out where they fit in the world. Everyone deserves that space. Lay off the boy playing with Barbies, and quit pestering the girl who’s not interested in wearing a Disney Princess dress to prom. In reality, we understand next to nothing about genetic variation or how environmental factors can affect a growing child’s perception of himself. And acting civil should not be dependent on understanding.
I grew up in a home that embraced wifely submission. My sisters and I were expected to learn to be good home makers and to live with our parents until we were married. I was taught that women and men are designed for different roles and that married women who worked outside the home were undermining their husbands. There were no brothers living at home when my parents developed these ideas, but I was made to understand that if I had been a boy, I would have been given more freedom. Boys weren’t necessarily more responsible by nature, but they needed more opportunities to develop the male characteristics of derring-do. I felt jipped. I often wished I had been born male. I was interested in home making because there was plenty to learn and I was starving for intellectual stimulation, but girly stuff has never appealed to me. I wore mascara for a year when I was in college, but then I got tired of it and quit. I had to look up the word for the stuff you put on your nails just now. I knew finger paint couldn’t be right. I think most of my personality traits are more common in men than women. As a preteen and a teenager, I never knew what was going on when I was in a group of girls. Despite being embarrassed by them, boys felt much more comfortable to me. I still have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in a typical gathering of women. For many years, I saw my gender as a mild disappointment. I never felt like a boy, but I never felt happy about being a girl, either. Then I met my husband, and after a few weeks of dating, I was in a grocery store, and I saw a couple walking out with their groceries. Dad had the toddler on his shoulders, and Mom was cradling an infant, and I was standing there at the checkout – my card in my hand, the checker staring at me, and I had my mouth open and tears in my eyes. I realized then and there that I hadn’t wanted a family because I hadn’t met someone worth having a family with.

Then I gathered my wits, paid for my groceries and tried to forget what had just happened. I was going to do something worthwhile with my life, not be tied down to home and family.

Even after I got pregnant, three months into our we’re-waiting-a-couple-years-to-start-a-family marriage (if I have one of those genetic variations, it’s probably the one that makes you ovulate when you see a pair of booties), I had no idea what being a woman would mean to me. The more I studied about pregnancy and birth, and the more subsumed I was by my sweet little parasite and her needs, the more I realized what power and beauty were wrapped up in my femininity. Each subsequent pregnancy and birth brought me deeper into the ethos of womanhood. Then my daughters started growing and thinking and being, and I realized that I am the one who gets to teach them what it means to be a woman, and it doesn’t have to include anything about pink sparkly cleavage.
Now, when I see a kid who thinks that being a boy means Spider Man and a short haircut, and being a girl means a pink room and barrettes, and that if one is irritating, you should be the other one, that makes me really, really sad. I have no idea what’s going on with Ryland. He might never look back. He might be an exceptionally insightful kid who knows who he is and what he wants. I hope so much that he is, and that his parents didn’t just make a bewildering maze out of what could have been a gradual and painless journey of self-discovery. There’s nothing wrong with a boy who likes pink or a girl who prefers jeans and low maintenance hair. Maybe your daughter wants to be called the big brother. Call her the brother and give her a kiss. Don’t call her the brother and hire a publicist. If you’re going to send letters to family and friends, write about who your kids are right now, not who you’re sure they’re going to be.

photo credit
Children’s art: http://psychohawks.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/childrens-drawings-what-can-we-learn-from-them/

Reuben: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_%28National_Gallery_of_Art%29.jpg

I’m gonna pee: http://www.jokideo.com/stop-stop-im-going-to-pee/