Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Transgender Tyke Heads For School

One way of looking at the debate over sex-ed in the public schools is to think of it as a conflict between a simple view of sex and a complex one.

The simple view says that God and/or nature produced male and female sexes of all higher organisms, with differing reproductive systems, and also with other physical differences, whether it is coloration, upper body strength, size, or whatever. In the human, men are men and their role is to inseminate the female and provide protection for mother and offspring; women are designed for pregnancy, nourishment, and seeing that the offspring are safe. The sex drive has the further benefit of bonding a couple together, resulting in a longterm marriage that is good for raising children and maintaining domestic tranquility. Our place in the scheme is to play our part and perform as we were designed. The End.

The simple view works for a lot of people, for most people -- I mean, hey, it describes my life as the modern embodiment of Ward Cleaver.

But it turns out that human sexuality is not always so easy to categorize and control. Some people have feelings that don't fit the simple story line. That story line doesn't account for erotic fantasies, for masturbation, for people risking all to have adulterous affairs, it doesn't account for strippers and prostitutes, premature ejaculation and erectile disorder, or explain if there's really a G-spot and why we'd think there's one if there isn't. It doesn't even tell us why women have orgasms. It doesn't explain the fetishistic sexiness of high heels and pushup bras, sex toys, or the behavior of women at Chippendales performances. It doesn't account for the range of marriage practices around the world -- patrilocal, matrilocal, polygyny and polyandry, arranged marriages, dowries and bridal offerings, or the kind of serial monogamy practiced in the United States, among many other forms. The simple view doesn't explain why some boys play with dolls and some girls with trucks, why some men and women find people of their own sex more attractive, and it doesn't explain why sometimes a person feels, even for their entire life, that they are really the opposite gender from their physical body.

The simple view might consider all these things to be choices that a person makes, and one particularly narrow version of it, incredibly, sees them as moral choices, as if these were choices between right and wrong, but people who are pushed along by the relentless current of their sexuality don't tend to see it that way at all. Most people would like to be "normal," they'd prefer to be like everybody else at some level -- there are lots of social forces that impel us toward the average. When we are different from other people there is always the concern that there's something wrong with us, and it takes quite a bit of courage to acknowledge that maybe you're just fine the way God and/or nature made you.

In the long run, the complex view has to be open-ended, it has to conclude with the understanding that we can't explain why people feel the different ways they do. The complex view holds that life contains mysteries, and that it is futile to attempt to force the world to be simple enough for us to comprehend.

Don't ask me where that came from! Here's a news story from Miami:
One little girl entering Broward County kindergarten this fall is actually a boy.

Few will know this genetic truth, because the 5-year-old's parents and school administrators have agreed that it's in his best interest to blend in as a female.

Mental health professionals have diagnosed Pat -- not his real name -- with gender dysphoria, a condition in which a person believes that he or she is the opposite gender. After two years of examination, they have determined that he is not simply effeminate or going through a phase.

"Gender dysphoria can take place during a fetus' development in the womb," said noted gender specialist and sexologist Marilyn Volker, Ph.D., of Miami.

While this tyke is likely the youngest transgendered child admitted to a South Florida school, he is not unique. Both the Broward and Miami-Dade County school systems have policies in place to smooth the way for such students and their families. 5-year-old 'girl' starting school is really a boy

I think it's interesting that the reporter says "he" and "him." I wonder what the kid's teachers will say.
"People have an understanding of what it means to be gay or lesbian -- but when they hear that a person is genetically one gender but lives as another gender, that threatens a number of people because they don't understand what that means," [Florida state coordinator for PFLAG Carole] Benowitz said. "And that misunderstanding can make lives very difficult for transgendered children and their parents."

"In addition to behaving like the opposite sex, a person with gender dysphoria naturally relates to the opposite sex," Volker said. "They also have a persistent and recurring discomfort with their own external body parts and genitalia because it does not match their internal gender identity. Simply said, they were born into the wrong body."

You will notice in this story that there is a little tension with the terminology. This sort of thing gets described as a "disorder," but there is a lot of discussion going on about whether there is any value in treating it like something wrong with the person. Is the problem, really, that you feel like a girl, or is the problem that everybody else wants you to be a boy?
The soon-to-be kindergartner looks quite feminine, cartwheeling around the yard and playing with dolls. Pat says he hates his penis, and he refuses to wear boys' clothing.

He and his three older siblings -- two girls and a boy -- live in a middle-class Broward County neighborhood with their father, an attorney, and their mother, who has a master's degree in counseling.

Pat's parents had never heard of gender dysphoria until they took their child for treatment. He was insisting that he was a girl, and often tried to hide his penis between his legs.

After long consultation with a team of pediatric endocrinologists and therapists, then with school officials, the parents decided that it was in Pat's best interest to live as a girl.

"The school officials have agreed to continue working with the family and medical professionals to help create an environment that will maximize the child's ability to learn and grow within the school system," said family attorney Karen Doering, who specializes in defending the rights of people who are transgendered, gay, bisexual or lesbian.

Gender dysphoria -- called gender identity disorder by the American Psychiatric Association -- is commonly misunderstood today, much as homosexuality was 50 years ago.

Although the association has not taken a formal position, the scientific community is increasingly determining that it could be a genetic condition, not a mental disorder.

Personally, I am a little uncomfortable with the way this reporter uses the word "genetic," as if it just means "any cause outside conscious control." There are lots of things that can affect a developing child, besides genetics.
At the school, teachers and the principal are prepared. The child will use unisex bathroom facilities, will be addressed by a unisex name -- not Pat -- and has been asked to dress in gender-neutral clothing, such as shorts or pants and a shirt.

School officials said this is standard practice in Broward and Miami-Dade for helping transgendered children fit in.

"The policies the districts have in place are progressive," Benowitz said. "They both aim to ensure that transgendered students are treated like any other students, and take direct action when misunderstanding or violence take place."

There's quite a bit more to this story, follow the link for the rest.

It seems to me that the school district is being cool about this, everybody has to change the way they think in order to accommodate such a child. It will be interesting to see what follows, you kind of wish you could fast-forward to see how this all turns out.


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