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STOP THE OBSESSION WITH GENITALS: TRANSGENDER CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS



At the outset, it is necessary to define some core concepts, without which this post will make very little sense.


Sex: The DSM-5 defines sex as the biological indication of being male and female, understood in the context of reproductive capacity and external genitalia.[1] Sex is the individual’s biological status, categorized as male, female or intersex.[2]
Intersex: Individuals who are born intersexed do not form part of the strict male or female category because of their unique sexual characteristics.[3] The “intersex” category is broadly defined and includes chromosomal, gonadal, hormonal and external morphologic variations.[4]
Gender: “Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms”.[5]
Transgenderism: Individuals who are born with a clear biological sex but psychologically identify with a different gender.[6]
Gender Dysphoria: No longer recognized as a medical disorder, rather a variation in human experience.[7]
Gender Role: Refers to the societal concept of how men and women are typically expected to act and behave, and rely on norms or standards created by society.[8]

Now, for the substance of this blog.


“It’s a boy in a dress; It’s just a trend, in my day there were only two genders; If a man can identify as a woman, then I can identify as a tree; Our girls won’t be safe in the school bathroom if we allow boys to go in there; It’s the parents’ fault, they should have raised the child better; how can we confront children with topics like sex, they won’t understand; You should be as nature intended.”


Everytime a transgender child comes out, or there is something on the news about transgenderism, best be sure, the above are some of the comments you will hear. If a child is lucky, these things will be said behind their backs by strangers. If they are unlucky, these things might be said to their faces by the adults who should be protecting them – their parents, teachers, family and even friend’s parents. If they are enrolled in a public school, they may be classified as an abomination, with petitions from the community to get them removed from the school.


If you read the above, and some of the these quoted “concerns” resonate with you or you feel sympathy towards these overgrown bullies, allow me to give you a different perspective by reflecting on my own experience of sex and gender. I am a cisgendered, heterosexual female. This means that my biological sex characteristics correspond with my gender identity, and I am sexually attracted to the opposite gender – male.


Research suggest that most children can confidently and correctly express that they are a boy or a girl by age two.[9] I would say that I was no exception. I have always had a hyper feminine gender expression. The first memory of gender that I have, is where I was between two or three years old, and I was looking in the mirror, wondering when my body would look like my Barbie doll’s body. Not whether, but when.


I was born in the Netherlands, and at the time, they did not do ultrasounds on pregnant women merely for the sake of finding out the baby’s sex. Since my parents had no idea whether to buy pink or blue, they stuck to gender-neutral yellow and green for all my baby paraphernalia. Add to this, that my hair had to be kept short because I was a little demon who screamed bloody murder whenever someone picked up a hairbrush, and you get a picture of a very androgenous toddler. My mother also never particularly emphasised my gender identity, since she was rather a tom-boy growing up. I played with boy dolls and girl dolls, I had no understanding of sex or gender, nor of puberty and secondary sex-characteristics. Yet, I instinctively knew that I was the same as my girl dolls and my mother, and that my boy doll and my father were a different species. I wanted every one of my possessions to be pink, I played dress up, raided my mother’s make-up regularly and took every opportunity to paint my nails.


Fast forward to now when I am 23, and very little has changed from when I was two, except maybe now I raid my sister’s make-up and closet instead of my mother’s. Never in my 23 years have I questioned my gender identity, despite going through phases where I swore off pink and wore no make-up. It didn’t matter if my friends were boys or girls, whether my hair was short or long or whether I wore boy or girl clothes. It also didn’t matter that my interests were viewed as traditionally quite male, and that I am still very ill suited for my societal assigned gender role.


If it is completely possible for me to never question the gender identity I developed when I was two, before I knew what sex or sex characteristics and genitalia was; and if it is equally true that the WHO recognises that transgenderism is just a difference in human experience; then why are we so reluctant to acknowledge that transgender children’s experience of their gender is valid?


In my twelwe years at school, I can confidently say that I never saw the genitals of any of my classmates - not at school, not at sleepovers and not at camps. In my 23 years on planet earth, I have never seen the genitals of any other person in a public bathroom. I cannot imagine anyone, except maybe a pedophile, who walks around wondering what people have in their underwear.

The only way boys and girls are told apart in school is by virtue of their gender expression. If we accept that gender and sex are two completely different things, then there is nothing wrong with admitting that sometimes we make mistakes and put girls in boy uniforms and sometimes we force boys to wear dresses simply because their parents know what their genitalia is. How easy it is, to then just allow the child to wear the correct uniform that adequately corresponds, not with their sex, but with their gender, which they have been expressing since they were two or three years old. If sex and gender are two different things closely related but not dependent on one another, why can’t we acknowledge that the two won’t always correspond?


Transgender children are not abominations that must be eradicated, they are beautiful individual human beings with an equal right of existence. If anyone should be eradicated, let it be the genital obsessed adults who are bullying children that just want to be themselves.

[1] American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 829. [2] American Psychological Association “Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay and bisexual clients” (2012) 67 Am Psychol 10 11. [3] DC Ghattas Standing Up for the Human Rights of Intersex People- How can you help? ILGA Europe (2015) 1 9. [4] Ghattas Standing Up for the Human Rights of Intersex People- How can you help? ILGA Europe 9. [5] “The Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 – Additional Principles and State Obligation on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics to Complement” (10-11-2017) ERA <https://www.lgbti- era.org/sites/default/files/pdfdocs/A5_yogyakartaWEB-2.pdf> (accessed 02-02-2023). [6] Kusum “Legal Implications of Sex Change Surgery” (1983) 25 Journal of the Indian Law Institute 73. [7] Human Rights Watch “New Health Guidelines Propel Transgender Rights” (27-05-2019) <https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/27/new-health-guidelines-propel-transgender-rights>(accessed 02-03-2023). [8] Little “Gender, Sex, and Sexuality” in Introduction to Sociology 372–373. [9] JE Blakemore, SE Berenbaum & LS Liben Gender Development 2 ed (2008) 1 11.
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