Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gender issues and children

Our youngest, Joshua (alias "Bin Laden"), is having his 6th birthday tomorrow. Being Sunday, we pretended it was today. He got weird things called "Bakugans" which are extraordinarily expensive plastic balls, which, when placed on a specific card - open up into some kind of robotic thing. (Apparently, the card has a magnet in it, which allows it to do this). Personally, I can't see the attraction - but then I'm not 6.

Another present which he had been given by a friend was an assortment of wigs and various bits and pieces of a wizardry outfit. He wasn't in the slightest bit interested in the wigs - but our eldest child (7), Gabriel, was. In fact, he has worn one of the damn things the entire day. It is, for him, the equivalent of someone paying off my bond; a night with Brad Pitt - you get the picture.

We have such completely different children. Josh is a boy - completely, uncomplicatedly and with no discussion necessary. The other, from the day he was born, has been fairly undecided. No, I am being a bit too vague here. He has always been completely absorbed and fascinated by the feminine side of his personality. (The male side is often, quite hard to see).

So, what have we done about it? Well, we have taken a couple of decisions in relation to the both of them. Firstly, we have allowed them to be who they best feel they are, within the space of the home. So, when Gabriel insists on turning ordinary pieces of clothing into girl's fashion pieces, we let him do it. We don't praise him, but we also don't forbid him or censure him. His brother looks at him like he is out of his mind and never participates in the dressing up regime. We allow him the space to do that as well.

Sometime into the business of parenting of Gabriel, I started to get alarmed by his behaviour - he could not have been more than 4 years old. When I spoke to friends about it, I was told "It's perfectly normal. It's just a phase". Eventually, I called a gender specialist therapist and talked to her about the behaviour. She listened attentively and then said the following" She said "Maybe you just have to reconcile yourself to the fact that you are living with a trans-gendered person". I swallowed hard and realised that she was talking the truth.

She said that counselling could not begin before the age of 9 and that (and this really got me agitated) gender re-assignment could not be allowed before the age of 20. Gender re-assignment! Dear God! How radical is that? I said to my partner - "Can't he just be Gay, for God sake?" But I realized immediately, the stupidity of what I was saying.

The fact of the matter is, our eldest child has, since he was able to move, explored every possible angle of being a girl. In dress. In the way he walks. In pretend "modelling". In speech and mannerisms. That is what he does.

He doesn't seem to do it all the time. But it is a constant and certainly not something one could ignore. We thought, at one time, that he crossed dressed when he was feeling insecure about something, but I don't believe that any more. He just does it. There is no pattern as to when he does it.

When he first went to primary school, he wanted desperately to fit in. He cut off his dreads and looked very much like a boy. He gave up ballet, (which at pre-primary school, he loved). But the boy phase didn't last very long. He is doing ballet again and cross-dressing at will. So, perhaps I need to come to terms with what the therapist said - and just get used to the fact that my child may be trans-gendered. For him it will be a long, hard path, if he is. For us, it won't be an easy path either - but at least he has parents who won't judge him.

There will be those, of course, who will argue that it is because he has grown up with same-sexed parents that he has these peculiarities. It is, of course, a silly argument, because many trans-gendered people have grown up in heterosexual environments. It also wouldn't explain why our youngest son is so absolutely male. My view is, that is just the way he is and we either support him, or he has to swim on his own.

So as I curse my friend for having delivered a variety of wigs to our home, for whatever reason, Leon says to me, simply, as I cast my eyes discretely heavenwards, "It makes him happy". Maybe, in the end, that is all that really counts.

I don't want to write any script for him. I want him to be the person he wants to be. So, it could be the easier path - he could suddenly enter another, much more obviously male phase. Or, he may not. Either way, we will be there for him.

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