Monday, July 2, 2007

Parenting and 20/20

Helen's article on the 20/20 broadcast about transgendered children is very interesting take on that show. She talks about some of the issues related to parents allowing their children to go through gender reassignment at a young age, specifically with respect to the fact that these children will not be able to become biological parents because of hormone use and surgery. I'd like to look at the parenting angle and then circle back to the trans side.

When you have a child it's the most amazing thing in the world, but it also comes with huge amounts of worry. Will my child have a defect that makes it hard for them to live independently? What about a mental defect? Will they opt for a career that gives them the money they will need to live comfortably? Will I be able to guide them so that they can make the best choices for them in their life? What mistakes will I make raising them that will cause them to rebel against me?

Young kids are so easy to take care of. You are the adult, you are infallible in their eyes! It's so easy to nurture them, make them feel better when they're scared, sad, or hurt. They hit little obstacles and you try to teach them as best you can how to manage through them. And they are grateful for all the little kindnesses that you give them.

Even from the beginning children have strong needs and wants. You, as a parent, need to help them make the correct decisions for them. It's a journey from dependence (you making all the decisions) to independence, and you get approximately 18 years to help them on this path. When and how to let them go and make their own decisions is very hard, as is helping them to deal with their mistakes.

Ah, mistakes. Even the tinest mistake you make could have long-term ramifications. late picking up your kid at school? Perhaps that's the start of a feeling of neglect from your child. Or you make an offhand comment about what your child is eating or looks that could drive them to anorexia or bullemia.

The only training most parents get is how they were raised by their own parents, tempered by things they did and didn't like. For example, while I loved my father, he was emotionally distant for most of our relationship, due partly to the fact that he was working 12+ hours a day and just wasn't around. I vowed I wouldn't make the same mistake, and for the most part I didn't. But I made different mistakes that he didn't make, and some of them have had painful consequences.

The two of us were able to provide a loving, safe home where our kids had just about whatever they needed and wanted. You could easily convince me that we spoiled our kids, but both of us grew up in families that were below the national average (my wife's family was out-and-out poor), so we were more than likely overcompensating for that. We didn't want our kids to feel want. But want is necessary - eventually they are on their own and can't always have everything they desire.

When your child is born the first thing that you find out is the physical sex - a boy or a girl - and you start a whole set of expectations for them based on that, even if you try to fight the traditional social scripts. And then this all gets upended because your child feels so strongly that their body is out of sync with the way they feel. Heart-wrenching.

When we watched the 20/20 show about transgendered children we were so amazed at how much these parents loved their kids, to the point of putting their children's desire to live a different gender ahead of their own desires. That was amazing to see.

Back to Helen's issue - yes, a side-effect of these children going through gender reassignment is that they will not have their own children. And not only are they making a decision not to have children but the parents are giving up any hope of biological grandchildren from them. And the parents have to know this (if the doctors involved are not giving them this information then you could argue this is malpractice, so I'm sure they know).

Consider this, however - there is no guarantee that your children will even live long enough to have children. There could be illness, or an accident, or even suicide (god forbid!). We had to confront the latter possibility with our son, who is bipolar.

Your children could also end up homosexuals who never conceive a child. My wife and I discussed this possibility a long time ago, and we both realized that we would be more than accepting if this did happen. We love our children, and we want them to be happy.

Even if they end up in straight relationships, then they might be the kind of people who, either because of their career or a lack of desire or other reasons, just don't have kids. Or they or their spouse could have some medical condition that forbids them to have kids. There's just no guarantees that they would have children anyway.

In our case, our daughter wants to be a mother, and our son wants to be a father, so I think it's very likely we'll be grandparents. Both are straight and very happy with the relationships that they have or have had. I do think I will be a grandparent someday. These families in the 20/20 show might have the blessing of their transgendered children becoming stepparents or adopting children and making them grandparents that way.

Yes, you need to factor in the possibility that your children may want children of their own. But between it being a long way off and their being no guarantees in the first place, how much do you factor that into any decision you make? Especially when your child is so unhappy with their current situation that they may take drastic actions that could result in even more pain? The last thing the world needs is more parents who are so miserable in their life that they pass their misery on to their children. It's a really tough call; I am glad that I did not have to deal with that. I really don't envy those parents, either way.

Perhaps I am factoring in my own situation. I am one of the transgendered people Helen talks about, who is so happy to have had the opportunity to be a parent. I did go through years of pain, however, and everybody's threshold is different. Most parents have the best interests of their child in mind for any decision they help them make; it doesn't mean they make the right decision, just what they thought was best, given their understanding of things at the time.

There are other parents who are not accepting of this, so the children have to deal with the disconnect between their physical sex and their gender. They tried to illustrate this in the 20/20 episode, briefly showing transgendered people who ran away from home and became prostitutes to stay alive. The cynic in me can see that these might have been chosen because they helped make the decision of the parents supporting gender reassignment more palatable. I'm sure there are in-between stories that didn't get presented, but they might have blurred the thesis. My own growing up was this of feeling that disconnect but being too afraid to say anything for fear of ridicule and punishment. And the choices I make have affected a few lives (at least my wife and children, if not more).

I do think that Helen's right to question some of the reaction that the 20/20 show got in the trans world. She makes some excellent points that I hadn't considered. Sometimes we trans-people "drink the kool-aid" and jump to conclusions about how wonderful it would be for kids to have this support because we wished we had it, and we will think how lucky these kids are. They're lucky in that their parents love them, not in having that gender disconnect.