Op-Ed: My child can be transgender

Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 11:28am

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Recently, a student-written article titled “My Child Will Not Be Allowed to Be Transgender” has been popping up on my social media. From one student to another, here’s my response:

Moriah,

This is about to be a critical response, but I want to level with you first. I admire your desire to do the best for your future children. I do. As someone who works in a family psychological clinic, I love seeing people who want to do the right thing for their children — who want to sing to them, care for them and make them happy. I have no doubt that you will love your children.

But here’s the thing that most people don’t want to acknowledge: From those who do all the “right” things to those who commit abuse or neglect, a vast majority of parents love their children. Loving your children does not mean that you cannot, or will not, hurt them. So, I ask you to be vigilant in evaluating your behavior; do not fall into the trap of believing that doing something out of love means that it is the best thing to do for your child.

With that said, let’s get into it.

I want to believe you truly love and respect transgender and other LGBTQ people as you say you do, but after reading your article, I find it hard to do so. This is the message that your article gives off: I love you and respect you, but your existence is invalid. I love you and respect you, but you are a flawed human being. I love you and respect you, but you are sick. I love you and respect you, but you cannot be who you are unless it is in a way that I deem acceptable.

That’s not how love and respect work. You cannot say you respect someone and then invalidate their existence and trivialize their identity to a simple “decision.” And what message does it send to say I love you, but I would not let someone who is “closest to my heart” be like you?

After reading your article, I gather that you have two main concerns: that being transgender is against how God intended us to be, and that being transgender is a mental illness. So, let’s talk about that.

“My children will always be the ones closest to my heart, but this does not mean that I will accept their desire to be anything other than who God made them as.” 

Let me ask you a question: How does one know what God intended for them? Growing up Catholic, I was taught that the Bible offers insight into God’s will. In the absence of an actual scriptural reference, many religious people, yourself included, argue that God created man and woman and that being transgender is wrong because transgender people go against God’s will by straying from that design. I don’t buy that argument — mostly because it reveals a misconception of what it means to be transgender in that it conflates identifying as transgender with receiving gender reassignment surgery.

Being transgender does not mean that you will change your biological sex; it just means that you don’t identify with it. While many people choose to have gender reassignment surgery in order to make their physical state match their mental state, not all transgender people do. Whether they choose not to have surgery because of financial reasons, age, lack of resources or simply because they don’t feel a need to, they are still transgender as long as they experience a disconnect between their biological sex and their identified gender. It is problematic, then, to argue that being transgender is against God’s will using a biologically based argument, because it doesn’t reflect the reality of what it means to be transgender.

It’s also important to note that if we are basing gender on genitalia, then it isn’t true that God only created man and woman because God also created intersex people, who were born with ambiguous genitalia. Many people who are born intersex have a surgery performed upon them, in which a doctor changes their genitalia to look more like a penis or a vagina. If you are strongly opposed to surgery that changes one’s genitals (like gender reassignment surgery), then you should probably be open to a third gender — or else you would have to allow intersex people to choose whether to be a man or woman regardless of the genitals they were born with.

So perhaps God’s design isn’t all that clear cut, Moriah. But even if it isn’t ungodly to be transgender, could you still be right that being transgender means that you are inherently sick or mentally ill? Not quite.

“In my opinion, transgender humans are suffering from a mental illness, in a similar fashion to those fighting sicknesses such as anorexia and depression.”

Disorders like anorexia nervosa and depression are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the manual clinicians use to diagnose and treat their patients. Transgenderism is not described here. To equate being transgender to having a mental illness is a dangerous comparison to make. We used to make this comparison in regards to homosexuality until the American Psychological Association — with the help of some tenacious activists — realized how detrimental it is to pathologize homosexuality.

To be fair, I could see how you might be confused. A concept that is related to being transgender is in the DSM-5 under “gender dysphoria,” which is described as distress resulting from “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” But gender dysphoria is not an identity, and it is not an inevitability.

Praying that your child will suddenly feel like their penis or vagina fits with their body isn’t going to make gender dysphoria go away. Taking your child to conversion therapy that will try to make them “accept” their biological sex isn’t going to work either — in fact, it can make it worse. There are reasons why some states have made conversion therapy illegal and why the American Psychological Association does not support it: It can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, drug use and homelessness. Scariest of all? Conversion therapy is correlated with a higher number of suicide attempts and completions. So perhaps we should be focused on making conversion therapy illegal if we want what’s best for LGBTQ youth.

By the way, do you know what is recommended for people with gender dysphoria? Affirmative therapy, hormone treatments and sexual reassignment therapy. That’s right — mental health clinicians agree that the best way to help your transgender children avoid mental illnesses (that for the most part result from trying to suppress their identity) is to accept them as transgender.

It’s as simple as that.

Anna Smith is an LSA senior.