The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: Y is for “you’re too Young”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

Y is for ‘you’re too Young’

A common way that young trans people have their identity invalidated by cis people by being told they’re ‘too young’ to know they’re trans.

Yet somehow, I’ve never heard tell of any cisgender child being told they’re too young to know their gender. Cis children have their gender identities reinforced and supported all the time, every day, but for some reason the second a child’s professed gender is different from what we expected, we decide that it’s too early to tell for sure what their gender is.

I’ve actually written about this before, and one of the things that makes this argument seem particularly disingenuous is the fact that when someone’s no longer ‘too young’ to know they’re trans, they’re very often ‘too old’ to just be coming out now, because they should have known sooner.

Yes, I know that sometimes children identify temporarily with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, before finally settling into a cisgender identity. But you know what? For every cisgender child who goes through a ‘trans phase’, there’s a transgender adult who went through a ‘cis phase’ in their childhood, too.

So if you’re going to use age to invalidate someone’s professed identity, you’d better do so across the board, because some of those apparently cis kids most definitely aren’t (and I suspect they outnumber the kids who are going through a ‘trans phase’). If it’s damaging to let a child explore their gender as they experience it in the moment, lest they wind up identifying differently in the future, then we’d better prevent all children from doing it.

People often suggest that letting a child with a penis wear dresses for a while might embarrass him later if he does, in fact, wind up identifying as a boy. But again, pretty much 100% of all trans people have to deal with this as it is, so if this is something you are genuinely concerned about, you’d better avoid gendering all children all the time.

You can’t have it both ways. Either children can know their gender or not, but all children may be going through a temporary ‘phase’, not just the ones who are telling you that they were assigned the wrong gender. It seems that for the most part, we accept that kids can and do know their genders, so let’s just extend the same autonomy to trans children that cis kids enjoy every day.

Ultimately, no matter how many times any child – cis or trans – changes their mind about what their gender is, the best thing you can do for them is always to respect and support them.

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Questions Children Ask & How to Answer Them (or, y’know, not)

Sometimes even when I go into a book with low expectations, I still manage to be disappointed. Questions Children Ask & How to Answer Them pulled this feat off with flying colours.

Before I go any further, I have to admit I have not read the whole book – it is possible the sections dealing with religion, divorce, death, and other such things are better than the first section, which deals with sex. Maybe I will give the other sections a go at some point, but I was pretty blown away by how bad the bit on sex was.

To be clear, I went in assuming the discussion on sex was going to be mostly, if not completely, cis- and heteronormative (a.k.a. trans and LGB-erasing). I was not wrong on these counts, but was willing to judge it from within an exclusively cishetero context.

Stoppard has a great attitude about addressing tough topics with children; her basic premise is that it’s important to answer children’s questions in a truthful, but age appropriate, way. She is also careful to explicitly remind readers that children’s questions on these topics generally come from a very innocent place (while also outlining the signs to watch out for that may indicate sexual abuse); children don’t have the baggage we have around topics of sexuality, and if you don’t make it out as something to be embarrassed about, then there is no need for anyone to be embarrassed. With this in mind, the book presents potential answers to childrens’ tough questions, organized into age groups, with the answer for each older age group being more complex than those that come before it.

Stoppard also strongly encourages parents to provide their own spin on the answers (being willing to openly discuss your own feelings about tough topics when you were a child is a great way to build trust and comfort into these difficult conversaiton), and use their own judgment about an individual child’s maturity level and ability to understand the topic at hand. This is all great stuff, and I came out of the introduction feeling optimistic!

And then I got to the question “What is sex?”

I am so disappointed with the answer, y’all. I knew that it was mostly going to be “a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina”, but it actually managed to be worse than that!

I’ll give you the excerpts that made me lose patience entirely – these are the points at which the author gets down to the mechanics of sex:

For 6-8 year-olds: “During sexual intercourse, a man’s penis gets stiff and he puts it inside his partner’s vagina, which feels nice.”

For 8-11 year-olds: “During sexual intercourse, a man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina, and they feel good. The feeling becomes more and more exciting until it reaches a climax, when the man’s sperm spurts – or ejaculates – into the woman’s vagina.”

…Are you freaking kidding me? Here we literally have the idea that climax and ultimate end of sex is a man ejaculating. We learn what happens when a man is aroused (his penis gets stiff), but no mention of anything about arousal or climax of the vulva.

I just… Can? We? Fucking? Not?????????

I know that getting into the dynamics of differing levels of arousal is way beyond the scope of a kids’ question about what sex is. I really do. But it also really fucking pisses me off just how completely this is about the cis man and his pleasure.

I am, once again, oh so grateful that my mother talked to me explicitly about vaginal arousal right alongside erections – I was actually taught that a vagina would lubricate itself when it was ready for sex. In retrospect it was the most adorable thing ever – my mom was straight-up about the fact that without this lubrication sex was likely to be more difficult or even painful, and she talked about erections in the same sort of terms, that the penis getting hard is a practical thing, because if it’s soft it’s more difficult to get it to go into a vagina.

Practical, lacking in baggage, and not centering penile pleasure above all else!

This isn’t that difficult, so why can’t we get our shit together on this stuff?

What to do about babies and gender

[Content note: reference to adult-child related sexual creepiness]

As a person who intends to have kids at some point, and as someone who is very aware that you can’t tell what a person’s gender is (/what their gender is going to be or whatever) when they’re born, I have to deal with the question of what I’m going to do about my future babies and gender.

I mean, hopefully it’s obvious that I have no intention of imposing any sort of gender norms or expectation on any kids I have. And I will listen to them about their own gender as soon as they are able to tell me about it. But there is still the question of what to do about pronouns etc until they’re able to do that.

In an ideal world, I would lean toward using neutral pronouns – either the perennial ‘they’, or something specific as more of a placeholder (I remember reading a long time ago about someone who referred to their fetus using the ‘ou’ pronoun, and I like the idea of using something that isn’t so clearly linked to non-binary/genderqueer identities, since that may carry a lesser version of the baggage involved in traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns.)

But living as I am in an entirely un-ideal world, I’m not sure this is what I will actually end up doing. I may very well wind up simply using the pronouns assume the baby is cisgender (unless they’re intersex, in which case, gender neutral pronouns it will be until I can hear otherwise from them), as a sort of default/educated guess (since there is a high likelihood that they will be cis), for a few reasons.

The main one is, I just don’t know that I have the energy to have all the conversations that would be involved in refusing to gender my baby. Although I am not going to adhere to gendered expectation with clothing, toys, etc with them, I know that people would push back harder against gender neutral pronouns than other things, simply because it makes them uncomfortable to use them. Which is a terrible reason, obviously, but still. I have enough work on my hands doing this for myself, and people are more upset by gender neutral pronouns when they are applied to children, and more prone to inappropriateness or downright violence (or trying to get me to lose custody of my children even, probably) than I am prepared to deal with.

Which, on some level I feel like maybe I should not have kids unless I am willing to fight for that for them. But on the other hand, I don’t think that placeholder pronouns alone are going to harm a kid who is otherwise raised as much as possible without gendered expectations. I don’t think that ‘he’ or ‘she’ is somehow inherently a more harmful placeholder than ‘they’ or ‘ou’ could be anyway.

My other fear, though, is not about me and my own energy, as much as it is about my child. A baby who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns may attract some really unsavoury behaviours from people who really really need to know the baby’s ‘real’ gender. I am quite sure that refusing to indicate a binary gender for my baby would make a whole lot of people suddenly really interested in changing that baby’s diaper, or helping them with their bath, or something. And that level of creepiness is not something I want a baby or toddler subjected to.

I am also afraid that being quite to obvious about my gender neutral approach to parenting would result in other adults trying to over-compensate for that, and my children being subjected to even more over-the-top, explicit gender policing than they otherwise would.

So, I dunno. I don’t know what the least harmful route to take, really. I’m just going to do my best and what feels right, I guess.

Real Life Updates

So, I don’t know how much energy I will have for writing in the near future, but I didn’t want to leave Valprehension fallow without at least a note about it.

My life has lost a major amount of stability at this point, and some things that I have for a long time thought I had on lock are no longer things that I have at all.

Up until last winter, I was really very confident that I would be working on having kids (finally) within a year or two at the most. It is a thing I have already put off longer than I ever wanted to, in part because I entered the work force in the middle of the second great depression, so I have not exactly been financially stable ever, but mostly because it is a thing I don’t want to do alone, and I have been working toward building a solid foundation to have kids with someone who was working with me on it for quite some time.

But they have decided they don’t really think they want to have kids. And so now I no longer have a plan.

More than anything else, I am in some pretty seriously deep grieving right now, for a life I have poured a lot of work into that I am now not going to live.

I am also having near-daily panic attacks, even though this is not truly a dire circumstance. I have no idea how to go about finding someone new who will want to have this adventure with me. I am not really what most people look for in a co-parent – I am queer along too many axes, and parenting is hard enough without also having to deal with people not understanding what your family even is.

I no longer have a five-year plan. I have never not had a five-year plan (even though those plans have never come to fruition in the expected ways). I can’t deal with not knowing what to do and not actually being able to control whether I ever find the things I need to have the life I want.

And I know that this is the one of most common feelings in the world, and that everyone who doesn’t already have the partners or accomplices they need for the life they want to have feels this way. I am just also dealing with having been totally 100% confident for the last half a decade that I had that, and having been told now that I actually don’t. And not really having any idea what to do with that.

So, my energies are directed elsewhere for the time being, but I love you all!

Brief Thought: Parenting

I’ve never had the intention of being a stay-at-home parent; my mother didn’t work when I was young, so it’s not like it wasn’t a viable option to me, it was just never what I wanted to do. I want to have a career, or at any rate, I want to have a meaningful and influential impact on the world beyond my family. And so as much as I have always wanted to have children, I’ve never imagined myself as the primary caregiver. It’s unlikely, really, that either my husband or I will choose to be at home with the kids full-time, and that’s always been fine to me.

Except, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way that I want to parent. I just finished reading It’s OK Not to Share, which is a seriously fantastic read that, starting from the first principles of:

  1. Kids are people, with all the rights that implies; and
  2. Kids have unique needs and values that may not make sense to adults, but that are very real and need to be respected

develops really rich parenting strategies that, quite frankly, model exactly the kind of parent I want to be. It’s seriously worth reading.

But the problem, of course, is that these strategies involve establishing and maintaining certain kinds of environments for your child, and having ample opportunities to support and model conflict management techniques and other behaviours. And short of finding a daycare and/or preschool that upholds the same kinds of ideals of care that I would like my children to be exposed to, I worry that we simply won’t be able to have as much influence on their development as would be necessary to really teach them the kinds of things I’d like to impart.

I also realized today that the one person I know who is raising their (truly amazing) kid with awesome social justice ideals and respect for the kid’s autonomy and the like is, in fact, a full-time caregiver to their kid.

So now I don’t know what I want to do. I used to just worry about things like being able to get my parents to accept and respect the fact that I will under no circumstances be spanking my children, and that if they were to spank them, that would be grounds for them to never be alone with my kids again. Now I’m worried that I simply won’t be a big enough presence in their lives to combat the messages they’ll be getting from the world at large.

I’m sure it’s mostly an irrational fear, and I know that people who had two working parents were still deeply affected by their parents’ parenting choices and styles, but I also know that it’s going to be harder to make sure my kids avoid indoctrination into a lot of mainstream societal things, and are able to understand the difference between what’s normal and what’s right and wrong. I’m sure it’s just something I’ll have to play by ear, and it’s not something I need to figure out right now, but it’s what I’ve thinking about lately.