I have noticed more and more material appearing in popular media promoting the embrace of transgender identities. It seems that the push for the normalization of transgender is now focusing on children. And usually, this is done with images and real-life stories that have a powerful emotional appeal (see videos below). The common narrative that I am seeing in these pieces goes like this:
1. Some children feel themselves to have a gender identity at odds with their sexual identity.
2. This situation causes psychological conflict leading to depression, anxiety, and potentially suicide.
3. Resolving this psychological conflict is necessary in order to spare children this suffering.
4. The only way to resolve this conflict is for parents and other adults to recognize and embrace the child’s transgender identity—which would include adopting the manner and dress of the opposite sex and/or hormone therapies and/or gender reassignment surgeries.
5. Anyone who refuses to recognize and endorse a child’s transgender identity harms children and may even contribute to the conditions that cause them to commit suicide.
I think most people would find numbers 1, 2, and 3 uncontroversial. The problem is that numbers 4 and 5 do not follow from numbers 1, 2, and 3. The last two points are non sequiturs at best and misleading propaganda at worst.
It is simply not true that the only way to resolve this conflict is by embracing a so-called transgender identity for these children. Studies have shown that 70%-80% of children who report having transgender feelings eventually grow out of them (read about it here). That means that the vast majority of children experiencing these difficulties resolve these conflicts over time (contra number 4). It also means that any medical interventions causing permanent changes to a child’s body is a short-sighted, long-term cruelty for the 70%-80% who grow out of these feelings (contra number 5). Furthermore, it means that 70%-80% could have great conflict in later years trying to unwind a public identity that they no longer wish to embrace but that their parents and other adults encouraged them to embrace as small children (also contra number 5).
Right now, the media narrative is only presenting one side of the story. They are acting as if there is only one way to help these children. Yet it may be that there is a better way to resolve the conflict that these children are experiencing. It may be that the most loving way to help them is to steer them into embracing a gender identity that aligns with their sexual identity. Why would we accept the absurd claim that changing a child’s body through hormonal therapy or surgery is okay but changing a child’s mind through loving parental guidance is not okay? I am not saying that this is necessarily going to be easy. Such a course will take much support and unconditional love and willingness to hang in there with them through a difficult process. But wouldn’t it be worth it for the sake of these dear children?
We all need to be aware that much of the material we confront in popular media is hopelessly one-sided and ideological. It is emotionally powerful. But is it true? I argue that it is not and that parents would do well not to let propaganda manipulate them into making bad decisions for their children. There is a better way.
NBC News: Jacob’s Journey: Life as a Transgender 5-Year-Old
CNN: ‘Raising Ryland’: Parenting a transgender child