“I went through so much more with puberty than any normal kid would go through by trying to understand myself and who I was. It’s not anything someone should have to face. It was scary.” So says Victor Lopez, a female-to-male transgender 17 year-old highlighted in a story on transgender teens I just read by Natalie Pattillo on Al-Jazeera.com.
My thought? “Normal” puberty was hard enough! Being a girl, dealing with cramps, with period accidents, worrying about making it to the bathroom in time, worrying about stains…
Now imagine that the onset of each period felt like a betrayal. You feel like a boy. To yourself, you’ve always been a boy. Now your body says otherwise, and to deal with that fact, you have to make the choice: Girls’ bathroom, where I feel like an intruder, but at least have some privacy? Or boys’ bathroom, where I feel I belong but risk being bullied or beaten?
This is one of the basic struggles of transgender kids. The article quotes Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, the medical director at the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles:
“Unfortunately, many gender nonconforming and transgender youth will make the decision not to use restroom facilities at all during the day, which will leave them at risk for urinary tract infections and other medical consequences.”
Sorry to be so graphic, but it’s this kind of super-basic, I-can-relate dilemma that enabled me to think about this issue. I admit that I’ve had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of transgender kids. Growing up, a family friend transitioned from male to female, but that person was middle-aged. Kids switching genders? Really? Aren’t they just looking for attention?
The mom of one such kid addresses that thought directly in the article:
She says she has encountered skeptical people who believe teens like Jordan are seeking attention or just going through a phase. She asks them why anyone would seek out “what society puts any gay, lesbian or transgender person through.” For gender-nonconforming young people like her son, she says, it’s terrifying to hear about suicide rates, bigotry and murders of transgender people.
That mom is right. Why WOULD anyone seek out that struggle? How could that be any fun? When I think about it, the only empathetic response to transgender kids is…empathy. Adolescence is hard enough. Therefore my heart goes out to all those kids, their families, their friends. Hang in there.