The Colorado ruling in this week’s news regarding a transgender child – this Family Therapist, Parenting and Human Behavior Expert shares insight in talking points below. Coy Mathis, a 6 year old, born a boy and identifies as a girl has been court approved to use the girl’s bathroom in school, is a significant story in the media from this mental health expert’s point of view.
Transgender: Feeling discomfort with one’s gender early on in childhood is often what is reported by those who are transgender. When trying to understand what transgender is, the bottom line is as follows. A transgender person is born one gender (i.e., has the genitals of one gender) but identifies themselves as another gender. Since the gender identity difference exists in the brain, and is not a physical disorder/a malformation of one’s sexual organs, it is not surprising that experts do not agree whether this is a psychologically or physiologically based issue. Therefore, having a biologically born boy approved to use the girls bathroom in school at 6 years old could be considered a concerning ruling on a symbolic level for our culture. This is not a young adult who has gone through a journey of self discovery. This is a 6 year old at the beginning stages of one’s journey discovering gender identification.
Gender Identity Vs. Sexual Orientation: Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. They are not one in the same. Specifically, one’s sexual orientation is who you want to have sexual relations with. Whereas one’s gender identity is who one believes one to be (i.e., a male or a female). Although, an interesting point to note is that some children who in early childhood visually appear to be that they are struggling with their gender identity and thus one thinks might be considered transgender at some point as they age, do not end up becoming transgender. Rather they turn out to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Which is a thought provoking consideration to chew on as decisions are made in our culture regarding who should be allowed in whose bathroom in school. Let us look at this for a moment. If a child at the age of 6 who may or may not turn out to be transgender and rather discovers one’s self to be gay, how is that therapeutic or healthy for that child as a child and as that child ages to be using the girl’s bathroom? And, how is that acceptable and mentally healthy for the other girls in the bathroom? (Should ‘the others’, the voice of the other children’s mental wellness not be considered?)
Empathy: Empathy for others and care for how our actions impact the emotional wellness of others is an important parenting theme of this generation. Absolutely, I am in agreement. What about all the girls who are “forced” to use the bathroom with a person of male genitalia? There must be mindful consideration for the majority as well as the minority.
As we ignore the needs of the many and rule for the needs of the few, we are doing the same wrong.
Identity: Is not who we are in identity not just who we believe that we are within our own mind, but who we appear to be from the observation of others? Is not who we are in identity not just who we believe we are in our mind, but also what our physiology is telling us? Showing signs of gender identity disorder can start as young as 2 or 3 years old. A transgender journey is difficult for the child, siblings, and the parents. This is not an easy topic to digest for many. As a therapist and as a parent I, as I am sure many, can understand how both “sides” of this issue makes sense in terms of feelings and thoughts. One can understand how the parents of a child with transgender identity disorder may not view this as a disorder at all, and rather view this as who their child is. And therefore wish to nurture the gender reality the child views him/herself to be. One can understand that the parent would want everyone in the child’s life to view the child through the lens upon which the child views them-self. One can also understand the discomfort other children may feel having to accept a genetically visual boy as a girl just because that child feels like a girl. Who is right? Perhaps this is a journey for all of us as a culture. Do consider the term; Gender Identity Disorder. Hm, does that not infer a disorder? Is it?
Transgender is not a topic that has a great deal of long term research, we as a culture are still evaluating, researching, and figuring out how to handle situations as they arise case by case. A ruling at 6 years old does not leave much journey of exploration and rather seals the decision for who one is and thus will be. Or does it? How does it impact the current and future identity of the struggling child? How does it impact the current and future thoughts of the children who are friends with this child or not friends with this child? Should and does everyone’s voice matter or just the transgender child?
Solution Idea To Hear The Voice Of All: We must view this case systemically for our culture’s mental health/wellness. If we are a culture trying to adapt and accept the differences of others (which is what I do recommend), then those with differences must also learn to adapt and accept. This must be a mutual agreement!
Those who have the power to help the mutuality of hearing the voice of others (the minority and the majority) must create solutions that are mindful of both voices, not just for one group. For an example, if as a culture we are seeing a growing need for alternative bathroom options, I would suggest having; ‘bathrooms of choice’. Let’s have in schools 3 bathroom options for people: 1) M- Male, 2) F- Female, 3) BOC – Bathroom Of Choice. BOC allows the person who feels comfortable going to a bathroom where there is anyone of any gender is allowed in. It also allows those who do not feel comfortable being in the same bathroom with someone whose genitals are of the other gender to feel emotionally safe. This hears the voice of all. Of course I am sure some will take offense to this and state that transgender is not a choice. This solution is a BOC, meaning offers a choice for a bathroom, with no inference on how a transgender person arrived at their identity.
If you find the topic of transgender identity interesting, you may wish to check out my other blog: Chaz Bono on Dancing With The Stars.