Category Archives: Guest Posts

Connective Tissue

I am honored to present Connective Tissue, about Samson’s experience with unexplained lactation. Samson is a genderqueer, transgender androgyne living in the southeastern US. They are an educator, a communication junkie and a lover of many languages, programming and music included. They blog at the Felt Fedora and tweet at @feltfedora.

Connective Tissue

(This post references my hormones and my history with medical professionals’ reactions to them. If you need more context, this previous post will help.)

I had nightmares last night. They were confusing, fluid, and at times nonsensical, the way my nightmares tend to be, and in an odd narrative spiral, so that each event is continually revisited, never completely allowed to rest.

In the lulls between, though, my nightmares gave me an odd gift. I dreamed I was nursing a child.

It was lactation that finally pushed me to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I went off of birth control last year, back to the hormones my body produces on its own. (I have noncongenital adrenal hyperplasia, so I have higher-than-”normal” levels of androgens, although this was still undiagnosed at the time.) I expected the boat to rock plenty as my body readjusted; I was expecting facial hair growth and irregular and painful cycles, the same as I had before birth control, and I got that. As a bonus, my voice also dropped. I was not, however, expecting to lactate.

I thought my hormones would be swinging toward androgen-heavy, so I couldn’t figure out how that would make me lactate. Was the cause, instead, the fact that I was regularly binding on weekdays? Was it a temporary effect of withdrawal from birth control? Was I sick–did I have cancer?

I recognized that I needed to see a doctor about this, and about my hormones in general, something I was dreading after the experience that left me on birth control in the first place. I knew I needed a trans*-friendly doctor. It was mostly a matter of practicality: I thought it could be binding that was making me lactate, and I needed a doctor who wouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction of, “Stop binding. Problem solved (and even if it isn’t, you shouldn’t be doing that anyway).”

So I set out to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I found one. And when I brought up binding, he flinched a moment, but continued calmly as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

“That kind of compression wouldn’t be causing it,” he said, and simply went on.

Over the next several months, I went through a battery of blood tests. Samples and smears. Manual exams. And this all just for the lactation–none of the other hormonal issues being diagnosed. The whole thing was highly pathologized–not that I can blame anyone. I was (and am) a trans person, never pregnant in my life, possibly infertile, no partner to stimulate lactation. What could it be but disease?

As it turns out, there appears to be no reason at all.

My prolactin and progesterone levels were both nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing suggested cancer. There was nothing I was physically doing to my chest that should be causing me to lactate. My doctor and I settled on not worrying about it; he had ruled out anything frightening, and the only cause for concern was any discomfort it was causing me (I assured him there was none). He instructed me to “leave it alone,” and that in time it might wane.

I’ve discovered that I will be very sad if it does wane.

There’s something about it that sits right with me, despite all odds. I am very much not a woman, and used to experience quite some dysphoria about my chest. It surprises me that something characterized as so essential(istical)y female and “woman” is something that I find now familiar, comfortable… organic?

Today I was linked to a collection of stories on breastfeeding and weaning. Leafing through the parents’ stories of breastfeeding, weaning, and the close relationships they had with their children surrounding those things, I felt both a kinship with and a confused distance from the relational experiences described.

Lactation has changed my relationship with my own body. In an endeavour to explore and mend my relationship with my body, lactation somehow made my chest safer to me. (I remarked one day, to a friend, “If I have to have breasts, at least they’re functional.”) I’ve developed a comfortable sort of relationship with it; counter to my doctor’s orders, I don’t “leave it alone.” I manually express. I look at the milk–never more than a few drops–and marvel at how swirled and pearly it is. I’ve tasted it. (Reading stories of weaning and unweaning reminded me of a memory: me at four, not long after my sibling was born, asking to nurse again just to remember what it was like, and my mother, palpably uncomfortable, shortly refusing. I was disappointed, but didn’t think anything odd of my request.) Somehow my chest feels more organically interwoven with the rest of my body; it doesn’t feel like the strange interloper that it used to, the one that showed up uninvited at age nine and started messing things up at skin level. It feels rooted, somehow. Part of my experience. Part of me.

I’m left with a sense of how much it is not a part of anyone else, though. I don’t have a child or a partner that shares this with me. Reality is really much like a reduced-capacity version of my dream: nursing was a connective experience, but it was one that connected me with myself–not with my dream-child, who was not characterized as much more than an animated doll that I carried with me. It’s an open loop, somehow: everything about lactation, nursing, breastfeeding seems to imply a relationship, a purpose, a person or persons for whom the milk is being created. As much as it connects me with myself, I’m missing that other piece, that other who is connected to me through the experience.

I have wondered about how to broach the topic with partners (which has, so far, been avoided by relationships fading before they become that intimate). How do you explain to a partner that if they touch you in the ways you’re asking them to, you will–I mean, you’re going to lactate on them and you don’t mind and actually find it kind of sexy. As a trans person. As someone who is not a woman. Who has never been pregnant. Who has no reason to be lactating.

I’m left puzzled by the whole thing, this unexpected gift. I do consider it a gift–one that many people (I’m thinking of trans women in particular) sometimes go to great lengths to have, that others inexplicably don’t have, and here I inexplicably do. It’s just puzzling to be sitting alone with a gift that seems, by default, to be meant for more than one person.

Guest post: Losing My Words

Today’s guest post, which I can relate to far more than I’d like, is from Emilia. You can find her on Twitter, talking rubbish and revolution.

Losing My Words

Words are just about the most important thing in the world to me. I make my living with them, I breathe them in, all day and all night. Sometimes I am so engrossed in my own flow of words, I can’t even hear the people around me, it takes them two or three times to get my attention. But this post, I am sad to say, is hard for me to write.

I don’t mean emotionally–though it is that–I mean literally. For the past five years, I’ve had chronic migraines of various kinds. I have the regular ones, the skull-splitting oh DEAR G_D NO SOUND OR LIGHT FOR ME TODAY migraines, at least once a week. I also have hemiplegic migraines, migraines which mimic a stroke, which are truly terrifying, though these are mostly under control with medication. And lastly, more lately there’s the possibility that I have vestibular migraines which are affecting my balance (I’m still having tests on this, I don’t have a dx on that yet).

My neurologist does a pretty good job with all this, providing me with an array of preventatives, painkillers that keep me roughly functional. Chiro and massage help immensely.* My case, she says, is just one of those tricky ones where it’s more pain management than cure. Which is okay, as far as chronic illness goes. I know it could be much, much worse.

But. I’m vastly diminished from the time I first started having regular migraines. Besides the obvious pain and exhaustion, I walk around in a brain fog a lot of the time, which dulls my critical capacities, my ability to form sentences (let alone coherent arguments). And worst of all for me, I have a mild form of aphasia, meaning that when I reach for a word, I often pull out another word that my mind has mentally related to it as similar. Or I use odd tenses, rearranging sentences into odd shapes, like a Cubist writer. The meaning is clear but the expression is unorthodox.

As a wanky theorist person, this is occasionally fascinating in the way it recalls Ferdinand de Saussure’s argument that language is differential, that words have particular relationships of difference to one another. As a writer with a disability, however, it mostly just fucking sucks.

There are times where I have sent work to a journal, thinking it was fine, only to have the response suggest that I check my work first with a native English speaker. As a native English speaker, and once with a PhD in English to boot, I can’t tell you how mortifying that is.

Worse than even the blow to my pride, is the feeling that I am losing my sense of myself, the very fibre of my being. I feel a tremendous sense of loss, of the person I was. Sometimes I mourn for my lost quickness. Indeed, I’ve begun to feel dispossessed from language itself, the very medium we use to convey our relation to the world of objects and each other.

There’s a fear lingering at the back of my brain, what if this gets worse, what if I end up losing my ability altogether? It’s not an altogether unfounded fear – my neurologist tells me there is markedly increased risk of strokes for people with hemiplegic migraines.

But for now, however painful and slow the process is, I am still writing. Given time and patience, I can still write. I take longer, and I make many more mistakes, and the attention of a good editor/friend certainly helps, but I can still do it… and I will continue to write until I can write no more.

*I hear Arwyn is a Trained Professional in that area, you Portland people should request her services. [Ed. note: I was threatened with pain of pain if I removed this footnote. It was emphatically Not My Idea.]

Guest post: A Beautiful Birth

Amanda Llorens from Mommies are Light, Daddies are Dark, who previously shared her thoughts on planning a homebirth with us, recently welcomed her daughter to their lovely family. Although her birth wasn’t what she had envisioned at that time, here she tells us the story of how it was, still, a beautiful birth.

A Beautiful Birth

“I have to push, NOW!” I screamed to my husband as I refused the wheelchair he wanted me to sit in.  There I was standing in the hospital lobby in my husband’s shorts, a nursing bra and the only shirt I could fit over my very pregnant belly.  I stopped leaned against a pole and began to bear down.

“Go ahead and push if you have to.”  My completely supportive husband and partner figured there was no way I could really be in the final stage of childbirth already so he figured it would just help our baby along.

“Don’t you dare push!  Stop, take a deep breath, sit down.”  A male nurse who had been talking to the security guard when we came in came up behind me and made me sit down in a wheelchair.  A woman who was about six months pregnant grabbed her partner’s hand as they waited with us for the elevator.

We got in the elevator, and again, I felt an intense need to push the baby out.
“I’m pushing!  I feel like I need to go to the bathroom, I NEED to push her out NOW!”
The couple clung to each other.

We arrived on the labor and delivery floor and someone said to me, “You’ll need to triage.”
“No, you have my information, I was here two hours ago!  I NEED TO PUSH RIGHT NOW!  Someone needs to help me!”

“Wait, you’re the woman they sent home?”

A few seconds later, I was in one of the labor and delivery rooms, and one of the nurses took my shorts off.

“I swear to God if you tell me I’m still four centimeters…”

I could see by the look on the nurse’s face, the baby must have been crowning.  There were about six nurses helping out and someone ran to get our midwife.

“You’re going to meet your daughter very soon.”

The look on her face said she was wondering how it is that we ended up here like this.

Two nights before, I had thought I was in labor but it had fizzled out when I realized I hadn’t yet packed a bag for the birth center where we had planned to deliver our daughter.  We had originally planned to have a homebirth with one of the most respected midwives in Maryland, but our plans were derailed when at 33 weeks pregnant, I found out our midwife had received a letter of suspension from the Maryland Board of Nursing while they reviewed five complaints that had been filed against her since 2008. According to a website set up by her supporters: “[N]one of these complaints came from one of Evelyn’s clients or a client’s family.”

The Maryland Board of Nursing left us providerless, and so somewhere around 35 weeks after an exhausting search we settled on having a birth center birth.  It would allow us some of the flexibility and some of the must-haves I’d wanted for this birth.  Access to water to labor in and/or deliver in was key for me.  After my labor had fizzled out, I’d had to finally come to terms with the fact that my birth plan had changed and we were not going to have a chance to birth at home.

I spent Saturday walking through the woods near our house, talking to the baby and myself about why our birth could still be amazing and why the birth center was going to be a great experience for us.  I cried one last hearty cry over losing the ability to choose where I would have our baby.

Luckily, my parents had been in town for Thanksgiving when I had the false alarm on Friday so my mom extended her trip by four more days just in case so she’d be able to stay with our two-year-old if labor happened to kick off.

Sunday, earlier in the day before I was in the hospital lobby, I’d spent the day shopping and then chasing my two year old at the park.  Feeling contractions throughout the day but not timing them because they weren’t intense or close enough together.

By nighttime, I’d started to notice some blood while realizing that the baby wasn’t moving around anymore.  Concerned, I made a call to our midwives.  The midwife on call suggested we head to the hospital (that is, the backup hospital for the birth center) so they could verify that the baby was still moving around and healthy.

That night, I struggled as I cuddled my toddler to bed while managing through contractions.  My husband had tried putting him down, but he wanted Mommy.  I was nervous about the bleeding but luckily he fell asleep fast and my mom came over from her hotel to be with him.  We left our house around 9:15pm and headed out on the 40 minute drive to the hospital, chatting, blasting Big Pun’s “Capital Punishment” album.  The contractions were five minutes apart.
When we arrived at Labor and Delivery, we chatted with some of the nurses, noting to ourselves that the hospital was nicer than we expected. Up until that point, we hadn’t thought much about the hospital since the plan had been to birth at the birth center.  Our midwife examined the baby and the three of us listened to her heart rate increase and decrease in rhythm with the contractions.  She determined the blood had been bloody show and then she checked my cervix.  It was 4 cm dilated but still posterior and the baby was in -1 station in my pelvis which meant she’d have to work through 0,1,2,3 to be born.

Since the contractions weren’t yet “taking my breath away,” the midwife determined that I was likely experiencing false labor.  I let her know that the contractions were about three minutes apart at that point and they were feeling stronger and stronger.  Knowing that home was 40 minutes away, she’d told us that we should go to a hotel for the night.  That way we’d be in shouting distance from the birth center if “real labor” began.

We debated whether we should actually go to a hotel if they were sending us away from the hospital.  I mean, they clearly didn’t think I was in labor so why be away from our two-year-old for the night if we didn’t have to?  But something inside of me knew we should get the hotel room, so we did.

We headed to the Doubletree hotel that was about five minutes away and asked for the “hospital discount.”  Ash came back to the car offering one of the warm chocolate chip cookies that the Doubletree is known for, but I had no stomach for it.

By the time we got in the room, my contractions had increased in intensity and were two minutes apart.  Ash set up our iPod and the iPod speakers and put on some Norah Jones, then he dimmed the lights.  I went to the bathroom then I came out, instinctively getting in the all-fours position.  I’d decided to wing this birth. The Bradley class we’d taken to help with our son’s birth, had given us tons of useful information, much of which had stuck with us through this second birth.  However, I discovered in labor that the visualization approach to pain management wasn’t for me.  This time around I’d listened to a few hypnobabies tracks.  In fact, I had actually laid down to listen on three separate occasions and had fallen asleep each time.  I remembered from one of their affirmations something about childbirth not having to be pain-filled, and I remembered reading something about pressure waves or rushes and opening like a lotus flower in Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to childbirth.  So I got on all fours, and began the cat-cow yoga pose (or at least, my best attempt at it).  The baby had been in a weird position for some time so I thought it might help.  Though the process, Ash gave me support I needed which varied between applying counter-pressure to my lower back and staying clear when I didn’t want to be touched anymore.  The clip from the hypnobabies CD became my mantra: “Pain doesn’t have to be a part of childbirth.”  I remembered to try not to clench my jaw, my shoulders or my pelvic floor.  I pictured a flower opening up, and for a little while this helped me tremendously.  Until it didn’t and then I found myself wondering what to do next.

Ash suggested we fill the tub so I could change positions and get in the water for a while.  For some reason, because I was not allowed to labor in water during my son’s birth, I had built up water to be the end-all for managing pain during an unmedicated birth.  The drain on the tub didn’t fit snugly so we had to keep the water running in order for the tub to stay full.  I sat in the water, feeling a sense of completion after having been denied it during our first birth.  For a few moments it felt great, but the pain seared through the comforting heat of the water.

“If this is not labor, then there is something very very wrong with my body!”  I sat there frustrated, wanting to cry.  If my body was not in labor why was the pain so constant?  Why did it hurt so much?  I sent Ash away and then I cried for him to come back.  I kept urgently repeating that I wanted to change the plan – I wanted an epidural at the hospital, now.  Because if this is what 4 cm of false labor felt like, there was no way I would ever survive 10 of “real labor.”  Then I felt like I had to go to the bathroom so I sent him away.  As soon as I sat down, I realized I felt the urge to push.  It was time to push the baby out.

I insisted to him that I was about to have the baby and jumped back in the water.  Feeling more than a little confused, the urges to push kept coming.  Ash grabbed my phone to call the midwife.  He got the answering service.  About 15 minutes later we still hadn’t heard back. We’d learned later that the midwife had been catching another baby during those frantic moments.  I told him to call again, but that we had to get to the hospital.  Although the birth center had been the plan, the hospital was still fresh in our minds and, given the circumstances, the birth center seemed impossibly far away.  I screamed at Ash to call an ambulance.  Although he was playing along, I could tell that he didn’t really understand how far things had progressed.  To my request for an ambulance he replied, “I can get you there faster.”  Since it was the middle of the night with no traffic and we’d have had to wait for an ambulance to arrive, he was probably right as long as he didn’t take a wrong turn.  He told me to put his shorts on and I remember thinking he was the most ridiculous person in the world for suggesting I needed clothes right now. We were halfway out the hotel room door when the midwife finally called back.  Ash let her know that I’d requested to go to the hospital to which she responded, “it’s her choice.”

I pulled a pair of Ash’s gray athletic shorts on and we hobbled together through the lobby.  He told me he’d pull the car around, but I insisted on walking though the parking lot with him.  The whole ride there I held the bar above my seat and I stuck my head out the window. There was a chill in the air.  I looked at the lights from nearby restaurants and businesses pass by, feeling the pressure of my baby girl pushing against the birth canal.  Those few moments felt like a lifetime as I said “this is beautiful” over and over in my head.  Then I screamed out loud, “I’m about to have this baby in this car!”  Before I knew it, we were at the hospital and I was in the lobby threatening to bear down.

Somehow I’d made it into a hospital bed, my husband’s gray athletic shorts thrown aside.  I found myself face to face with the nurse whose expression told me that I had the baby had, in fact, already crowning when we’d arrived at the hospital.  “You have a kind face,” I told her.  My focus expanded as the midwife burst into the room, and I realized that I was surrounded by 6 or 7 women and my loving husband.  Every single person there was providing encouragement and guidance.  I asked if it was too late for get an epidural and the nurse with the kind face told me to focus on her.  The baby’s head was halfway out.  I yelled that I had to go to the bathroom and then apologized for yelling and then thanked everyone for being there.  My husband smiled from ear to ear as he watched me pushing our daughter out into the bright, crowded hospital room.  He leaned in close and said, “Amanda, you are doing this.  You are having the unmedicated birth you dreamed of.  You did all of this!”  A few seconds later, our daughter was laying on top of me.  I was still in the only shirt that had fit over my pregnant belly just a few moments ago.  I held our daughter and kept repeating to whoever was listening, “This is beautiful, she is beautiful.”

"...she is beautiful."

Guest post: Uninvited

I’m honored to host this guest post from Zoie of TouchstoneZ, which, though our details are different, expresses so much of my own experience of parenting with mental illness and a self covered with brittle sharp places.

Trigger warning for descriptions of medical abuse and flashbacks.


I’m lying in the bottom bunk next to my 3 year old son who’s sick with a painful ear infection. The top bunk feels like it’s falling down on me and I silently chant, “Go to sleep. Go to sleep” so that I can get up before the inevitable comes.

But, he’s taking a long time. He’s in so much pain and needs my comfort. By the time he drifts off, I’m covered in sweat and shaking from trying to hold this back.

He snores and I no longer have the strength to stop it. I’m gone.

Bright light shines in my eyes. I can hear the breathing as it quickens in anticipation. The glasses are slightly greasy as they magnify the light. Fingers pry my jaws apart. The pulling and pushing begins. The needle jabs between my teeth. Our breathing comes in gasps for the ohsotiny cuts with the metal tool. Finally, the tongue depressor pushing back to make me gag. I notice my heels are kicking the vinyl footrest of the chair from the pain.

Then it’s gone. I feel release.

I’m back with my son and he’s still snoring as I let the tears flow silently. My love for him is so intense as I watch his sleeping face that I doubt whether I should be caring for him.

My children deserve a complete mother that isn’t plagued by flashbacks of abuse. The depression is bad enough some days that I feel unable to care for them. There are days when my anger at myself is turned on them and I yell. I yell simply to hurt them and drive them away from my inner pain.

Yet, I continue. I continue to parent, even while flawed. I continue to parent my children with love and apologies. Those apologies for tripping myself up to avoid triggers for my flashbacks.

I continue because I believe that, while I am flawed, no one can love them like I do. I believe that positive parenting and gentle discipline will break the cycle for all of us.

I know that witnessing suffering triggers the flashbacks. So, I overreact when one of them hits the other or when one of them is sick, such as the ear ache above. I want to remove the pain from my children. I want to run. I want to fight the flashbacks. I want to beat the memories down with a sledgehammer.

But, I know that being able to stay with these children and holding them through their pain the way I truly want to be will come not from resisting but from getting to know the fears well.

I stay because I want to, but I can’t do it alone. I’ve got support I need while I do the work. Because it is work to heal. It is work to not curl up in a ball and stay there. I have actively cultivated a network of support. I have been brutally honest that would be times I would beg or demand to be left alone, but I should not be abandoned by them. They know that I will return to a state in which I can reaffirm that I want to stay the course. I have two trusted sitters, a few close friends, a coparenting partner, a therapist, an online community, and several holistic health care providers. They provide a net of support every time I fall.

It’s up to me to trust that it’s okay to fall. There’s no shame in this process. I can get back up on my own.

I have openly talked with my children about times I am sad, angry or simply unavailable. We speak about how love stays no matter where the person is. They’ve volunteered that love is like a “gas” or like “peanut butter.” Both of which I think are pretty apt analogies. They know that they have a large group of people who love them. I’m not their sole pillar of support.

I take scheduled nights out by myself, even when I don’t want to. It allows me to miss them. I’m able to be more patient when I return. I’m better able to calm myself and just allow the flashbacks to happen without reacting to them as strongly. I still have the physiological reactions and feel shaken after, but I can root in reality more quickly.

It’s hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever done. I question whether I would have had children if I had known I would be bringing them through this path with me. But, then again I question whether I would be alive to even walk this path. The love they have shown me has given me the ability to surrender without any assurance that I will get better or that it will become easier. It is the first time I can surrender without submitting to another’s power. I retain my own power because of their love.

I will walk, fall, and walk again every day. I will never be the mother I want to be. I will never be the person I want to be. I am okay with that. I’m okay with trying, never succeeding and trying again. Without guarantees or safety.

This daily practice is what it means to be a gentle parent struggling with mental illness. It’s not wrapped in a shiny bow of hope. It is ugly. It is real and true. I often wish it were not. But it is mine.

Guest post: Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

Welcome back Emily Manuel, of Global Comment, the Twitters, and my chat box, with a piece on the seemingly-benign “better” portrayal of transgender children compared to their adult counterparts.

Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

For some reason, everywhere I go lately there’s stories about trans children.  Nightline ran an episode, while Dr Phil ran one on one trans and one intersex child.  And CNN currently has a video up of trans children about two children at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference.

Interest in trans people in general and trans children in particular isn’t really a new phenomena, of course, but what’s notable about these stories is how sympathetic and non-sensationalised these takes are.  While there’s of course the odd bit of sketchy language, the children’s rights and identities are largely respected, and in the case of CNN allowed to speak in their own words.

Of course, it’s not all hearts and puppydogs in the media–and there’s still a lot of scaremongering out there.  Just yesterday, a Canadian newspaper ran a full page anti trans hate ad that read “don’t confuse me. I’m a girl, don’t cause me to question if I’m a boy, transsexual transgender, intersexed or two spirited.”  And of course there was the “psychiatrist” on Fox in the Toemaggedon story (you know the guy).  The WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN mob always like to pretend as though there’s no such thing as a LGBT child, that we just need to violently enforce gender norms and then no child will ever be trans. Phew.

But still, compared to the mockery, bathroom panic, and blatant victim blaming of trans murder victims, trans children get a comparatively sympathetic media treatment.  As such it’s worthwhile contrasting the sympathetic treatment of trans kids with the continued sensationalist treatment of trans adults, particularly women, and why there might be a such a great disparity between the two.

An idealisation of children as innocent

We as a culture have a bifurcated view of children as either angels or demons (but rarely full human beings).  In the first view, children are idealised as innocent.  Innocence is a Christianised theological category, connoting not just a lack of culpability or experience but also purity.  A lack of sin.  In the second view, we have the monstrous child, the demonic pure evil child familiar to us from horror movies and Stephen Moffat penned Doctor Who episodes.  This is the mirror image of the angel, its opposite.

But, in realistic cultural representations, the trans child is likely to retain their innocent status regardless.  In trans negative views, the mother or father are usually to “blame” for their transness, the culpability is shifted elsewhere.

An idealisation of children as natural

If children are considered innocent, then they are also often considered more natural than adults.  The idea of childhood as closer to nature is an old one, widely popularised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings (eg Emile) in the 18th century.  Nature is pure, culture is tainted.

So for a child to be trans is to be more “natural” than an adult transitioner.  The desire to provide a scientific explanation for any kind of LGBT identity is, in effect, to call something “natural,” innate.  It’s not a choice, baby I was born this way.  To be natural is, in effect, in innocent.  So trans children already have an advantage here in being considered more natural.   If they’re closer to nature, then their transness must be natural, too.

In contrast, the adult transitioner is easier to critique – blame – for “choosing” to be trans.  Julia Serano noted in Whipping Girl that media representations tend to emphasis the artificiality of trans women, with a focus on make-up and clothes.  Trans people, especially trans women, are considered fake.  Not “really” as real in their sexes as cis people.

A cultural idea of children as not sexual

This is a really important difference between the two.  Media images of  trans women in particular tend to be extremely sexualised–the trans sex worker of colour is a stock figure in crime fiction for instance. The cultural confusion between gender and sexuality results in people considering transness as an intensified form of queer sexuality–the trans woman as a drag queen who went “too far,” the trans man as the butch woman who did the same.  And anxieties about trans people as “deceivers” go even further, because as trans academic Talia Mae Bettcher has argued, gendered clothing itself works as a form of symbolic signalling about genital status and hence sexual availability.  It’s a code, which is why we speak, nonsensically about “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing,” as though the cuts of clothing somehow is necessarily linked to gender and sex.

So trans adults are a threat because they “mismatch” (as Bettcher terms it) the codes of cissexual heterosexuality, the organisation of genitally-determined sexed bodies into “potentially fuckable” and “not potentially fuckable.”  Wearing the clothes of the supposed other sex is “cross dressing,” is a violation of the cultural line between sexed bodies, gender identity and gender expression.  And because heterosexuality is so frequently premised on its melancholic rejection of homosexuality, to be attracted to someone with the “wrong” genitals is a kind of psychic threat, which often results in violence to trans people (especially from cis men).  As Julia Serano says in her poem “Cocky

“My penis changes the meanings of everything. And because of her, every one of my heterosexual ex-girlfriends, has slept with a lesbian. And every guy who hits on me these days could be accused of being gay.”

In contrast, trans children are considered to not be sexual yet – their transness is not as strongly mediated by ideas of sexuality.  Sympathetic portrayals of trans children are just about gender , without a sexual component1.  Adult trans people have long battled the assumption that they transition for a sexual reason, or that they’re sexually promiscuous or sex workers, but trans children don’t hit those some fears.  They’re not considered dangerous in quite the same way.

So in conclusion.

This view of trans children as sympathetic may not be quite as progressive as it seems.  While it’s wonderful to see trans children treated as actual living breathing human beings, and more positive representations will definitely help those children gain access to blockers and hormones, what happens when they grow up?

Because at some point, most of those children will become sexually active teens and adults–and then we’re at the same point as before.  Until we start to really interrogate the ways in which we idealise children and then demonise the adults they grow into (from innocent to fallen), things won’t really have changed so much after all.

  1. Though we should note in the negative portrayals the fear that gender variance signals a future homosexuality is made explicit. It’s just not as dominant a motif.