Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wanting to be What You're Not

[Note: In this article, 'transgender kid' means any kid who fits the societal roles for the opposite gender better than they do those of their own gender. 'Transsexual kid' means a child who truly considers themselves to be the opposite gender, not just as a transient phase but as a lifelong identity.]
I just found an article by Feministe about 'gender identity disorder'. At one point, she quotes Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist well-known for his attempts to train transgender kids into fitting gender roles, who said:

"If a 5-year-old black kid came into the clinic and said he wanted to be white, would we endorse that? I don’t think so. What we would want to do is say, 'What’s going on with this kid that’s making him feel that it would be better to be white?'"

I agree. I would consider that black kid to have a problem* which is best solved by helping him accept his own race rather than changing his appearance. But there are some big problems with Kenneth Zucker's analogy.
Firstly, if I was trying to help that black kid accept himself, I would go about it completely differently. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that this boy is insisting on being white because he's not very musical, he does well in school, etc, and that just doesn't fit with his idea of what black people are supposed to be like. Rather than pressuring him to enjoy music more and be less committed to his schoolwork, I'd encourage him to broaden his concept of what it means to be black (actually, if I was his therapist, I'd probably refer him, because this is better done by a black therapist who can be a role model for him). I suspect at least some transgender kids are basically like this - they don't realize people can break gender roles and still be clearly of that gender.
It's possible, of course, that the hypothetical black kid is wanting to be white because 'white is better'. In that case, I still wouldn't try to make that kid act more conventionally black, because that's irrelevant. I also wouldn't denigrate white people, because racism isn't any better if you just switch targets. Besides, if this kid not only wants to be white, but actually on some level actually views himself as white, then denigrating whites would just make his self-esteem issues worse.
And that leads into another problem with this analogy. Whereas black kids who want to be white usually don't consider themselves white already - even on the inside - transsexual kids don't just want to be the other gender, they feel that they are the other gender. They just don't look like they are. That's an important distinction. The most important thing is for these kids to accept what they are, and transsexual kids are not cissexual kids of their natal gender. They are transsexual kids.

* I'm assuming it's been determined that this kid actually understands what black and white, as racial terms, actually mean. Lots of young children don't. I've heard of light-skinned black kids saying they're white because their skin is almost the same tone as the white people they know, or white kids expressing fear of black people because they're imagining someone whose skin is truly black (like a kettle) instead of dark brown.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Ivar T said...

It's hard to say when someone know themselves what is in their own best interests, and how much you can bother the person by discussing it further. The person's mind can be set, and you may have no chance of changing his mind.

Autism charities have been arrogant to assume that a cure was what autistic people wanted, directing great sums of money for such a goal - not to improve life with autism, but to end life with autism. However, when autistic people actually have different interests we might just have to respect that - for otherwise to become just as bad as the charities.

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