Too Young to be a Boy
Notice that I used 'he' to refer to this kid? I couldn't have said the above paragraph in the volunteering program, because I've been officially forbidden to use male pronouns to refer to this boy. Some mental health program that's involved in this kid's care has decreed that all involved should use female pronouns for him. Apparently because he's too young to know his real gender.
Now, I've read research that suggests that transgender teens are not too young to know they're transgender, and early transitioning is better for the kid's mental health. And all I've seen of this kid indicates that he has given this a great deal of thought and knows that this is who he is - although we haven't spoken directly about it a lot, he knows a great deal about the physiology of gender differences (he was explaining some stuff to a random bystander about why guys have Adam's apples), and he's quite consistent in saying he's a guy. In fact, sometimes he almost seems to forget he's physically female and talks as if he's born male, saying things like 'I'm the only guy left in my family' (he had two brothers die).
Not only that, he outright told me he prefers male pronouns. Given that, it feels like a betrayal to call him 'she'. Even when he's not around to hear it.
But, if I call him 'he', I risk getting in trouble. I'm not sure what the consequences would be if I pushed the issue. At worst, they'd ask me to stop volunteering. Which would be bearable, but is something I really want to avoid. Firstly, I like to think this kid gets some benefit from me being around, given that I get what it's like to be different, and I've already made it clear I'm supportive of transgender rights. And secondly, one of the other participants, a 12 year old autistic girl, is getting to be a good friend of mine, and I really don't want to lose my only way of having contact with her.
I've settled reluctantly for the choice of avoiding pronouns as much as possible when referring to the transgender kid. I'll structure my sentences so I can use his name only, without it being too awkward. But the whole situation makes me extremely uncomfortable. This kid is having a really rough time, and I know one thing I could do to make it a little better, but I'm forbidden to do it. At least the kid looks convincingly male, so people who don't know him well perceive him as male. (I'm actually kind of amazed at how, using simply dress, hairstyle and mannerisms, he's managed to make a female body look entirely male. Of course, the fact that he looks pre-pubertal obviously helps. I don't know if he's on hormone suppressing drugs or just a late developer, but either way, he doesn't show much sign of puberty.)
But what kind of mental health provider would think it was in this kid's best interests to try to make him deny who he is? Especially when the research evidence shows otherwise? And what frustrates me most is that I really have no power to do anything about it, and fighting this is only likely to make it worse. And the one who loses in all this is the kid. Hopefully he can hang on until he's 18 - he's a tough kid, and he seems to be coping remarkably well given all he's dealing with. But what kind of damage is this doing, and how hard will it be for him to heal from it?