Help! I’m in the Wrong Body

“Gender never really mattered to a quiet little kid like me, it was only a fantasy. I knew other boys my age were not thinking like that but I didn’t care, it felt so right.” This simple statement made by a fourteen-year-old Latina transgender youth raises a very important issue to be addressed. The use of treatments in society that focus on a child’s declared gender identity as wrong. Gender identity is your identity as it is experienced with regard to being male or female. Being transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman or man) not matching ones “assigned sex.” Instead of focusing the attention on improving social conditions that will allow transgender children to develop naturally, most services focus their attention on corrective measures. In other words, they try and convince these children that they are wrong for thinking and behaving this way.

The confusion for most people begins when trying to separate, from the broad definition of transgender, what qualifies a child truly being confused about their gender. Ellis and Eriksen give an account of different ways transgenders express the inner difference they feel between their biological sex and gender identity. For instance, transsexuals engage in the opposite gender activities because they believe they were born the wrong sex. Transgender youth may also cross-dress, expressing their other gender only part of the time. There are also transvestites, which do not want to be the other gender; they choose to dress up in other-gender clothes for excitement or sexually gratification. Lastly, intersex persons are those that were born with ambiguous genitalia.

In order for a transgender individual to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, the inner conflict they are experiencing must cause distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. In other words, if it interferes with their daily lives because they believe it is wrong or feel there is something wrong for thinking this way. However, it must be free from the pressure of society’s standards. If we usually handle the question of transgender youth from an assumption that their experience is wrong or dysfunctional, what we will truly be looking for is ways to fix them. Instead, we must analyze current theories on gender development to understand the process by which these individuals develop a gender identity.

Most children have a strong sense of gender identity between the ages of five and seven. There are many contributing factors in the development of a gender identity including, biology, genetics and learning. If by such a young age, children’s gender identity is locked, how much damage will be done by forcing transgender children to behave in a manner that goes against what they believe to be their true gender? A lot of damage can be done, after three years of age; gender reassignment (the belief you can change the way a person thinks about being a male or female) is exceedingly difficult. Knowing that social influences cannot change gender, we must take this in to consideration when labeling a transgender youth with a mental disorder. Many of the problems in social and occupational roles that transgender youth experience can be traced back to stress in their environments, along with social pressures placed to match society’s standards of what it means to be male or female.

The challenge for individuals in society today is in devising new methods of treatments and interventions that address societal and family influences that disturb the natural development of transgender youth. The focus has to be placed on these influences, not on the perceived wrong thinking or behaving of the transgender individual. One way that society can start developing these new strategies is by becoming aware of the plight of transgender individuals. In addition, individuals in our society need to become aware of their own biases and prejudices against these individuals based on personal beliefs and misinformation. Only by understanding and empathizing with transgender youth, we will be able to act ethically becoming advocates on their behalf. I believe as enlightened individuals, we have a duty to advocate for those that do not have a voice. I watched the movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who was murdered. I have only watched it once, but the reality of the pain and anguish the transgender youth had to endure, including a brutal death, still comes clear in my mind. In addition, I have often wondered what would have happened to Brandon instead had he had an advocate on his side.

Written by: Ivette J. Russo

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