Item the second: While on the train, I read a really interesting article from the New York Magazine about transgendered children: "S/he." It's well worth the read but longish, so here's the gist. Many transgendered people realize their cis-gender (the one assigned at birth by their parents and society; usually the biological gender). This being New York, you had some reasonably progressive parents trying to make sense of this and support the kids. It's a nice glimpse into transphobia even at that level (one parent's response I found particularly interesting was from a dad who didn't want to suggest to the child there was anything wrong with being a girl, and so he was at first hesitant to get on board with his cis-female son's identifying as male.)
But there's more to it than that. Say your kid tells you at the tender age of five that "she" wants to be treated as a he - that he really believes he is a boy, despite being anatomically female. That may be more-or-less feasible at five (setting aside transphobia the kid may have to deal with), but what about at thirteen? Because while Marcia may answer to Mark and dress and act and play as a boy, but there's still estrogen flowing through his body - meaning that puberty will come quickly, and with it the breasts and the menstruation. It would be traumatic. The problem is, doctors suggest the transgendered not start taking artificial hormones until they're at least sixteen. That's years of being trapped in a body that feels less and less like yours, with all that carries with it regarding social interaction and expectations. And we thought gay bullying was bad. I mean, it is, but this? :-S
So to address the situation, some parents have turned to what's called puberty-blockers - drugs that keep a body from going through puberty, until the child is old enough to start hormone treatment and go through puberty as their chosen gender. (The kid can also go through puberty as his or her cis-gender, simply by stopping the puberty blockers.) But it's a tough call. Several of the parents refer to it as "playing God" or think it marks transgenderism off as a disease (which most LGBT allies, myself included, wholeheartedly deny).
Reading all this, I felt an immense sympathy for anyone going through this. Even with supportive parents, it strikes me as an enormously tough needle for a seven-year-old to thread. And given that most parents probably aren't supportive - either through their own beliefs or simply being a bit mystified by it all - I can only imagine what that's like. By the experience of transgender children as it's explained here resonated deep within me. I'm not transgender, but I'm enough of a tomboy that I never felt drawn to many of the traditional teenage things - dating, dances, and the like. I liked being one of the boys and was most comfortable where gender simply didn't matter. More to the point, I'm all too familiar with the no man's land between different groups. With religion/atheism in particular but other issues as well, where it sometimes felt like I could never be my whole self with anyone - like I always had to fashion my identity. This isn't a criticism of the people I grew up around, or the people at my church who I always seem to be too liberal or too traditionalist to truly fit in with (depending on the group), or my secular humanist friends who try to make sense of why an intelligent person would continue to claim a religious label. But sometimes it feels like, on an issue of great importance to me, I can't fully "be myself" - maybe because I don't know who I am or because I'm not brave enough to put myself out there or because the other folks just couldn't respect some part of my identity on that point as legitimate. Whatever the case it's a true mind-warp at times, at least in my experience.
None of this makes me transgendered. But I think it makes me particularly sympathetic to people who have a hard time getting who they really are "seen" by others. And maybe in my case the blindness of other folks is all in my head. But whatever the reason, my heart just breaks for these kids having to navigate this world and maybe feeling like even their own parents don't really see them for who they really are. It's hard all around.