Wouldn’t it be awesome if in 2020 we accepted each other unconditionally...
Transgender. Gender Dysphoria. Autistic Spectrum Conditions. Trauma. Disassociative Identity Disorder (don’t like the word ‘disorder’ just a personal thing).
Please be aware that when I write, I write from my own observations and experiences. Your observations and experiences will, likely, be different to mine. For this reason I really am okay with you having different views to my own.
Anything even remotely in the vicinity of transgender issues seems to elicit strong and emotive responses for some of us. Maybe the subject is subconsciously triggering for us. Often our responses are fear based. Why does it scare us?
Whilst I appreciate that each of us has our own stuff going on it is completely unacceptable to add our own stuff to the trauma pile of a vulnerable young person. I have so far managed to buffer our fabulous little man from any potentially negative responses to his exploration of identity through clothing choices. Others responding negatively to our little man is, frankly, non negotiable. My daughter’s nick name for me is ‘the dragon lady’. I'm a bit blunt but I hope I am never unkind.
Our fabulous little man joined our family just before his 5th birthday. It is fair to say he has more than his share of ACEs - Adverse Childhood Experiences aka Trauma With Bells On.
The first time I met him he was wearing a Snow White dress, lying on the floor waiting patiently for someone to wake him up.
He has always identified very strongly with fictional Princesses - Anna, Elsa, Belle, etc... If you think about it, all the Princesses have ACEs. And they all get happy endings. (For young people who are interested in super heroes they, too, have had ACEs. It is an abstract and non confronting way to explore ACEs with young people.) He currently identifies very strongly with Gabby Gabby from Toy Story 4. She’s the doll no one wants. He spends a lot of time ‘being’ Gabby Gabby. He identified the other day that Gabby Gabby has tricky feelings and would benefit from working with his old psychotherapist. He has so much insight and empathy.
He has also, very cleverly, created female characters from his own imagination. When he is really struggling he will adopt and entirely inhabit a different persona, sometimes for days at a time. It’s not just about clothing.
Fundamentally, he believes that the trauma he has experienced is his own fault. What came out for him during almost a year of psychotherapy, with a very skilled practitioner, is that he believes that if he wasn’t a boy, if he didn’t have brown skin, if he had never been a baby and if he wasn’t T no bad stuff would have happened to him. He believed he was unloveable - the throw away baby. His logic was, and still is on a bad day, that if he can be someone else he can be accepted - even loved.
As a family we have always taken a neutral view on his clothing choices as they are simply clothes. The only person who has really had any kind of issue with his clothing choices and method of taking a break from his trauma and pain was his IRO - Independent Reviewing Officer. Her killer line in a review meeting was, ‘Speaking as a Jamaican woman...’ she went on to suggest that his gender non conforming approach to clothing would be unacceptable to his community...It is worth mentioning that she is a very nice woman who I have a lot of time for. She was expressing her own fears. She was triggered. T is neither Jamaican nor a woman. He lives in the UK. Where at the time of writing, we are protected by laws regarding racism, homophobia and discrimination on the grounds of disability, religious beliefs, the list is thankfully quite extensive.
I have form for engaging excellent legal representation, even if I do very nearly financially cripple myself. (In brief my daughter was discriminated against by the Local Authority when they refused to recognise her learning needs. Great solicitor. Tribunal. Won.) (Then T’s Local Authority gave him the run around, great solicitor = great SGO outcome) (And ‘Why Heritage Matching is Discrimination with a Bow On’ is a whole separate blog.) Best of luck discriminating against the little man while he lives with me.
Back to this poor IRO. Her recommendation was to remove choice for him. We did not follow her advice. We felt it would be extremely damaging for him if our love and acceptance of him were to be based on the clothing he wears. We finally achieved SGO (Special Guardianship Order) for him and since this has been achieved he is feeling more secure as a fully signed up member of our family.
We feel that forcing him to suppress his feelings to meet the social and gender expectations of others just moves the pain elsewhere. We would far rather have him explore his pain and his identity through clothing and being other people now rather than drug and alcohol misuse and other self harming behaviours later. We cannot know whether or not we have averted this for him. I’ll let you know in a few years.
It will be clear to you, dear reader, that I have no specialist qualification in this area but it has always seemed to me that ‘sex’ is the plumbing we are born with and ‘gender’ is socially constructed.
In the UK in 2019 there seems to be a very binary view of sexual identity and gender identity rather than viewing sexual identity and gender identity as existing in the context of a broad spectrum or continuum.
Anyhow, in view of the early trauma our fabulous little man has experienced we have always taken the view that he is a very clever and resourceful young man who develops his own coping strategies. Our view is that sometimes he inhabits a ‘female’ persona in order to take a break from the pain and effort of being him and all that that means for him.
When he is being someone else we support him in this and address him by the name of whichever character he is being. We explain to him that we love him when he is himself and we understand if he feels like he needs to be someone else for a bit and we still love him.
It is extremely important that T has all the love and support possible for him to learn through our example how to accept himself and even love himself. He is beginning to understand that his early life experiences are not his fault and he is not a bad person. Five years in to our ‘Love him Unconditionally’ strategy and he is able to tolerate longer and longer periods of time being himself. He is beginning to be able to show acceptance for himself and that he values himself just as he is.
If he chooses, when he is old enough to do so, to live in a ‘female’ identity we will continue to accept him, respect him and love him. However, I have been told it is unlikely he would get through the psychological assessment for gender reassignment because of his early life trauma. I am not going to attempt to predict his future gender identity or sexual identity because, primarily, it is completely irrelevant to how much he is loved and valued in our family. Our ambition for him is that he loves himself as much as we love him.
Interestingly, he has a diagnosis of autism alongside adhd and developmental delay. There is some documentation on the correlation between autistic spectrum conditions and gender dysphoria - believing oneself to be in the wrong body.
Typically, those of us who have autistic spectrum conditions can struggle to read social cues and can struggle to conform to social expectations. Since, gender is a social construct I wonder if conforming to social expectations regarding gender falls within similar territory.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if in 2020 accepted each others' journeys and we accepted each other unconditionally.