Think of the children!

In recent years, doctors have started prescribing hormone blockers (HBs) for trans youth about to go through puberty. These drugs delay the onset of puberty until age 16, after which the standard treatment, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), becomes available with parental consent.

In retrospect, using hormone blockers would have saved me a considerable amount of trouble. I wouldn’t have had to deal with an unwanted male puberty. But in my case, I was too deep in denial to seek HBs out – and they still weren’t as mainstream then as they are now. Nowadays, the Endocrine Society, a professional organization that deals with appropriateness of hormone treatments, recommends hormone blockers as standard practice.

But some people still have reservations about hormone blockers, arguing that trans youth aren’t capable of deciding for themselves whether HBs are appropriate, that trans youth might change their minds, or that it’s risky to mess with young people’s hormones.

These attitudes exist despite the reality that delaying puberty actually allows young people to avoid risk. If you have any concerns about being trans, allowing puberty to happen is dangerous. Trans people often become intensely depressed during puberty. But the risks of using HBs are relatively low; whenever a person on hormone blockers wants, they can choose to allow puberty to begin.

So why does anyone oppose this practice? Ingrained societal biases against both gender non-conformity and youth.

Thanks to ultrasounds, we start enforcing gender norms from before birth. Most people in North America receive gendered names. Baby rooms and toys are often gendered male or female using blue and pink as colour cues. When they start going to school, they see gender-segregated bathrooms.

Our society abhors gender-variance, even in infants. Life & Style, that paragon of journalism, published a cover story criticizing Angelina Jolie for having her three-year-old child, assigned female, wear “men’s clothing” and short haircuts, worrying that such parenting measures would “harm” the child (“Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into a boy?”, March 4). This kind of commentary completely dismisses children’s agency, since it assumes that only parents can make decisions about their child’s lives. But if the Life & Style piece is accurate, then her child actually asked to be called John and to wear such clothing. I have to ask – what if Shiloh, or John, is trans? Life & Style doesn’t appear to have considered the possibility.

This coverage also assumes that children and youth are not reliable sources about who they are. This notion is pervasive in our society, particularly regarding queer youth. People say, “It’s just a phase,” or, “How do you know?” Straight or gender-conforming people don’t have to deal with these questions – their identities receive validation regardless of age. This double standard, this denial of queer identities, doesn’t stop when we become legal adults. Since writing this column, people have asked how I could possibly know that I’m trans, and I’m 21.

Adults know better. Who cares if a child has been saying from the age of three that they’re different from what the adults think?
The idea that adults know who children really are better than the children themselves flies in the face of many queer people’s life stories. I knew I didn’t fit in with “the other boys” when I was seven. I’ve also met queer people who were certain in their identities at even younger ages. While these experiences are not universal, they show that children can and do know who they are at young ages.

But the widespread idea that young people can’t know their own identities because they’re too young isn’t just wrong – it’s actively harmful. This notion presents queer people with a no-win situation. If queer youth come out, society refuses to recognize their identities. If they don’t conform, they risk hostility and harassment. To avoid facing these problems, they have to deny themselves. That kind of denial leaves a deep and lasting psychological wound.

These problems become even worse when schools do not intervene against bullies. In 2009, Egale, a Canadian LGBTQ rights organization, released the results of their first survey of bullying in Canadian schools. The survey indicated that 75 per cent of self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth felt unsafe at school and that 95 per cent of the trans youth surveyed indicated that they felt unsafe. When queer youth feel unsafe, they are much more likely to try to be someone they’re not.

Parents – like Angelina Jolie – often take the blame for the existence of queer people. Focus on the Family and other right-wing groups believe that queer people are the results of “bad parenting.” Examples include the notions that absent fathers and overbearing mothers turn their sons gay. As a result, they argue that society needs to “protect” children from the harmful effects of “bad parenting” and enforce what they consider traditional gender norms. But this entire argument rests on the idea that the existence of queer people is a problem, one that requires someone to blame. Queerness isn’t a problem – society makes it one by considering it problematic.

The rhetoric of “protecting children” serves to legitimate actions that actually harm children and youth. For example, whenever trans non-discrimination policies are discussed, social conservatives contend that such moves would allow male sexual predators to harass women, particularly girls, in women’s bathrooms by claiming that their gender identity is female. But this argument never includes evidence that a sexual predator has ever used such a tactic. What’s more, nothing’s stopping a sexual predator from going into a women’s bathroom now – especially if they’re already female.

This framing also calls to mind an image of queer people as bogeymen, “deviants” who prey on children. Ironically, queer people, especially trans people, are disproportionately survivors of sexual assault. And trans people, including children and youth in school, face a higher chance of harassment if they look like one gender but have to use another’s bathroom facilities. Instead of protecting anyone, opponents of non-discrimination policies only hurt people who need to have access to safe bathroom facilities.

We need to turn that classic right-wing argument – “Think of the children!” – on its head. Imagine what would happen if we actually thought of queer youth as people. If we actually considered the needs of children, we wouldn’t force them to conform to arbitrary standards from birth. Instead, we would foster the idea that good parents don’t try to force their kids to be someone they’re not. If we actually considered the needs of queer students, we would not stand back and allow bigoted bullying to continue. Instead, we would implement anti-bullying policies in every school in Canada. If we actually considered the needs of trans youth, we would give hormone blockers to those who ask and make sure they can use the bathroom without fear. Won’t someone please think of the children for once?

Quinn Albaugh writes in this space every week. They want to hear what you think: