The world has lost their ever lovin’ minds. This city, anyway. i swear to god. okay, so we had a field trip last week, my college students and I*. We went to a shelter and housing program for street-entrenched youth. That was fun. Every time I take a class there, we all leave inspired and hopeful. A very good woman who has been with the organization since it opened here gives us a tour and explains their work and history, and tells us stories about some of the youth who move through their programs – from street to home, marginalized to belonging. It’s a great program, seems like. At the end of the tour and talk, one of my students asked a question, “what about LGBT youth (as if they’re all the same, as if we have ANYTHING in fucking common)?” He didn’t mean any of the acronym except the “T”, though, it was clear. No one does anymore. She replied, “well, we just happen to have a young man who wants to move into their longer term housing program, and he is in the process of going on hormones and looking at surgery, he’s seeing doctors and therapists for transition, and after a lot of discussion with the staff, we have decided to let him move into the women’s floor. She referred to him with masculine pronouns because, she explained, he hadn’t been through the chemical and surgical alterations yet [she didn’t use those exact words].
There is a whole floor of apartments in a building separate from the shelter for young women who are going from the shelter to the housing program. They each have a small bachelor apartment with a small kitchen with ‘fridge and microwave, their own bathroom, a bed, a table and chairs, some shelves — and there are common areas–a big communal kitchen where they can all sit for a meal together, an area where they can play board games, watch TV or whatever. There is another floor for young men. Youth can live there, paying rent, as long as they are attending school or working, until their 25th birthday. When they move out, the rent they have paid to the organization is returned to them, so they have something to start out with. It’s a great idea, and there are staff who provide some guidance, like parents would do, and other kids in similar circumstances.
Our guide had explained to us that since they separated the boys from the girls in the short term shelter, they have noticed there are some striking differences between the issues they face. The boys are mostly in trouble with drugs and addiction–there is some involvement with gangs and with other criminal activity, and some of them suffer from depression. The girls, now, overwhelmingly the girls are coping with the legacy of incest and other forms of male violence and sexual abuse. They often have eating disorders, they cut themselves, they have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. The staff has to be very sensitive about boundaries and consistent with rules — they have to find a number of ways to reduce and eventually help these girls stop these self-destructive behaviours. Help them return to and care for their bodies. Give them a sense of belonging and having some autonomy — bodily, intellectually, spiritually.
But if a boy moves in who is going to modify his body in unnatural ways, (much like cutting or starving himself), he wil be encouraged. Not only encouraged, but in his case he will be offered the assistance of doctors and therapists and pharmaceuticals. This is cognitive dissonance. The girls who are suffering from dysmorphia because of whatever reason are encouraged to care for themselves, learn to love and respect and tend to their bodies and figure out how to be an authentic person among those with whom she has common cause. The boy who is suffering in a similar way is, on the other hand, given a message that yes, indeed, his body is wrong. And he is expected to place himself into the care of the institutions of medicine and psychiatry for the rest of his life in order to become right. This is abusive.
Earlier that week we also had a guest speaker come in who is a teacher in an alternative high school. She works with kids who have been pushed from mainstream schools, and gives them her best – all of her heart and love and hope until they have their own to share. She talked mostly about her work with girls. She is passionate and concerned about her students. She loves her work and finds the school system a racist sexist classist institution, and does all she can to give the kids in her classes the love and attention they do not get in the mainstream schools (because they come to her class believing they are all wrong, and pissed about it too — Aboriginal, poor, female, all of the above). She showed us a list of all the things that are in the way of her students gaining a good education. Not one of those things was “SEXISM”. She had written heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia, but not fucking sexism (which is what all those other things are, HELLO). And she told me that her students want a girls-only school that will also not be transphobic. I said, “wait, what? So if it’s only for girls, does that mean FEMALE only, and M-F trans will not be admitted? or does that mean gender — so M-F will be admitted, but girls who think they are or want to be boys, F-M won’t be? what’s the rule here?” and she said, “that’s what we heard from the kids.” And said it would be a longer conversation. Sigh.
My question, though, wasn’t “what do you hear from the kids?” My question was, “what will your criteria be? Who will decide what “girl only” means? Does it mean those youth born female who are ‘transing’ will be denied access? Does it mean that those youth born male who are transing will be allowed? When in the medicalization of their political unrest and adolescent confusion will they be accepted? Do you have a map, a chart a series of graphs? What the hell are you talking about, really?”
Anyway, no matter what she or we hear from these young people– and it’s important to hear them, and care about their opinions and ideas, of course it is – there is genuine science that says that the human brain is not fully formed until up to about 25 years of age. They need us to be consistent and boundaried and to guide them. Do you not remember the decisions you made as a teenager or young adult that you grew to regret — DEEPLY regret, by the time you were 30? Taking up smoking, for example, getting your boyfriend’s name tattooed on your forearm, or trying heroin to lose weight — those kinds of things. Remember? Or when you thought that women who married abusive men had made their own bed so should lie in it, or that the immigrants and refugees from South East Asia were “taking our jobs” — remember when you believed the stuff that you read in the newspaper? And when you got your sex education from your peers on the playground and thought you couldn’t get pregnant unless you had sex while you were having your period? This is the same. The same. But ever so much worse because adults are encouraging this delusional thinking.
I knew to the core of my being that I would grow up to be a boy. I knew it. When I was 10 or 11. I told my mom, too. I told her i had read about this tennis player who had got surgery to become a woman. I thought, “That’s the answer! I can get surgery to become a boy!” I didn’t know what that would mean. But I said, “When I grow up, i will get that surgery too.”
And my mom started to cry, and she said, “Oh, no Erin, you won’t, say you won’t”. I backed down in the face of her tears — she didn’t cry in front of us very often, and it was very distressing. I never mentioned it again, but I harboured that fantasy for years. Pretty much until I became an adult, and learned about feminism, and started hanging out with and reading and talking to feminists. I became a feminist and a lesbian at about the same time, and I never thought about becoming a boy again. But I tell you what, if i had been born even ten years later, i may have been in the same kind of danger as the boy at that youth shelter. Indeed I might be dead by now. There are no long-term studies on the effects of puberty blockers and hormone treatments and so forth. I might have been placed on puberty blockers and testosterone shots and had a hysterectomy and mastectomy before I realized how GREAT being pre-menstrual is. I’m not kidding, either, I love being pre-menstrual – I’m so alert and focused and sensitive – and super strong too. I don’t have many more pre-menstrual times to go though, I’m at the age when the unborn children are packing it in, setting up the retirement home for eggs that have dodged the bullet (never mind that there hasn’t been a bullet in decades…).
I hope to god someone tells that boy to at least wait. And tells the rest of the young men in the men’s part of the housing complex to welcome him, and embrace him as one of their own–because he is. He is a male, and doesn’t have to be masculine to be a ‘real’ man — any more than I had to be feminine to be a ‘real’ woman. i hope that for him, but I don’t expect it. dammit.
*I teach short intensive courses in a private college, they train people to become ‘small p’ professionals. It’s a racket, that whole thing, another blog post will come eventually about that whole stinky business. Maybe…