The caper started innocently enough. Listicle site and national joke Buzzfeed posted an article purporting to display an “adorable” note written by an 8-year-old who is allegedly transgender. Dave Weigel, as a relatively normal person who’s been around 8 year olds before, asked what many might consider to be a naturally occurring question:
How much do 8-year olds know about their sexual identity? Hell, college students aren’t always sure. http://t.co/8zvREdHAN4
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 4, 2015
From there, however, the wheels came off for Weigel, who soon learned the meaning of “you will be made to care” in a very personal way. I encourage you to click the link to the tweet itself and see the truly incredible string of hate replies, which may well stretch into the hundreds by the time this entire fiasco is done.
What Weigel is discovering here is the ugly underbelly of the hot new fad in parenting, which is to willingly forfeit your ability to disbelieve any of the colorful or implausible fantasies your young children present you with, at least insofar as those fantasies involve being someone of the opposite gender with which they are born.
This is a facially obvious proposition to any parent who has within recent memory raised an 8-year-old: kids under the age of at least 10 are not to be believed with respect to their pronouncements about anything as profound as an alleged gender identity disorder. Part of any kid’s natural exploration of the world around them at that age is a particularly vivid sense of imagination and fancy that can be shockingly persistent to the adult mind. Kids at that age develop fixations and fascinations with things apparently without trigger and that can make no sense. I have known kids who persisted in the fantasy that they were a horse for weeks or months at a time, at every opportunity. I have never yet seen a parent when faced with such a child erect a barn and purchase some oats.
Many of Weigel’s detractors point to alleged evidence, uncovered by psychologists, that children can experience “gender dysphoria” as early as age 5. This evidence, of necessity, consists of psychologists who are as gullible as the parents who indulge these particular fantasies, since self-reporting at this age is the only possible way to measure the gender identity of someone whose actions are to an overwhelming extent monitored and shaped by his or her parents. The fact that psychological researchers willingly disregard what people of common sense know about the self-awareness and imagination of 5 year olds for the sake of making a name for themselves in their field is not surprising whatsoever, especially given the justified pathological inferiority complex research psychologists have with respect to “hard” scientists.
Part of doing the job of being a responsible parent is balancing a patient indulgence with your child’s imagination (so that it has an ability to grow and thrive) with the responsibility to ensure that they are capable of adequate socialization. Good parents participate in playtime with their kids that involves and encourages these fantasies while also establishing that a time and place exists for at least a certain level of conformity. Your daughter can and should wear the princess outfit around the house all night if she wants, but it is not allowed at school, and so on. And an equally important part of parenting is the monitoring of these fantasies and fixations to see when they have progressed to the area where intervention is needed to ensure that the child realizes that they are not real or true, or to determine whether some external force (kids at school, their teacher) might be inappropriately feeding them.
Accepting, as I do, the notion that being transgendered is a profound and deeply rooted condition, the idea that a parent would indulge a kid at the age of 8 (or 5!) in the belief that they are a transgendered is a failure of this responsibility of such a magnitude that it borders on child abuse. Part of the most important thing you can do for your kid is, where possible, to shelter them from constant negative social pressure. Definitely this sometimes involves exerting pressure on the outside world to not negatively interact with your child, but as a parent you must understand that your ability to influence these external factors is miniscule in comparison with your ability to affect your own child’s behavior. Whatever your position about how you would deal with, say, a teenager who presented you with this problem, the idea that a parent would send a 5 year old girl out in the world actively encouraging her to tell people that she’s a boy and then screaming at the world for the way they respond is sickening and infuriating to me.
Probably, some large percentage of parents have had kids who at a young age dressed in clothes designed for the opposite gender, or showed higher-than-usual interest in activities usually associated with the opposite gender. I think good parents allow their kids plenty of leeway in this regard and 99 out of 100 of these kids do not, as adults, experience gender dysphoria. I think any parent who observes this behavior in a 5-or-8 year old and tries to actively delare them to the world as transgender is doing so because they want a novelty kid. They are willingly subjecting their kids to negative social pressure so that they can impress their liberal friends with their compassion and understanding and forward thinking-ness.
And that is the real crime that ought to be met shocked and negative reactions. Not a polite (and correct) question about the self awareness of 8 year olds.