December 29, 2016
(+++) A DIFFERENT CHILD
Raising the Transgender Child: A Complete Guide for Parents, Families & Caregivers. By Michelle Angelo, Ph.D., and Alisa Bowman. Seal Press. $17.
Depending on how you look at statistics and whose statistics you believe, there are very few transgender people in the United States – or there are lots and lots. A June 2016 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law put the percentage of transgender adults in the nation at 0.6%, twice what the same institute estimated in 2011. That is a very tiny percentage. It is a smaller percentage than the estimated prevalence of pedophiles (1% to 2%) or, for that matter, the estimated percentage of Americans who own rabbits (1%) or keep saltwater fish as pets (1.5%). On the other hand, 0.6% is not a very small number, because the United States has a population of some 320 million, so 0.6% equals about 2,000,000 people. How many of them are children? No one really knows – but certainly some children are transgender, and even if the total statistics paint a difficult-to-pin-down picture, there is no doubt that having a transgender child requires a set of parenting skills quite different from the ones most parents have or expect to need.
Raising the Transgender Child attempts to provide those skills – while bending over so far to be politically correct and sensitive that even its well-meaning recommendations must be taken with a large helping of caveats. Michelle Angelo specializes in working with transgender youth, and Alisa Bowman is a transgender advocate who has a transgender child herself, so both have the bona fides for this book. They also share a determination to normalize being transgender when it is patently not statistically normal – which does not mean it is abnormal, just that the designation does not apply to about 99.4% of the population. It is no insult to state forthrightly that being transgender is very rare, even though it is a state of being that is shared with millions of others. But Angelo and Bowman are determined to use faddish words such as “cisgender” to equate the rare with the far, far more common (asserting that some people just happen to be cisgender, while some just happen to be transgender); and they are equally determined to assert that everyone is wonderful in his or her own way: “Sure, most of the time…you’ll end up with a straight cisgender person. Some of the time, however, you get a beautiful variation, perhaps someone with male organs (penis and testes) who identifies as a female, is attracted to women, and prefers to present herself in masculine attire; female organs (ovaries, vagina, breasts, etc.) who identifies as both genders (male and female), is attracted to men, and dresses in androgynous fashions; [or] ambiguous genitalia (neither completely male nor female) who identifies as male, is attracted to everyone, and sometimes presents as masculine, other times as feminine.”
It is 100% necessary to accept the 100% inclusiveness of the authors in order to benefit from their recommendations, because everything they say is couched in the same sort of everything-is-equal language. It is also necessary to accept the authors’ tendency to downplay or handle dismissively many of the concerns expressed – rightly or wrongly – by the 99.4% of the population that is not transgender. This sometimes leads to convoluted logic. There is, for example, the hot-button issue of allowing transgender children to use bathrooms based on the sex with which they identify rather than based on their sexual organs. Angelo and Bowman will not acknowledge any reason whatsoever for people to be the slightest bit concerned about this matter. They say, for instance, that giving transgender students a private bathroom is not a good idea because those bathrooms “in some schools, require students to descend or climb several flights of stairs and cover a great distance. Often, they’re just not convenient.” In addition, “forcing any student to use a separate bathroom invades their privacy.” But this is just after they write, regarding those who are not transgender, that “any child who feels uncomfortable in a bathroom or locker room has the right to use a private accommodation, such as a single stall bathroom in the nurse’s office.” In other words, non-transgender students who are uncomfortable should use bathrooms that are far away and “just not convenient.” On the face of it, this discrimination against the non-transgendered majority – even when backed up by references to legal requirements and threats of lawsuits – is unseemly, however well-intended.
Raising the Transgender Child is, in fact, well-intended throughout. “There is nothing wrong with your child or with you,” the authors assert early and, in one form or another, repeatedly. This is an excellent and important point. And Angelo and Bowman show considerable sensitivity to areas that are of major concern to parents of all children, such as dating and sex. Their objective, as one chapter subhead has it, is to show parents “how to raise a happy, well-adjusted child,” and this is a valiant and difficult goal where transgender children are concerned. But how do parents even know that a child is transgender? This is in many ways the question for parents considering whether to buy this book; and the authors, commendably, try to deal with it early on, in a chapter on “seven signs your child may be transgender.” But none of the “signs” is really definitive, and all are couched in that “perfect PC” miasma of stretched language, such as, “Your child presents in a way that is not congruent with the gender assigned at birth.” “Is not congruent?” Is this a geometry lesson? And “assigned at birth?” What, as homework? The authors spend so much time tripping over themselves trying to be perfectly PC in their thoughts and expressions that they miss the plain-spokenness that, it can be argued, parents of possibly transgender children need more than anything. Still, there are precious few guides available to deal with this significant family trauma – even Angelo and Bowman agree that discovering that a child is transgender throws parents for a loop in major ways. And although there are many flaws in Raising the Transgender Child, wholehearted devotion to the cause encapsulated in the book’s title is not one of them. Parents who suspect they may have a transgender child – or who know a family with a transgender child and want to understand that family better – will find this a valuable starting point, even if it is scarcely as complete a guide to the many issues that families in this situation will have to face as its subtitle makes it out to be.