TW: Mentions of self-harm.
We recently celebrated Children’s Day, a day to celebrate childhood in all its innocent beauty. Every Children’s Day we talk about the rights of children, why securing them is a social responsibility for all, and why caring for children who cannot fight for their own rights is our collective obligation. This Children’s Day let’s also talk about the rights of transgender children.
Childhood can be the most beautiful period of our life, provided we get the right nurturing environment, support, and unconditional acceptance to be ourselves. However, when it comes to transgender children who are born and raised in societies that believe in the binary system and hetero-normativity, their childhood can be traumatic and depressing, a fight against themselves and their own.
Now, before we discuss this any further, let us clarify the terms sex and gender. Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorised as male, female, or intersex assigned at birth based on external physical characteristics or other biological markers. Gender, on the other hand, is one’s identity of who they are–it can refer to the role of a male or female in society, known as a gender role. A transgender person is one whose gender identity of the self is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.
A transgender child is raised in our society based on the sex assigned to them at birth and this can lead to immense discomfort or dysphoria in most of these children as they grow older and their sense of gender becomes clear, usually around the age of 3-4 years. Familial and social norms ensure that either the child is not allowed to explore the gender roles of the gender they identify with or even if they are allowed, they are looked down upon for the same.
A family is the most intimate group of people with whom a child communicates, however, in our societies, any talk on sex and gender is a taboo. How do we expect this child to talk to their family about what they are feeling? To the same family which constantly asks this child to adapt to the social norms, to compete academically and not worry much about personal feelings or needs. As a result, the child will go into a shell, so what will this child do? Talk to their friends at school? Well, unfortunately in the case of most transgender children, the school is a place where a lot of bullying happens. Children in schools are expected to play certain roles, wear certain kinds of clothes, show an inclination towards certain kinds of sports and activities, and use the bathroom according to their gender.
Just imagine being in the shoe of this transgender child for a day in school, where they find it difficult to play the role expected of them. God forbid, if this child also had the mannerisms of the gender they identify with, as a substantial number of children may have, then the name-calling, bullying, and abuse can reach a very high level. Children, whether cis or trans, undergo a lot of unreported physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, often at the hands of the people closest to them and they trust; for transgender children, the abuse can be manifold.
As puberty hits and the child starts developing sexual characteristics of the sex they don’t identify with, it can be very traumatic. Imagine, someone who identifies themselves as a woman starts developing male genitalia and beard, or someone who identifies as a man starts developing breasts and having menses.
Also, simultaneously they start getting sexually attracted, often to the people of the same sex as the one assigned to them. This conflates in their mind gender identity and sexual orientation, and the child is sent into a whirlpool of questions as to whether they are gay or lesbian.
Looking at the widespread homophobia around them, they have no choice but to shun their desires and stop any form of exploration or expression of this attraction. What does all this lead to? Pent-up frustrations? Addictions to pornography? Risky online dating? Experimentation with drugs, smoking, and alcohol? They look around themselves and do not find any role models, and depictions on TV and films are caricatures in comic roles who are being laughed at. They don’t want to be like them–mocked or made fun of.
All this can lead to a lot of stress and what do they do with this unbearable stress? Self-harm? Yes. A lot of transgender teens experience so much dysphoria and hate towards their own bodies that they are forced to self-harm. Sometimes it takes sharp physical pain to deviate one’s mind from the mental pain they are going through. What then, when this doesn’t help? Give up? A lot of transgender children attempt and die by suicide. That is the single most important cause of death among transgender children worldwide, Death by suicide, and this is how childhood, which was to be a beautiful phase, ends.
Can we change this? Yes, we can.
What do we need to do? We need to re-examine our values, beliefs, and ideals. We need to weed out the old beliefs of hetero-normativity in the light of the science, lived experiences, and value of human life. We need to re-align ourselves and re-educate ourselves and the people around us. We need to accept that children, like flowers, come in different forms, shapes, colors, and smell, and to fit them into only two types is neither natural nor just.
This Children’s Day let’s make childhood beautiful again, for all children, including transgender children.