30 March 2015

Beyond the Gender Binary | Dr. Margaret Nichols | TEDxJerseyCity

Not long ago children who insisted they were the 'other' sex were so rare that they were known only to a few clinics around the world specializing in childhood ...

Thank You Margie Nichols I'm a sex

therapist a psychologist and I'm the director of a psychotherapy agency here in Jersey City called the Institute for personal growth IPG ever since our creation in 1983 has always worked with the LGBT community and so I have over 30 years of experience working with transgender clients and and I've had an opportunity over that period of time to really see the changes in the 1980s and the 1990s all the transgender people that came into IPG were usually biological males transitioning to be women and they were adults transgender children were considered so rare that there were only a few clinics in the whole world that worked with them and female-to-male biological women that wanted to become males were also unheard of then in the late 90s we started seeing a dramatic change we started seeing college students that were coming out as transgender many of them were biological females transitioning to male in fact often more of them and we also started hearing terms like gender queer identities that really we had never heard of before and then in the last ten years there's been another dramatic

change and the age of our average client has gone down so much that at this point we see one or two new transgender clients per week and almost all of them are high school age or younger down to the age of three or four some of you may be familiar with these kids because some of them have appeared in the news coy Mathis was a five year old transgender girl last year who won the lawsuit against her school system to allow her to use the girls bathroom jazz Jennings is a Trent little transgender girl that has been on Barbara Walters and Rosie O'Donnell since she was 5 years old this year time magazine named her one of the 25 most influential teenagers of the year and she wrote a children's book about herself and even if you haven't seen these kids in the news you may know it on more on a personal level you may have a transgender or gender variant child your kid may go to school with a child like this there may be one in your neighborhood or your extended family just like today everybody knows somebody who's gay in a few years everybody's going to know a transgender child so the question is where did these kids come

from how come there's so many of them now and there were none of them 25 years ago is it because we're giving birth to more transgender children I don't really think that's the answer what's happening is that the culture has changed and the culture has changed so much that children that the transgender people are feeling comfortable coming out at younger and younger ages so these kids have always been with us but these are the kids that 25 or 30 years ago we wouldn't have seen them until they were middle-aged and had spent an entire lifetime in shame secrecy and hiding so this is a good thing as far as I'm concerned and I want to give you a personal example of how much things have changed in 1983 my partner Nancy and I had a little boy named Cory we were part of what later became called the gay b-boom we were early gay be boomers and in the late 80s when Cory was about 5 he wanted to wear a pink skirt now Nancy and I are feminists we didn't have a problem with him wearing a pink skirt but back in the 1980s we were a lesbian couple raising a child it was widely believed that gay parents were going to totally screw

their kids up and so there was no question of us allowing Cory to wear a pink skirt in public or to wear it in school and if Cory had been transgender if he had been a kid like jazz we would have been in terrible trouble because back then gender identity disorder of childhood was considered a rare but serious mental disease a mental disease caused by mothers of course and we would have not only been blamed for Cory's being transgender but we would have been told that the only cure for him was to force him to conform to gender stereotypes throw away the pink skirt buzzcut primary colors footballs guns and trucks all the way mats Cory what in his pink skirt what Nancy and I finally decided to do we spent a lot of time in the summer on Cherry Grove which is a gay community on Fire Island and so what we did was we bought Cory a pink skirt and we said you can wear the skirt at home and you can wear it to your heart's content on Fire Island and that's what he did he ward on Cherry Grove everybody thought he was adorable and by the end of the summer he'd sort of lost interest in wearing a pink skirt and Nancy and I were very

lucky that we dodged a huge bullet because if we had dared support him as a gender-variant child back then we would have probably lost custody of him now if Cory were 5 years old now and he wanted a pink skirt we might have been like this mother Cheryl killer Davis when her little boy wanted to dress up like a princess she not only allowed him to do that but she wrote a children's book about it called my princess boy things have changed a lot in 25 years now we know that transgender people are not mentally ill we know it's a normal variation the same treatment that would have been foisted on us 25 years ago the gender conformity treatment is now considered unethical thank God because now we know that the worst thing that you can do to one of these kids is to force them to conform it is absolutely soul-crushing to make these children be someone who they aren't and it contributes to the high suicide rate that these kids have before I go any further I want to give you some definition so we have some common ground when I talk about biological sex I'm talking about genes hormones genetics and genitals your assigned gender the

gender that you were given at birth is basically it is based on your biological sex mostly based on your genitals your gender identity on the other hand is the internal sense you have of whether you're male or female gender identity lives in the brain biological sex lived in the crotch gender expression is the way that you express or manifest your internal sense of gender identity to the world some kids are pretty conventional in their gender expression other kids and not so much most children develop a firm sense of gender identity by the time they're two or three or four years old and for most children their gender identity aligns with their biological sex and that aligns with their gender expression there are a small number of children who also have a fixed gender identity at two three four years old but for these kids their gender identity aligns with their gender expression but it's the opposite of their biological sex jazz Jennings is a good example of that she was born a male by the time she could speak she was I'm a girl I'm a girl I'm a girl at the age of five her parents allowed her to

live full-time as a girl that's called social transition when she when she hit puberty she was given medications to block her body from becoming a male body and when she gets older she'll be able to get hormones and gender reassignment surgery to make her body her physical body come more into alignment with her gender identity and her gender expression and then there's a third group of kids that don't have a fixed gender identity in toddlerhood these kids actually their gender identity doesn't gel until adolescence and this is kind of a mixed bag of kids because it includes gender non-conforming kids like the little princess boy it includes kids that we call gender blended kids who feel like I'm part boy and part girl and includes kids that we call gender fluid who feel sometimes like a girl sometimes like a boy but what they all have in common this group of kids is their gender identity their total identity doesn't solidified until adolescence because adolescence is where the rubber meets the road if you think about it little boy and little girl bodies aren't much different other than the genitals until

they hit puberty that's when male and body female bodies differentiate and so that's the point at which these kids differentiate as well and some of the kids decide they're comfortable with their gender identity but they're gay others of the kids decide they're horrified by their body changes and they come out as transgender and as a matter of fact more transgender kids come out in adolescence than come out at jazz Jennings age this is the most common age that these kids come out other kids are comfortable with their gender identity and they just remain gender non-conforming and then there's a bunch of other kids that sort of remain in the middle between male and female and the label these kids usually use for themselves is genderqueer that's what that means so what these kids are doing to our culture is really revolutionary because what they're doing is they're breaking down the gender binary the gender binary is what we take so for granted that we don't even realize we take it for granted it's the belief that men are from Mars Women are from Venus there's a bright line in between and never the twain shall meet

total separation what these children are showing us is that when you really let children have a free gender expression what you get is a rainbow of gender expression and gender identity and you realize that gender is much more like a continuum than it is a binary so let's get back now to how the Czech culture has changed and why the culture is supporting these kids in a way that they didn't before the interesting thing about it is these the support for transgender and gender variant kids didn't come from the gay community it didn't even come from a transgender community it came from changes in parents it came from parents who feel felt differently about what allowing their kids free gender expression and by parents I mostly mean mothers it's not that dads aren't supportive or they're never never supportive and certainly many mothers aren't supportive there are plenty of families that reject their transgender kids but by and large the movement to support transgender and gender variant kids has come from moms the two organizations that are the biggest ones in the country protecting these children trans youth family allies

and gender spectrum both were started by mothers of gender-variant kids these are the moms that are feminists or the daughters of feminists these are the mom that believed all that free to be you and me stuff they believed in breaking down gender roles these are the moms that got trucks for their little girls and dolls for their little boys and then once some of their kids went a little further than they had expected and instead of just being gender non-conforming came out of as transgender these are the moms that kind of took a deep breath pivoted and they're behind their kids a hundred and ten percent these are the moms they're changing the laws they're they're forcing schools to be different they're educating their families their friends their communities and I want to tell you it's it's not easy for them it is difficult to accept having a transgender kid it's scary it's confusing it's new you don't know what's gonna happen to the kid but these moms suck up their own pain and deal with it so that they can support their transgender kids in my book these moms are heroes so why should you why should you care

why should you support these kids well for one thing if you have a kid like this in your family if you're the parent of a child like this or you know one and there's one in your extended family it's really important you can make a huge difference we know that LGBT kids are bullied and harassed more than other kids we know that transgender kids are bullied and harassed most of all because they stick out and we know that transgender kids have the highest suicide rates of anybody but we also know that family support can be a buffer against external harassment look at those statistics they're shocking to me 57 percent of transgender teenagers who don't have the support of their families make suicide attempts as contrasted to only four percent who have their family support so if you know a kid like this make sure you tell this kid that you love them exactly the way they are because it could be a life-saving action on your part but what if what if you don't have a kid like this what if you don't know a kid like this you don't even have kids why should you care in that case this is an issue of gender

equality at its core this is an issue of sexism one of the things that I've learned working with these children especially with the younger ones is that our society still hates women so much that if we see a little boy that acts girly everybody from adults down has nothing but contempt for that child it's shocking to me to see how badly gender variant little boys are treated we give some slack to gender fairy and girls we call them Tom boys and we kind of support them and it's okay until adolescence then they they may get slammed in adolescence with harassment but at least these biological girls have had some time to develop some self-confidence and some self-esteem before they get slammed gender-variant little boys on the other hand from the earliest age we just crushed them into the ground I've seen four-year-old biological males buy little boys who already have a deep sense of shame about who they are it's really a terrible thing I am NOT surprised that little boys don't cry I am not surprised that grown men are afraid to show their vulnerability because as children they're punished

really badly for stepping out of line so if you believe in gender equality you have to make sure that it's just as okay for a man to be vulnerable and tender as it is for a woman to be tough you have to support these kids especially the gender-variant little boys full gender equality requires full freedom of gender expression these kids are gender pioneers they're showing us all what a freer and more equal future can look like and I hope that you can support them thank you very much