I was all excited about the ABC Primetime program last week on transgender children. Especially excited because in my class this coming week I am teaching a court opinion in a dispute between divorced parents over custody of their son who wants to dress like a girl. The court sides with the father, who insists the child's gender variance should be discouraged. The case is as painful to read as those in which a trans parent loses his or her child after transitioning -- including having parental rights terminated, the most extreme measure the state can take against a parent.
Just a couple of years ago, Barbara Walters did an extraordinary job covering trans kids on a 20/20 special. Same network. I figured it would be just as good.
Well some of it was. The journey of a couple to understand their son who always knew he was a girl...including their decision to allow him to start a new school year, at age 10, as a girl. (The child's older sister goes into the classroom first to explain to the situation to the other students. Priceless.) The mom who wrote a book, "Princess Boy," because her son said that's what he was. Even the 19-yr-old MTF who finances her surgical procedures by earning money as a sex worker. That was hard to watch but it felt real.
But there was a catch. A big catch. Let's call him the repentant transexual. A man who decided in his 30's to transition to a woman who later regreted it and had surgery to revert to being a male. What was the point of this segment? If I have to ask the old Sesame Street question -- which of these things is not like the other? --this segment wins and it's not because he regreted his choice. It's because he was never a transgender child. That's right. A show about trans children -- young people, some very young, who know they are not the gender that matches their bodies -- with one segment about a man who never thought he was a different gender as a child and who makes his later journey sound like it was about fitting in with the trans friends he had later in life.
Maybe the producer of the show thought this added some kind of "balance;" maybe someone at the network thought such balance was necessary. But this wasn't balance. It was an adult describing a life trajectory completely different from everyone else's. All it will do is fuel the fire of those who are convinced there is no such thing as a transgender person, young or old.
Shame on you, ABC.