Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change
Last night I sat down to watch Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change, the latest documentary as part of Channel 4's Bodyshock series. The programme followed Josie and Kyla, two eight year old girls who had both been born boys, and discussed their stories surrounding the gender dysphoria they had both been diagnosed as having and what the future held for them both. The programme also featured Chris, a sixteen year old boy who had been born a girl and started testosterone treatment aged 14.
Whilst watching the programme several issues arose for me. Firstly is the continued stress on the gender binary of female and male. During my Women's Studies course I lept on material which discussed the possibility of a third gender, even a third sex. Discussion of this still seems firmly cemented in academic discourse as I felt the programme further promoted the idea that you can either be female or male and this is what it means to be female and this is what it means to be male. A lot of emphasis was placed on the toys the children were playing with - they were either "boys' toys" or "girls' toys", no allowances were made for gender neutral material which could perhaps avoid placing such an importance of such gender stereotypes. And what was the real issue at hand? Throughout the programme the link between sex and gender was explicitly expressed as well as an array of traditional roles. In the case of Josie, it seemed pretty clear that having male genitals was a major concern for her - but why then take this as an opporuntity to reinforce female qualities with her as she clearly retained "boy things" such as stereotypical boy hobbies and interests. Is there no room in medical discourse for the concept of sex dysphoria* - why the need to have 'gender dysphoria' when gender arguably is a social construct?
Overall I did really appreciate the attitude of the families concerning their children's feelings but one worry was the language Josie's mother used with her. Her mother referred to Josie's penis as a 'birth defect', a suggestion which I felt reinforced further Josie's negative feelings towards her genitals (was that really necessary?) as well as raising concepts that perhaps a child of eight would not, and perhaps should not have to, understand. During Feminism in London I attended a workshop about raising children in the age of porn, hoping to glean what we should be informing our children about - how do you address an issue like porn with them? What language do you use? What concepts would they understand? This is relevant here as how do we raise our children to be aware of identities such as transgender, transsexual, or even hermaphrodite?
My last comment is briefly on ethics. Another child featured in the programme (whose name completely escapes me, I am sorry) who was born a girl but living as a boy talked of having girlfriends. His mother acknowledged that yes, he did have girlfriends but at this point (still fairly young) they were not telling his girlfriends about him being born a girl. For me that posed moral issues - should you really be withholding such detail? Is this almost like deceit? Is it right only to disclose such information when those involved are odler and such relationships hint at becoming physical?
Comments, as always, are welcomed.
*If there is literature on this please let me know, I would be most interested!