There is a disturbing trend in the LGBT community where a lot of attention is being given to Trans identifying children. While awareness is vital in this- the increasingly oppressive and dangerous era of Trump, I am reticent to burden children, usually ones who haven’t even reached teenage status, with the label of ‘community icon.’
At RuPaul’s DragCon, the star of the event was a child by the name of Desmond. He’s been all over the media since daring to wear a dress in public, and subsequently put on a pedestal by the queer community generating over 18,000 followers. While his parents are praiseworthy for the incredibly progressive way they have chosen to, not only accept, but adapt to his development outside social norms, parading him in front of the world and making him so visible makes him vulnerable to a society that is significantly lesser evolved. Not only has this child been exposed to horrific insults and bullying online via social media, conservative websites fueled by sensationalist propaganda have used him as a poster child for the consequences of Godlessness. “Look what the Transgender people and Gays are doing to our children.” Naturally, the backlash as a result of his visibility and our insistence on treating him like a trophy has fallen directly into his lap. No child is equipped with the facilities to deal with the pressing questions about their gender and sexuality that are inevitable… not to mention grossly inappropriate.
There is currently a fixation on Trans and non-binary children by the media. National Geographic Magazine featured Avery Jackson, a nine-year-old trans girl from Kansas City, among others. As a companion piece, National Geographic also produced a documentary on Trans Children hosted by journalist Katie Couric. Of course, CISgender social media went into full nuclear meltdown. The backlash resulted in National Geographic releasing a statement defending the controversial issue.
The abuse the families were subjected to is rather heinous. As a consequence, the CBC, who produced another documentary on Trans children that counters the more positive representation portrayed by the National Geographic one instead investigates the influence and damage by parents on potentially Trans children, they decided to pull their film from broadcast entirely.
In light of our own further review of the doc, coupled with audience reaction, we have decided not to air Transgender Kids. We think there are other docs that better offer insight into the realities of the transgender community and we look forward to airing those in the future.
In our pursuit of acceptance, it feels like our effort to point out that Trans Children exist somehow justifies our own existence. It certainly does, illustrating the fact that gender is determined long before sexuality, and it isn’t always what the doctor says before slapping the newborn on the ass. Gender is far more complex, and indicators of gender alignment begin revealing themselves in the very early stages of life. However, in a conservative, increasingly hostile environment, is it the time to parade them out for public consumption without considering the consequences? No.
While we might like to presume that, since it is a child, the rest of the world will treat that child as common sense would dictate; With kindness, love, and compassion, this is not our reality. In the era of keyboard warriors and anonymous hate spewed from one end of the web to the other, one would think that displaying them like modern example of Trans representatives would be an absolutely horrific idea. These children need support. They need protection and advocacy, not shoved into a blinding spotlight with their character being aggressively dissected by the observing world.
We were children once. Bullying in school and social environments were our biggest hurdles. We were forced to listen; forced to re-examine our nature and challenge ourselves. It bred feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and self doubt. We let the world-at-large convince us, as children, we were sick, perverse, dangerous to others and damaging to society. Any Trans person will likely tell you their childhood was a hellish trial by fire as they attempted to first integrate into society, and then deal with the onslaught of ridicule and accusations of being mentally ill, confused or even the victims of child molestation- which oddly enough, we’re deemed as, as adults. This alone has been the biggest justification for the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. The statement “Transwomen are men in dresses who threaten wives and children.” has been heavily publicized by conservative lawmakers leveraging fear to accrue support.
15 year old Transgirl, Jazz Jennings, is notable for being one of the youngest publicly documented people to be identified as transgender, and for being the youngest person to become a national transgender figure. She appeared in a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters at the age of three. Since then, she has had her entire life documented on her own television reality show; “I am Jazz” which not only discusses frank subjects about navigating Trans life as a preteen and then teen, but also shows the very hostile abuse she is subjected to on a daily basis as a result of her celebrity. Often, it’s heartbreaking to witness. In one episode, her producers pitted her against Trump supporter and conservative radical Tomi Lahren for her republican talk show on TheBlaze. Lahren tackled Jazz, 14 at the time, with some hard hitting topics, including surgery, dating, and even whether or not she felt she should be allowed in Women’s bathrooms. The host was cold, forward and clearly more equipped to throttle the teen with questions while demanding black or white answers. Jazz responded with unusual grace for such a young girl. Although she was visibly shaken and the repercussions of having to defend herself against Lahren and her legions of Trump-Supporting flagellants hurling ignorance and unimaginable — often grotesque abuse which left the child spiraling with anxiety, she took it is stride.
Regardless, Jazz is a child. And as a child, life is difficult enough, especially when entering those vulnerable teen years where everything seems amplified. You find yourself at crossroads, making life changing decisions, and for the typical child, none of them have to do with gender reassignment. For the Trans child, that experience is exponentially more difficult to maneuver. However, the LGBT pride committee in New York City stuck her on a float like a trophy where she was photographed and, naturally, a media firestorm ensued. Jazz is a little girl with a wonderfully supportive family. We should allow her that privilege of personal development and privacy as she navigates some very rough waters without being placed under a microscope.
We should not be fascinated that Trans children exist- after all, we, as adults, were once children ourselves. While it is critical to educate the greater, mainstream society about the hardships that Trans children face, we should not be turning them into icons or celebrities. They’re not ready. They shouldn’t have to bare the cross on our behalf or make a point for us. They need us, instead, to keep them safe. We don’t need them to prove a point on behalf of our community by waving them around in the faces of a pearl clutching public just to endure the venomous criticism they often do.
Trans children are, perhaps the most emotinally vulnerable of us all in the Trans collective. As where we age and eventually develop a considerably thicker skin, we must presume, for their sake, words still hurt and wounds still run deep when we force them to become aware of the degree of rejection and alienation that awaits them in adulthood. We’re robbing them of something by making them public figures before they’ve even finished middle school, and that is their freedom to continue their childhood, undisrupted, by the scathing remarks of millions of strangers consuming their stories and creating a denigrating narrative. We cannot, in one breathe, claim it is necessary to educate, inspire and protect Trans youth while at the same time thrusting them into the spotlight and giving them the responsibility of representing our community. It’s not fair.
As Trans adults, we endure enough abuse, especially in this political climate. Here’s an example: A Media company took a post of mine from twitter and added it to their article with the headline “Transgender Activists sue North Carolina over Bathroom Bill.” If you didn’t bother reading the story, it’s easy to presume that I was that activist engaging in a lawsuit against the state. As a result of that, I received countless death threats; People messaging me claiming they hoped I would be raped and wishing I would “Get AIDS and die.” I was called sick, told I was going to hell if I didn’t change, and, of course, a plethora of bible passages were sent to me asserting the fact that I was an abomination to Christ as he created me. I know that if I was the recipient of that abuse from an article on a much smaller scale, I can’t imagine what these children are getting as a consequence of their much greater public presence. It isn’t even their choice to be splashed across these articles beneath controversial headlines. Their parents allow it, and our community champions it, without any consideration to the psychological and emotion damage sure to follow.
I know that our community has an insatiable hunger for Trans idols; so much so, that we have substituted them with CISgender icons like Lady Gaga and any trendy advocate we can embrace. While we do have the likes of Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Jenny Boylan, Kate Bornstein among others who represent our movement and speak openly about our issues, we should not exploit young children and elevate them to the ranks of these wise, well versed women who are accustomed to handling the resistance we face daily.
The choice to position oneself as a community activist is a selfless act. One must have the ability to anticipate and prepare themselves for the reaction, the good and the bad, that their opinion and statement will fetch. For these children being plastered on the covers of national magazines or whose lives are put on display for reality television, they cannot possibly understand the long term implications. I can only think that their parents must have completely believed that these photoshoots that would hit every newsstand in the world was no different than a glamour shot session and perhaps they were just excited to see their child showcased like Honey Boo-Boo in a high profile campaign. I’m sure the money the Jennings are paid for exposing every nuance of their Trans daughter’s personal life is quite beneficial, possibly affording her a good college education and healthy start into adulthood. But is it worth the price she’s paying now?
I’m all for bringing attention to the threats faced by Trans youth, and there are plenty of them; Homelessness, violence, mental health impairments, even murder. They need awareness. They need allies. Their struggles require mainstream attention. But we absolutely cannot cast a few of our already vulnerable children and make them our own personal Dalai Lama, posturing them before the world to gawk at and discuss like specimens instead of people. Trans youth awareness can be achieved while still vehemently protecting their privacy, the sensitivity of their development and ultimately, their ability to reach their potential without the hindrance of being placed squarely in the court of public opinion.