That more people have come to accept the reality that fluid as it may be, patterns of gender and orientation are at least somewhat biologically in-born, and not always binary or aligned with classic sex roles, is a good thing. Now though, there is the question of just how much and when it is appropriate to allow a person to be the captain of their own ship when it comes to aligning the body with their psychological identity.
This is a hot issue not just because there are anti freedom nutbars who don’t even want adults to have the right to body modifications. It is because secondary sex traits begin to blossom at puberty, and if a person’s identity is not aligned with the reality of their external body, this will be traumatic. They will feel as if they are turning into someone they do not wish to become, and if they are gender dysphoric, this will not help the situation. If they are not gender dysphoric, they may accept the reality bravely, but it would be something like a person accepting they will not be able to get treatment for a life altering or disabling condition until they are of age.
Looking at the debate, mostly between western people, one would barely notice that there is an afrocentric perspective that deserves more attention. Before colonialism, and in spite of it in some places, there were at least three genders in most African cultures. There was classic/cisgender female and male, intersex with ambiguous genitalia who would grow up to become men or women or some combination of both, and androgynes identified as male or female at birth who would grow up to be male women or female men, and finally people who were normally identified as male or female but would shift genders as related to their social function or occupation.
An example of the latter from legend would be the Ile-Ife Goddess Oya, who becomes a man for war. From real life there are the Fon warrior women who identify as men during battle. When a male is possessed with Oshun or another Goddess during a ceremony, they are a woman even if at every other time, they are a man. Gender is not static in pre or postcolonial African or diaspora culture. You are what you do, and you can do all sorts of things without needing to fit in a specific category.
So, Africans and afrocentric people are looking at these beautiful intersex kids being forced into boxes like, “Why are these children being pressured?” We see the pressure to force them to go through the puberty of a person they are not against their wishes and the pressure to not go through puberty because someone else says it will be bad for them as equally heinous. So it should be left up to the individual and everyone else should butt out. What the kids and their parents need is information as to what the technology actually can and can’t do for them.
So much is done to shape the sexuality of minors, often to the point if interference with natural processes, that it is hypocritical to say that they should not have access to medical technology to guide their own growth and development. As long as circumcision is still legal anywhere, and the parents of physically intersex people are allowed to adjust them surgically and hormonally not knowing what their identities will become, there should be no argument about whether or not children should be able to take puberty blockers and/or HRT. The questions should revolve around the safety and efficacy of these treatments on children.
We’re not talking about a lot of people. Maybe 1 in 1000 people is born detectably intersex. Let’s say generously maybe 1% of people will not be classically male or female. That’s still a lot of people collectively, but per city that might be maybe 3 people in a small town who would actually need help transitioning to some level, and perhaps up to 500 people in a major city. Of those in the major city maybe 3 would be under 18 and have one accepting enough parents that they would be brought to a doctor for treatment.
There isn’t much research on how well the treatments will work on children, or what kind of long term effects we’re talking about. However, there is the little thing of respect for nature. Do we really know better than Nature? The African says no.
We invented circumcision, but when we do it, we’re very clear that the reason is to suppress sexuality. We’re not making up pseudoscientific excuses for it. Unless there was a tumor or warts on a foreskin or labia, there is no good medical reason to remove anything down there except to deaden it. It is a partial amputation done so that people don’t let their genitals think for them. Today, more of us are accepting that this was one of the dumbest ideas of all time, so many if not most of us are against this. It didn’t prevent anyone’s reproductive stupidity, and did nothing against rape. It just made things worse.
So what happens when your androgyne/intersex child tells you they want to take a course of medication that will stop their natural development because they want to fit into a western gender box?
This is where you need androgyne/intersex elders. These are hard to find in the west because too much colonial mentality has made too many of us homophobic and very transphobic.
I can’t say whether or not my opinion in this has been influenced by any of that. Though I am very protective of intersex, androgyne, and trans people, I don’t know what it is to grow up in all of those contexts. I do know what it is to be functionally androgynous. I’m told by some tests that I have a masculine brain. I’m also king of an ile.
My take on this whole issue is that legally, folks should fight to keep it personal. It is an individual, personal journey, and the medicine and technology should be there for those who need it. If it turns out to have been a bad decision, then it is a personal, individual bad decision that the state should not be involved in either way except to keep access equitable. I don’t think I have the right to decide for someone else how to walk the journey of their sexuality, no matter how old or young they are.
In addition to this, each sex and gender comes with its own issues. The sooner someone begins to solidify as whatever identity they are, the better. Since we don’t see gender as completely static, we understand that “non static” has both positive and negative implications. Meaning if someone is walking around as a man but they aren’t cool with themselves and haven’t embraced that role, they are going to be an idiot psycho. A woman who hasn’t settled with herself is going to eat her or someone else’s babies. An androgyne or variable gendered person has double duty and double pressures, so they really need to be okay with themselves.
I know it’s not the same, but I waited years after my diagnosis to go ahead with my knee surgery because bad as my knees are, they are mine. I still however, went ahead with the surgery before the age of 60 because I wanted to have some years to enjoy the youth I have left. Again, not as big of a thing, but I can understand why a trans teenager would want to spend their teens in whichever box they identified with even if I don’t agree with the box itself. Even if I would rather kids be more comfortable with a mixed identity, the world we live in doesn’t have many options for them yet. I can see why someone hormonally female at the moment would want those few extra inches of height, physical strength, and bone structure their brothers have or would have. I can see why a hormonally male teenager who identifies as a woman would want to grow their own breasts and get those hips.
So the question is, should young people be allowed morphological freedom? I say why not? Again, it’s personal, and if it turns out to be a mistake, that’s a personal lesson. How can we teach young people personal responsibility if we are artificially capping the costs? By doing this we’re also being hypocritical and smug. If a teenager in detention can make the decision to give their food to a younger child who is hungry, they are already making important morphological decisions. They are sacrificing their evolution, development, and growth for the sake of another.
In other words, kids are smarter than they are given credit. Let them be. Adults need to stop messing around with the sexuality of children, and if we already have by creating unnatural boxes of overly static gender, we should not complain about what they do to survive within the limited options we’ve given them. Let them do what they need to do to survive.
Peace and Ashé!