Not Saved by the Bell

One of the things I notice a lot on social media, as I’m sure you do, is how willing people are to comment on topics of which they know nothing about. Of course, I’m not talking about everyone. There are plenty of people who agree and disagree with each other on a variety of topics who engage in respectful, meaningful, and thoughtful conversations.

Some of you may have noticed a story in your news feeds regarding former Saved by the Bell star and Access Hollywood host, Mario Lopez, who, during an interview on the Candace Owens Show, a conservative video series, put his ignorance regarding transgender people on full display. Owens began that portion of the conversation with this statement, “A lot of weird trends come out of Hollywood and one of the weirder ones, for me, is this new trend where celebrities are coming out–and I know Charlize Theron did this a few weeks ago–saying that their child is picking their gender. And this is strange to me….” Lopez responded by saying, “I am trying to understand it myself, and please don’t lump me into that whole [group].” He continued to used words like “dangerous” and “alarming,” and said, “When you’re a kid…you don’t know anything about sexuality yet. You’re just a kid.”

So much to unpack here.

Lopez is right when he says that kids (and I’m assuming he means little kids) don’t know anything about sexuality. The problem is, gender identity isn’t about sexuality. And this notion of identifying this as a “weird trend” strikes me as painfully ignorant.

Before I continue, allow me to say that I realize that some of my Facebook friends may agree with Lopez, and others, who relegate kids’ comments into a sort of repository of “kids say a lot of things.” Kids do say a lot of things. I know, I have three who have said a lot of things. But a child who identifies as a different gender from the one he or she was assigned at birth is not the same thing as raising a tomboy, or a boy who likes to play with dolls and wear pink, etc. And not all children who show signs of gender nonconforming are transgender. However, there are consistent themes in children as young as three years old that indicate that they are part of another gender group. Moreover, while most little boys and girls conform to social norms, one of the factors that separate those who don‘t conform is their consistent use of pronouns.

Suffice to say, the research regarding those who are transgender is in its infancy, and determining who is and who is not doesn’t stop and end with the use of pronouns. There are other consistent themes and behaviors that are currently being studied.

Because of the pressure of adhering to social norms, and the tepid acceptance in society today, research will continue at a very slow pace. Most people who are transgender continue to live in the shadows — often under severe emotional pain. In fact, the suicide rate for people who are transgender is staggering. Researchers have calculated suicide attempts at about 50% for teens.

Allow me to interject for a moment.

Some of you — based on religion or other reasons — may be thinking that you’ll never accept a transgender, no matter what the research shows, or what people or I say, or what in fact a transgender herself or himself says, etc. And I’m not here to point fingers. What I offer is this: I’ve done a lot of reading and research on this topic, and I’ve done a lot of listening, specifically to people who know more than I do about this subject.

Moreover, I decided to blog about Lopez’s recent comments because any time this topic starts trending, an avalanche of opinions follow, and most are from people who know little to nothing about the reality of what it means to live as a transgender. It makes me wonder what good comes out of vociferously disagreeing with something one isn’t knowledgeable about.

I’ll continue.

Parents who are concerned about their own gender nonconforming children often seek help in private. Others agree to enlist themselves and their children into group settings with people who are navigating through the same experiences. In these settings, where parents take part in discussions about hormonal treatment, one of the common questions is this: Will the hormones change my child’s identity? The answer to that is: Children change their gender because of their identities; they don’t change their identities because they change their gender.

Think about it another way (at least for adults): Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with. Gender identity is who you go to bed as.

I realize I’m getting a little ahead of myself with regard to hormonal treatment. The work endocrinologists do in this area, including assessing “when” this type of treatment is necessary is complicated. I would have to write a blog ten times as long as this one to go into the detail necessary to sufficiently explain how this all works — especially when it comes to pre- and post-puberty. I will, instead, offer this example:

The two young people you see pictured here are identical twin boys: Nicole and Jonas.

Nicole affirmed herself as a girl at age three, and her parents — over the course of several years — ultimately made the decision to allow her to be “who she is.” Before this photo was taken, Nicole was on pubertal blockade, which as you can see, changed her physical features. She is on estrogen, and establishing the physical form of a normal young girl (otherwise she would look just like her brother). Nicole, and others who are born with male genitalia but who receive treatment before puberty, will always look like girls/women.

In fact, reconstructive surgery from male to female, has even fooled gynecologists. (Currently, there is no surgery that works in the same way for females who transition to males.)

It’s important to note that a transgender who receives treatment after puberty will not have the same success in terms of being recognized by everyone by their appearance, be it male or female. And the people who don’t have the same success have been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for using restrooms that match their identity and not their gender. As some of you know, bills were introduced to prevent any transgender from using certain bathrooms. Many argued that children would be put in danger.

To that end, Nicole and her family spoke with and met legislators face-to-face to show them how someone like her was no threat in a ladies’ room, but could certainly be threatened in a men’s room. Later, she and her family were invited to the White House for their work in overturning what amounted to discrimination.

Back to the words Lopez and others have echoed: dangerous and alarming.

Words like these are used in the context that parents are making dangerous decisions on behalf of their children; that parents are causing irreparable harm to their children; that doctors are playing God; that that that…The truth is, parents meet with therapists, doctors, advisers, counselors, that include a myriad of steps before any decision is made regarding treatment.

Imagine being trapped in your own body. Imagine believing that the fantasy of transforming into a young boy or young girl will be just that, a fantasy, once puberty dictates who you are physically. A child who consistently and repeatedly says that he or she is in the wrong body is almost certainly transgender.

Being transgender isn’t a phase or experiment. And the suicide rates prove that it’s not a choice. But we — on the outside looking in — do have a choice. We can choose to reserve judgment; we can choose to do some research; we can choose to learn; we can choose to exercise compassion–even if we disagree.

Of course, we can also choose to ignore any of the evidence, information, and continue to chime in on this topic with shallow responses and bottomless ignorance.

My hope is that we do the former.

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