I opened the New York Times app this morning to see, As Kids, They Thought They Were Trans. They No Longer Do. Cue complicated somatic response. My body flooded with sensation. It felt hard to know how to settle and give it all a fair hearing. I walked slowly to the kitchen to refill my coffee, breathing mindfully as I went, noticing the stories in my mind as I preemptively raged about the author’s potential thesis.
The piece doesn’t say much, actually. It just says a lot of…stuff.
After 40-some years of living around, into, and through my gender identity and expression, I have the long view, if you will. I often say, quietly, that I am concerned about the wave of what's being called transness that seems to be emerging among the younger generations. I say it quietly because I fear the backlash explored in this article, but also because I am wise enough to know that my experience is not everyone’s experience and the path I have walked it not “the answer.”
Figuring this all out in the 80’s, I was not supported by culture or family to explore my feelings of not fitting as a girl while also knowing that I was not a boy. I was left to figure it out for myself. In my teens, I did a stint in a residential treatment facility where I was treated for depression. Not one time did anyone ask me about gender, nor did it occur to me that my sense of non-belonging and possibly the severity of my depression had their roots in unexplored questions of gender. Oh, hindsight!
The author of the article I mentioned above can be added to the cadre of folks who have written about this gender situation who have totally buried the lede. Neither she, nor anyone she interviewed talk about how our culture is deeply entrenched in the erroneous belief that there are two options when it comes to gender. There is no acknowledgement of the incredible pressure to embrace “woman” or “man.”
The apparent increase in “sudden onset gender dysphoria” is an seriously healthy development for our culture. Kids are looking at the either/or options for how to be who they are and they’re calling bullshit. Full stop. Sadly, instead of welcoming this natural and healthy questioning, we have responded with a big, “Welp. If you don’t want to be a girl, you must want to be a boy. Let’s get to it.”
Pema Chödron, an American Buddhist nun who has been and continues to be one of my most treasured teachers, says in her book When Things Fall Apart, “A society that is dedicated to getting ground under its feet is not a very compassionate society.” A. Men. Our fervor about gender, gender dysphoria, and transition is born out of our desperate need to know, to categorize, to limit the world and the people in it to something we can easily comprehend and judge. We’re unable to spend even a single second, a single season without some sense of ground under our feet—without knowing if the icing on the cake should be pink or blue.
My loves, it's so incredibly hard to be a human. In our cruel and violent effort to deny this reality we have created a world where there is no room to wonder, no room to try things on, no room to say, “Whoever made this up was really scared and I don’t want to live in fear.” It’s beyond healthy to look around us and question the reality we are being sold and to choose something more life-affirming, more real, more honest than what we see. Let’s all take a big freaking deep breath and look at ourselves. Every. Single. One of us. Transgender activists didn’t make this mess. Our blind acceptance and commitment to binary gender roles did.
It's not just the trans folks who have gender identities and gender expressions, my friends. Turn on any Sunday NFL pre-game show. You will see female sports commentators performing “woman” as they banter with male commentators performing “man.” Makeup, big up-do’s and brightly colored dresses and pant suits for the former and broad-shouldered suits and ties or tight-fitting athletic wear that leave bulging muscles on display for the latter. It’s the inexorable, violent, widely-lauded binary on garish and pigeonholing display. This is beyond harmful and yet it never enters the conversation when we’re wondering why our kids are feeling less than seen.
Most humans, if given the space, time, and somatic education to explore it would find that we don’t feel truly at home as either female or male as culture has defined those two terms. Some deeply wise part of us knows this is true, so when our kids question it, we get real nervous. We feel we must preserve the charade at all costs, even when the very clear cost is the mental health of the next generation. Rather than applauding willing to and led to wonder, we let our own fear and confusion lead us to cause further harm. We choose to either deny their reality or to embrace it as unequivocal truth and high-tail it to hormones, surgery and anything else that will make the uncertainty stop.
As a culture, we are 100% unable to sit with not knowing. As adults, as parents, we think our job is to have the answers, to remove uncertainty, to create a roadmap…to a place we’ve likely never been. We are unable to let our kids feel uncertain about who they are for even a moment. The real problem is that we don’t know who we are, so we squirm and wretch and throw flames to prevent the mirrors around us from warping and shifting into what they might become. We fear a world where each person gets to look into a mirror shaped by their own unique truth because we feel we were denied that opportunity and now it’s too late for us.
If you want to be part of the solution to this deeply harmful discourse, I have one word of advice for you.
Feel who you are as a woman, as a man, as a person who is likely somewhere less definitive on the gorgeous continuum of humanity. See if you can surrender, even a little bit, to the groundlessness that is life in this unnecessarily violently, human-engineered culture and rest there long enough to catch your often-fearful, hypervigilant breath.
It’s not about hormones and surgeries. It’s about humans and our stories.