SheZow, Bam, Pow! Children Trangressing Gender in Real Life and Media

Huffington Post, USA
Dana Beyer
Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

Most of the medical community — including psychiatry, psychology and
social work — have joined the consensus in recognizing gender
incongruence as a medical condition. Providers are now much more
trans-positive towards transgender adults, and adolescent health care
is growing rapidly following the path-breaking work of Dr. Norman
Spack from Boston Children’ s Hospital. Dr. Spack introduced trans
adolescent health care protocols involving puberty blockers, based on
the European protocol
<http://thephoenix. com/boston/ life/142583- how-norman- spack-transforme d-the-way- we-treat- tran/>
. Major gender clinics specializing in adolescents have now sprung up
in LA http://bit.ly/ 129drkr> , Chicago
<http://chicagoist. com/2013/ 02/09/lurie_ childrens_ hospital_ of_chicago. php>
and soon in Philadelphia.

The one group of trans persons over whom there is still oftentimes
fierce debate in the medical community is composed of children. This
is true for a number of reasons, including the fact that children
can’t give informed consent, their parents are often ignorant of their
child’s condition and/or resistant to being educated, and because
blowback from religious extremists is often most vitriolic with
respect to children. But there is another reason, which is deserving
of study — we simply don’t have any evidence-based understanding of
which gender non-conforming boys will turn out trans, which will be
gay, and which straight — gender conforming or not. Note that I’m
focusing on those assigned male at birth; the care of “tomboys” is
much less difficult, if only because more parents readily accept
masculine behavior in their daughters.

This issue erupted in the media last week when it was announced that
the Australian kids cartoon SheZow
<http://www.comicsal liance.com/ 2013/06/03/ shezow-cartoon- transgender- superhero- review/>
will debut in the United States on The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids).
It features a 12-year-old boy who finds a magic ring that transforms
him into a legendary crime-fighting superhero, SheZow, who happens to
be a girl.

We should be clear that SheZow is not a trans character as we
generally understand the concept. The cartoon is a metonym for the
trans experience, as the protagonist transgresses gender in the
process of becoming a superhero. The “super she” has her superpowers
only while dressed as a girl <http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ SheZow> ;
the character pretends to be a girl in order to do good. This then can
seem more as a cross-dressing narrative, with the clothes making the
supergirl, rather than a trans narrative in its more medical sense,
where the boy becomes his authentic female self as a result of the
transformation.

An earlier portrayal of the trans experience, for those of us living
as closeted adolescent trans persons in the ’60s, was Star Trek
Classic’ s final episode, “Turnabout Intruder.”
<http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Turnabout_ Intruder> Here Captain Kirk,
as a result of a transporter accident (those damn transporters! ) has
his mind, including his male gender identity, swapped with that of a
woman, who then thrives in Kirk’s male body with her female gender
identity. The end result is “a man trapped in a woman’s body” but very
unhappy about it (not the trans male experience), and a woman
liberated into a man’s body, and excited about it (a ’60s feminist
trope, and very un-trans as well). She is empowered; he is
emasculated. A confusing gender-bending pas de deux, but the best we
could get in the days of the Beatles’ “Sweet Loretta Martin” of “Get
Back” <http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=tMy_w5HsfdI> fame, a few years
before Lou Reed took a “Walk on the Wild Side.”
<http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=0KaWSOlASWc>

I dialogued about SheZow with the Gay Voices editor here at Huffington
Post, Noah Michelson, who told me:

I personally find this show (or at least the sounds of it — since
I haven’t seen it) really inspiring. I was one of those little boys
who desperately wanted to have my life only filled with all things
girlie (and — shockingly — my parents in small town Wisconsin in the
’80s were cool and bought me things like the My Little Pony stable and
Poochie dolls). One of my earliest memories was of my older brother
telling my mom “Noah is pretending to be a girl again.” I have never
identified as trans or gender queer and I’m very happy as a man but I
think supporting fluidity in gender expression for our kids is a
really important thing and mainstream shows like this could go a long
way in helping (if done right).

Noah strikes to the heart of this program, which is not about the
trans experience, but more about the need to blur those lines in which
our gender roles are constrained. A little fluidity is a good thing
for society, and certainly for those who crave it as a part of their
authentic selves. As SheZow and Star Trek make clear, gender biology,
politics, social norms and the like can be very complicated. I
mentioned earlier that the politics of gender non-conforming children
is “the final frontier.” Those of us who are trans adults clearly
understand we were once trans children, and we want to support the
trans children of today as best we can. We increasingly believe that
even if a gender non-conforming child is misdiagnosed as trans and
allowed to transition as a child, and then de-transitions, he will be
far better off having had his sense of self respected by his family.
As society becomes more accepting, that “phase” of transition in a
person’s life will be understood as just one step in the evolution of
the person’s sexuality. The other option — prohibiting gender
transition <http://www.bilerico .com/2008/ 05/more_on_ dr_kenneth_ zucker.php>
for a trans child out of fear that a potential de-transition would be
emotionally scarring, still motivates many in the profession, such as
Dr. Ken Zucker <http://www.npr. org/2008/ 05/07/90247842/ two-families- grapple-with- sons-gender- preferences>
. I’m reminded of those who believed, not that long ago, that a boy
growing up with a micropenis would be so scarred by being seen with a
tiny penis that it was preferable to surgically reconstruct the boy
and force him to grow up as a girl. We’ve learned that gender identity
is innate and not malleable, as John Money and others believed in the
’60s, and we no longer, for the most part, subject those children to
surgery against their will. But it still happens — here is a recent
example <http://www.towleroa d.com/2013/ 05/intersex. html> from South
Carolina.

The solution is research, so we can better distinguish those who will
turn out to be gay men (like Noah) or straight men, from those who are
truly trans and should be allowed, lovingly, to transition as
children. Studies are finally beginning — one site will be at the
Children’ s National Medical Center <http://bit.ly/ 11LZiU8> in DC,
which specializes in gender-variant children, as we are slowly
becoming less afraid of grappling with these issues.

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