Guest post: A somewhat eclectic and rambling conversation

Originally a comment by Tigger the Wing on Age appropriate.

Four? Nope. Eleven? Well…

Yesterdat evening, eleven-year-old grandson and I were discussing our tastes in computer games etc. and he suddenly blurted out “We’re transgender!” Now, I got the impression it was a new word he’d overheard and had worked out the likely meaning in his head; and that he couldn’t wait to impress Granny with a word which she might not know (that age group does like to get one over on the adults). After some gentle probing, I discovered that he did, indeed, think that ‘transgender’ means ‘gender non-conforming’.

Over the course of a somewhat eclectic and rambling conversation (because eleven and ADHD) I explained that everyone is either male or female, which is what sex we are, and that gender means the set of unwritten rules every society applies to each sex.

Cue side-quest to explain ‘unwritten rules’ and how they are enforced, not by courts and the law, but by other members of society banding together to express disapproval of certain behaviours which are supposed to be for the opposite sex – like being mean to him because he has long hair and likes make-up and glittery nail polish, and being mean to me because I wear men’s clothes, don’t wear make-up or nail polish, and worked in jobs which are done mostly by men.

Cue second side-quest to explain how the unwritten rules for male people are called ‘masculinity’, and how that changes from culture to culture; for example, Irish men are expected to be strong and hard-working; but, unlike men in some other parts of the world, they are also expected to be gentle and nurturing to their families, and definitely NOT aggressive or violent.

We agreed that being mean to someone who doesn’t follow rules which are stupid (since they don’t take into account individual personality) is wrong; and not following arbitrary rules in a way which doesn’t hurt anyone else is not wrong.

After a bit of back-and-forth to establish our definitions of words were the same, I was able to agree with him that the word ‘transgender’ would make perfect sense if it meant ‘someone who follows different gender rules to the ones they’re supposed to’, but that some people think it means that when you are gender non-conforming you must really be a girl in a boy’s body, or a boy in a girl’s body, and that is obvious nonsense, isn’t it, since every cell in our body is the same sex.

Cue side-quest to discuss what cells are. Cue (quite long) sub-side-quest to discuss the fact that women who have had babies usually have some cells from those babies living in them for the rest of their lives, and so blood tests can sometimes detect male cells in a woman, but that doesn’t make them male. Cue sub-sub-side-quest to explain that no, that doesn’t mean that Mammy will feel anything if he hurts himself; that’s not how cells work.

Anyway, the upshot of our nice cosy conversation was that he knows that it is perfectly acceptable for him to have waist-length hair and like make-up and nail varnish, just as it is perfectly acceptable for his granny to prefer none of those things (although we’ve been having an informal competition, from the beginning of the pandemic, to see whose hair will grow the longest. His was shoulder-length at the start; I had a buzz-cut. Mine is growing curly, though, and so he’s bound to win); that believing that someone can be the opposite sex to themselves is obvious codswallop; and there is nothing wrong with being yourself, even if the unwritten rules of your society say that your behaviour should be masculine if you’re male, and feminine if you’re female.

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