This is the caption of the lead photo for this story:
Gracie, 7, poses for a picture in her room. Gracie is transgender; she socially transitioned to a girl at the age of 4.None of these words make sense in the order they're placed. First, every kid plays around with their identity. Girls want to do boy things and vice versa. When a child asks to dress in the clothes of the other gender, or simply declares they want to be the other gender, the child is not asking about or expressing sex or gender. They are doing what kids always do from the ages of 3-13: struggle to understand society’s often illogical social conventions, rules and boundaries.
And when they do things like this, they are testing to see how well the parent really understands those rules.
Gender, as progressives are fond of pointing out, is a social construction. Boys get blue, girls get pink. It’s not biology determining this, it’s just a social convention. This rule is so arbitrary that it used to be the opposite and it was only through some clever marketing and accidents of history that it switched.
Boys wear pants and girls wear dresses. Girls wear their hair long and boys who aren’t metalheads wear theirs short. In elementary schools, there are boys’ bathrooms and girls’ bathrooms, even though hydraulically both bathrooms are configured exactly alike (although the girls' bathrooms are lacking in urinals). Simply by historical and cultural tradition, we’ve decided we do not want unrelated children of opposite sexes using the same bathrooms. The only reason we paint them different colours is to signal in the most obvious way possible: “Hey kid, you’re in the wrong bathroom.” The rule isn’t logical, it can’t be explained rationally. It’s just a social convention. An arbitrary boundary. Boys shall not enter the pink room with plumbing, girls shall not enter the blue room with plumbing. Just, because...
So when the girl says, “I want to use the boys’ bathroom,” or the boy says, “I want to wear pink dresses,” they aren’t revealing their gender identity or their sexual preference. They've simply encountered a social rule they can’t understand rationally and are looking for their parents to explain it. That’s why the kid announces their gender-bending intent to the parents. It’s a challenge to the rule. It is exactly the same as if the child announces they want to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes, or better yet, as a hat. It's how the child asks: “I understand this social rule exists, but it makes no sense to me, so can I break it and see what happens?”
What matters is not that the child presented the challenge to the rule. What matters is the parents' response. Will the authority figure enforce the rule, permit me to break it, or signal that there is no rule after all. It’s not about permissiveness, it’s about acknowledging reality.
Where "Gracie's" parents went wrong is that in an effort to make their child happy, they signal that the rather simple rule “Boys do X, girls do Y” is actually meaningless. They don’t allow the breach of the rule either conspiratorially, ironically or humorously (“You look so silly, ha ha”). They respond in a way that communicates to the child that the parent doesn’t really think there’s a boundary there at all.
But it does exist. The rule may be stupid, anachronistic, archaic, or ridiculous, but it actually exists.
Social boundaries, lines, and distinctions are part of our reality, like gravity and the colours of the rainbow. The problem parents have is that they don’t themselves understand the rule in this way. They see the rule as enforcing a sex/genetic distinction and when challenged, try unconvincingly to argue that the gender boundaries have some rational basis in biology, cleanliness, or personal safety, arguments which a child can easily invalidate.
They don’t understand that these boundaries have from their inception been highly contextualised. In short, the parents go wrong because they don’t understand their world or how society operates within it. That lack of understanding manifests as neurosis over their child’s happiness.
But where the child can experience and perceive physical reality in a way which allows their behaviour to adapt to its constraints, they can’t perceive the social reality too. That has to be imposed by an external authority - the operation of the formation of the superego. “I want to do this.” You can’t. “Why not?” Because that’s the rule.
What happens if that external authority (the mum or dad) is inept or clueless? What if these figures second-guess their responsibility for imposing the social rules and forming the child into a functional member of society? The superego will form dysfunctionally or unpredictably. But it will form.
The article’s reference to a “closed society” is cluelessness. Society isn’t closed. Society exists nowhere but in the minds of its members, and every member of society has a superego. The parents can choose whether the child’s superego forms consistently or inconsistently with everyone else’s simply by choosing what boundaries to draw and what rules to enforce. But it is the parents’ choice, not the child’s.
Notice carefully that I’m drawing a distinction between the child challenging the existence of this social reality during their formative years, and the child (adolescent, or adult) deliberately flaunting the rules to challenge the authority enforcing it. This person breaks the rule not to test the operation of the rule, but to test the authority behind it. This is a fine attitude. Every child should have a healthy disrespect for authority.
I am not saying that whenever a child presents some gender role-breaching behaviour, parents must respond swiftly and decisively to shut it down. The parent should understand that how they respond to the child’s behaviour reflects their own understanding and appreciation of the rules. A parent who lets her son wear a dress or their daughter use the boys’ room isn’t really doing so to make the child happy, they are doing it because of their own contempt for or incomprehension of the social rule.
It is with this level of insight that a parent should appreciate that while the construction of the superego is based on their choices, the consequences of its malformation are borne entirely by the child. The rest of the world isn’t right or wrong for enforcing these rules, just like they aren’t right or wrong for breaking free of them. The better lesson is that when you break society’s rules, society tends to punish the rulebreaker for no other reason than to convince itself that the rule still exists. Right or wrong is irrelevant. It just is.
But this article is how debate is done today. It's how we decide all of our questions - from who sucks as a singer to which blathering dictator we should oppose/depose/impose. We don't have beliefs, we don't have positions, we just have reactions to other people's positions.
As long as you can be shown to be a free thinker opposing the tyranny of the majority's insightlessness then you can look like a hero, and if you have to pull a 180 in a week or so to do it, party on. No one will care/remember what you did at the last party. Just remember the rule of opinion, of media: speak early, and often, and if you have to drag a 3-year-old down or dramatically alter foreign policy for the next quarter century to lift yourself up, hey, it's all good. Party on.
If you want your son to wear dresses, knock yourself out. But at least give the kid the full story: “Normally boys don’t do this, only girls do. Everyone else thinks this is a rule, and you are breaking their rule. They will want to punish you for it. I don’t think it is a rule, so I’m not going to punish you for breaking it, but someone else might. Are you sure you want to do this?”
The child who says yes anyway at least does so with full information.