In “Roseanne”, the main character’s grandchild, Mark, is gender non-conforming. He paints his nails and wears skirts to school, and yet he claims firmly that he is a boy. Roseanne tells him he has to pick his battles in life, and he says this is important.
Roseanne Barr is openly transphobic: “Women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms. Respect that FACT.” Forcing a penis in someone’s face without consent is a disgusting image, and shows the visceral disgust she feels for ordinary people going for a pee. The producer consulted Lori Duron, whose son is like that; both the real and fictional families support their child.
So we have two groups of AMAB children: “3G” males, by genes, gonads and genitals. Both groups dress and present feminine. One group insist that they are trans, they are girls, and want called by a girl’s name and to be treated as the girls are treated, including access to the girls’ locker room, which makes all the conservatives angry and frightened. The other group insist they are boys, and insist on their right to present as they wish, which may contravene gendered school uniform rules. That is a huge difference between two groups of children who superficially seem very alike. What could cause it?
One possibility is that they are genuinely different, even though we might not have the language to describe the precise nature of the difference. The trans girls are innately trans. The cis boys are not stereotypically masculine and want visibly to spurn “masculinity” but are not trans.
Or, perhaps the social pressures on them are different. It depends on what they tell people, and what people tell them, and in what circumstances. Then, the slightest difference in treatment might push them down these radically different paths. They don’t know the right words, they just know what they want- to express themselves as girls do- and exploring what that might mean with adults pushes them one way or the other.
Or they could have different personalities. Both groups are challenging convention, but in different ways. I hate challenging convention, myself, I just want to fit in, and calling myself a woman seemed a way to fit in as best I could.
A recent meta-analysis of studies of gender transition shows benefits from surgical and hormonal treatment for gender dysphoric individuals: Among the positive outcomes of gender transition and related medical treatments for transgender individuals are improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction, higher self-esteem and confidence, and reductions in anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use. Yet this Boy-group does not want such treatment, and to tell them they were trans against their will, far worse to foist medical treatment on them, would be unethical. Many people can relate to the idea that sterilisation is bad for a person, to be denied even if they crave it.
We cannot make deductions about one of those groups from the experience of the other. Just because Lori’s son insists he is a boy, does not mean that the trans girls are. Just because he does not want medical treatment does not mean they should be denied it. We just don’t know. We can’t have a control group, of people who want transition and are denied it, to prove transition improves anyone’s situation. Possibly, he would have claimed to be a trans girl, in different circumstances: and if he claims to be one, then he is one, for there is no other way of knowing who is trans.
My solution for this is to make it less fraught. By the time either group has gone to school in a skirt, they have worn down intense resistance from family and friends, and shown they are willing to face standing out in a way often deliberately shamed. It takes courage and determination. If boys in skirts were no big deal, playing with dolls, whether every day or only some days, we could find what they really want.