Being a true transgender ally means committing to changing the ingrained gender framework, writes Elizabeth Duck-Chong. Photo: Michela Ravasio/Stocksy
Young adulthood brings an abundance of new experiences. Many of us are venturing out into share houses, into the workforce, and into debt, trying to fill shoes, or at the very least leave some footprints. Indeed, few rites of growing up are as universal as the realisation that the people you grew up with are becoming happily, excitedly pregnant.
If your friends are anything like mine, you can hardly engage in a half hour scroll through Facebook without coming across at least several people's uterus scans, obligatorily filtered, and usually bearing a caption eagerly announcing the gender of the child. "It's a boy!!" the caption proclaims, and friends, family, and near-strangers the parents-to-be feel bad about deleting commune to celebrate a child, a symbol of love, and a… penis?
My parents saw me on the grainy ultrasound monitor and in a moment of revelation I went from a blob of cells to a being with identity and pronouns, a creation they could bestow their intentions and hopes upon. Seventeen years later I staged a gender reveal of my own and came out as transgender. They adjusted to always having had a daughter.
There is a pervasive narrative that transgender people are "born as 𝑥", but in reality, from my first coming out I was starting a process of undoing a lifetime of perceived maleness. My ever having "been a boy" was as foreign as a non-native tongue; my many hours repeating tenses in middle school French would have just as well been spent repeating a mantra of maleness – that is, neither stuck.
But now in adulthood these same friends who understand my womanhood doesn't originate vaginally, these transgender allies, see the bodies of their children and continue to draw conclusions in pastel pinks and blues.
These little implicit actions are a result of cisnormativity, a pervasive power structure that invisibly posits being cisgender as normal, rather than just common (an important distinction). Conservative estimates place transgender people as 0.3-0.5% of the population, but queer research groups have recently realised those numbers to be far higher, with potentially more than 1 in 50 kids not identifying as cisgender.
To statistically put that in perspective, if you have two children in school that's an almost certainty that one of them has a transgender classmate. Or is the transgender classmate.
It's not a radical notion that gender harms all of us. Studies have shown that priming gender in girls, even so much as writing a gendered name, can lead to them underperforming in tests. Our society is imbued with systemic sexism, from a wage gap that widens as privilege dwindles, to women needing to outperform men to be seen as merely capable.
Men too are at the mercy of sexism. When we posit the feminine as fragility, it follows that the masculine must be herculean and without failure or warmth, an assumption that structurally leads to advantage, but leaves the individual devoid of emotional outlet.
From birth we are affected by the gender we are assigned: cisgender people fall into established societal and familial roles, whereas transgender people are often implicitly aware those roles don't quite fit, but are without the language to break free of that binary.
Despite the theory being clear-cut, it requires more than simply being vigilant to toys, clothing and colours. Bringing children into the world without gender accompanying them into the home is justifiably difficult, but so is growing up transgender in a society and a family that considers that an afterthought.
Queerness is a unique trait in that it's as innate to a person as their hair, eyes or skin, but doesn't organically originate from one's progenitors. Cisgender parents will often see many potential futures for their offspring, but queerness is scarcely ever among them. Imagining one's child as transgender is rarer still. Many feminist families allow the space for a child to come out, but very few challenge the ingrained frameworks that children then have to come out from.
I recently heard someone express that they wanted to "be their child's first ally" as if it were to be pinned to their chest and displayed, a commendation rather than a doing-word.
Traditional gender is quick to have us condemn its outlaws – 'What about their friends? What about our friends? What if they are bullied? What will my parents think? I just don't feel equipped for this?' – but every parent of a transgender child asks themselves these questions a thousand times already, and maybe the rest can dampen their sting by challenging what's at their core.
Kicking out the dark corners of gender is messy, thankless work, and might mean challenging some things we take for granted, but honestly, when has that ever stopped a parent from trying to make their child's world better?