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Transmissions - Transgender Talk on TV: Openness vs. Privacy
September 29, 2007
by Jamie Tyroler

It?s been a while since I?ve written a column, but I?ve been going through a lot of things lately. Within the past month, I?ve lost a really close friend to cancer. Jan Platt was one of the most interesting and open-minded people I have ever met. She helped register African Americans to vote in Alabama in the 1960s, protested more than one war and supported LGBT issues. She is and will be missed. I?ve also been dealing with health issues and trying to get approved for Social Security disability.

Since I?ve been spending a lot of time at home and watching more television than is probably healthy, I?ve noticed a few trends about transgender issues as presented on various news and talk shows. Fortunately, these shows have gone beyond the Jerry Springer-esque love triangles or the ?Surprise! I used to be a man!? type shows. For the most part, these shows have been positive, although GLAAD award recipient Stephen Colbert tends to use the word ?tranny? fairly frequently.

I feel that it is definitely a good trend for the transgender community to have the opportunities to educate people, although I?m not sure that national TV is the best place to discuss family issues that would usually be worked on in private, possibly with the help of a therapist.

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be a transgender person. There?s the clich? about being trapped in the wrong body for example. I?m not sure if I ever felt that I had the wrong body, although I was very na?ve about human anatomy when growing up. Not really having the opportunity to play doctor or use similar methods of checking out other kids? naked bodies, I actually used to believe that girls had the same plumbing as boys. Like I said, I was na?ve. When I was about 8 or 9, one of the neighbors, an older boy, mentioned that women had something like testicles, but they were inside their body, and I started spending a lot of time trying to push mine back into my body.

It wasn?t until I was a few years older when I had access to some encyclopedias that I finally learned what was different about males and females. I still didn?t understand why parts of my body looked more like a male. Having gynecomastia (breast development in males) added to my confusion. I imagine that my parents weren?t sure how to approach that birds and bees talk with me, which is why I was given a set of books that explained puberty. Fortunately for me, the glossary of terms had ?transsexual? and ?transvestite? with brief explanations.

When I was growing up, there weren?t all of these daytime talk shows to discuss issues like transgender children. When I first started transitioning, most of the other transgender people that I knew in the area were about my age, late 30s to early 50s. A few people, however, did show up at support groups who were about high school or college age. Now, you will see transgender youth on television transitioning at very young ages.

Some transgender adults have mixed feelings about children transitioning while in elementary school. Some people believe that this is a great trend, while others worry that part of the child?s transgender behavior is done to please the parents. Many children may say that they want to be the opposite gender at some point, but the comment is usually made out of curiosity or seeing that opposite-gender children are receiving preferential treatment. These comments don?t always mean that the child actually wants to be the opposite gender; they might just want to be treated differently. So there?s the concern that if the parents believe that they have a transgender child, then there are possible pressures for the child to go along with his or her parents? lead.

There aren?t any easy answers when a child expresses feelings about his or her gender identity. It?s especially difficult when a child is having these issues at only 3 or 4, which is often when the earliest signs of gender identity issues occur. It?s an area that parents, teachers, psychologists and physicians need to look at on an individual basis. Many children feel awkward about these issues ? I?m not sure that discussing them in front of several hundred strangers in the studio audience to be watched by possibly millions is the best course of action.
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