Children of the Transgender Wars

Fountain, Colorado’s transgender six-year-old Coy Mathis has been drawing a firestorm of controversy due to the very nature of her identity. Eagleside Elementary and its school district barred Coy, born male, from the girls’ restroom even though she identifies as a girl and behaves as any girl would. Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund attorneys sent a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Division on behalf of the Mathis family. Coy’s parents, Kathryn and Jeremy, will home school her until the issue is resolved. Perhaps administrators should fret over the contents of Coy’s mind instead of the contents of her underpants.

To clarify a point that must not be overlooked, transgender (or, more specifically, transsexual) children like Coy do not receive any medical intervention until the first signs of puberty. Transsexual children, masked by androgyny, only need social transition and a different wardrobe. So, yes, although Coy does have male genitalia, she strongly identifies as female in spite of this. She’ll likely have puberty delayed until age 16, when she may start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and surgically correct her genitalia later if she chooses.

It’s also true that not all transgender people want to shift from one end of the spectrum to the other like Coy. The term “transgender” just applies to people who don’t conform to conventional roles. Some are transsexual like Coy, some identify as androgynous, some wish to remain fluid in their expression, and others refuse to identify with gender at all. Those who aren’t transsexual don’t necessarily want or need any medicine or surgeries to fulfill their alternative gender expression. Not everything said about Coy applies to the whole transgender community, but some does.

Some think transgender children are actually just going through a phase they’ll outgrow. Dr. Norman Spack of Harvard Medical School disagrees, noting that his young transgender clients are, “8- to 10-year-old child[ren] who [have] been digging in their heels for five years or longer about their gender identity and gender role.” In Coy’s case, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports, “since age 18 months [she] has insisted she is a girl and has attended school as a girl since December 2011.” Coy’s parents had her present as a boy for years beforehand. They researched through a doctor, psychologist, other parents of transgender children, and support groups. As a result, they both decided to accept their child’s feelings. Her parents weren’t pushovers and didn’t have an agenda. These children show the faculty to judge their gender at ages even younger than six years old. Their gender dissonance also lasts for several years, which significantly rebukes “phase” claims.

Other than transgender children’s persistence, denying their actual identities leads to much distress. Along with displaying discomfort in boy’s clothes, Coy, in kindergarten, started to cry when forced into the boy’s line at school. And after transitioning to a girl, Coy’s grades improved and she proved more content. Squelching children’s true expression needlessly upsets their lives. Like anyone else, transgender children benefit from support and acceptance. Transgender people (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] community) run a higher risk of depression, suicide, and other psychological problems than many others in the general populace. However, cross gender behavior doesn’t usually cause these maladies. More than anything else, a number of outside factors like bullying, harassment, and lack of acceptance (real or perceived) torment these people.

Of equal significance, research indicates transsexuals differ from their biological sex from the start. Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky referenced a study by Dutch researchers in a recent lecture. The scientists studied the size of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (a sexually dimorphic structure in the brain) in transsexuals and other control groups. The study found that all transsexuals had sizes of this structure that corresponded with their gender identity. The sizes were similar independent of HRT. As another control, the researchers included non-transsexuals with abnormal hormone levels and these subjects showed sizes that fit their gender.

A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Muenster in 2009 corroborates the findings of the Danish researchers. This study examined two groups of male-to-female transsexuals and a group of normal men when under a mental rotation task. Both transsexual groups (one untreated, and one during HRT) displayed a marked difference from the male group. The researchers also compared this difference and the difference between women and men. The study said of hormone treatment, “These deviances in cortical activation pattern for a mental rotation task seem to remain stable and are not enhanced by hormonal treatment.” So, perhaps not so remarkably but of considerable interest to anyone examining this subject honestly and objectively, both studies suggest significant neurological similarities between transsexuals and those of the gender they insist upon.

Many argue that Coy Mathis’ restroom situation should require less thought, at least from a legal perspective. Colorado anti-discrimination law requires places of public accommodations provide restrooms to the public based only on gender identity. The school, as such a place, specifically contradicts state law by denying Coy access to the girl’s bathroom. The school attempted to compromise by allowing her to use the faculty and nurse’s bathroom to avoid the boys’. But Coy identifies as a girl, so many think that by default, she should be allowed legal access to the girl’s restroom under state law.

Nevertheless, a letter from the Fountain-Fort Carson School District explains its opposing position: “The district’s decision took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact of a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.” Beyond tenuous legal claims, the district’s (and a host of vitriolic commenters’) obsession with Coy’s genitals seems strange. Coy can conduct her daily activities without anyone catching the slightest glimpse of her genitals. Someone would need to try pretty hard to see anything due to restroom stall walls and doors. And Coy showed discomfort with her privates by requesting a visit to the doctor to “fix her body.” It’s unlikely that she would show them to her peers under any circumstance. Some fret over Coy’s presence in, say, a locker room since peers might glimpse her genitals. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are not coy mathisexcluded from bathrooms and locker rooms with same sex peers. Why should Coy be treated any differently in this case?

District officials overstepped state anti-discrimination law, and for invalid reasons. Coy’s wishes and behavior show she belongs with the other girls. And, because of state law, Coy and those like her will eventually join their female peers in equality. I think this discussion naturally questions gender-segregated restrooms although questions like these must wait while facts replace fear and knowledge replaces superstition. Until then, Coy’s presence will enlighten her fellow students and, perhaps, some reasonable adults.