Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics


Trans-fats and Transphobia

 

 

It's cookie time in America. Right now, little girls all across the country are standing in front of supermarkets, waiting to derail your new years’ resolutions with a single box of thin mints. These devilish little entrepreneurs you know as the Girl Scouts, an organization founded in March 1912 by Juliette Gordon Lowe to help American girls build courage, confidence, and character. Today’s organization focuses on achieving those goals by fostering leadership skills, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange.
 
It all sounds like wholesome, nonpartisan fun, but evidently the scouts are not squeaky-clean enough to avoid public scrutiny. First were calls from the health-conscious to remove trans-fat content from the cookies, which the Girl Scouts obliged. That’s fine with me, although it's possible the cookies could have been laced with arsenic and I still wouldn’t have had the inner strength to say no to them. But as soon as the war over trans-fats moved out of the limelight, a much more peculiar war over transphobia moved in.

When I mention transphobia, I don’t mean that the Girl Scouts are guilty of it. On the contrary, the organization is receiving withering criticism from conservative organizations because they’ve become too inclusive, by publicly opening their doors to transgendered girls.

It all started when Bobby, a seven year old transgendered girl from Colorado, was refused membership to her local troop. After her mother complained, the Girl Scouts quickly responded, stating “Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them... If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”

This is astonishingly and refreshingly open minded of them. But their inclusiveness was met with hostility from groups like the “Honest Girl Scouts,” a conservative organization that ironically traffics misinformation about the Girl Scouts, and troops in Louisiana, who disbanded in protest. One 14 year old girl from California even attempted to instigate a nationwide cookie boycott which, of course, failed.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that the existence of transgendered children is a difficult reality to grasp -- it’s not just garden variety bigots who may be frightened by it. There are many who simply aren’t familiar with the concept, and can’t fathom how a young child can express a gender identity that is different from their biology with so much conviction. Part of the problem is that some are misinformed about the linkages between gender (or how a person acts, interacts, and feels about themselves), and sexuality (how a person thinks romantically and sexually about others). The latter is irrelevant in this case. But even with that understanding, there are still lingering questions. How do we know it’s not just a phase? What is the difference between someone who is transgendered, versus someone who is just a “tomboy” or “effeminate?” These are all valid questions, and there is no way to be certain. In fact, some children who express a gender identity different from their biological sex end up identifying as homosexual later. But even with all these questions, the American Psychological Association has determined that forcing conformity, rather than allowing a child to be who she wishes to be, is ultimately more damaging than helpful.

I can’t relate to what it must be like to feel alien to your own body. But I think I can understand what it means to have to reconcile seemingly contradictory pieces of yourself. I have always been Indian American, and I have always been a girl. But I have also always been very opinionated and outspoken. And although the way I define these traits has changed in many ways, I still believe them to be irrevocable parts of myself. That meant that sometimes Indian adults whom I interacted with, especially those who weren’t used to my personality, bristled when I unapologetically expressed an opinion. Some even became very aggressive when trying to put me in my place, because I was behaving contrary to what was expected of me.

There is no definitive guidebook on what it means to be a girl or Indian American, and I’m not saying that being a Girl Scout was instrumental in helping me figure anything out. But when I was on the verge of adolescence, being part of the organization created a space for me to explore my own femininity, or really just personhood, in a way that provided a contrast to what my local ethnic community was telling me about my identity at the time. I just got a chance to interact with people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, all of whom also had families that were different from my own, and who may have been presented with similarly confusing ideas of how they should behave as sisters, daughters, and members of their communities.

It was just one of the many ways I could expand my universe, compare myself to people in a larger world, learn what pieces of myself I couldn’t change, what parts I wanted to keep, and what parts I could just let go. As this happens we’ll all inevitably collide with voices that demonize our contradictions, just as much as we find others who love us from them. For Bobby things seem to have worked out, and at least for now: a small contingent of intolerance drowned out by louder voices of acceptance.



 

 

It's cookie time in America. Right now, little girls all across the country are standing in front of supermarkets, waiting to derail your new years’ resolutions with a single box of thin mints. These devilish little entrepreneurs you know as the Girl Scouts, an organization founded in March 1912 by Juliette Gordon Lowe to help American girls build courage, confidence, and character. Today’s organization focuses on achieving those goals by fostering leadership skills, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange.
 
It all sounds like wholesome, nonpartisan fun, but evidently the scouts are not squeaky-clean enough to avoid public scrutiny. First were calls from the health-conscious to remove trans-fat content from the cookies, which the Girl Scouts obliged. That’s fine with me, although it's possible the cookies could have been laced with arsenic and I still wouldn’t have had the inner strength to say no to them. But as soon as the war over trans-fats moved out of the limelight, a much more peculiar war over transphobia moved in.
 
When I mention transphobia, I don’t mean that the Girl Scouts are guilty of it. On the contrary, the organization is receiving withering criticism from conservative organizations because they’ve become too inclusive, by publicly opening their doors to transgendered girls.
 
It all started when Bobby, a seven year old transgendered girl from Colorado, was refused membership to her local troop. After her mother complained, the Girl Scouts quickly responded, stating “Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them... If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”
 
This is astonishingly and refreshingly open minded of them. But their inclusiveness was met with hostility from groups like the “Honest Girl Scouts,” a conservative organization that ironically traffics misinformation about the Girl Scouts, and troops in Louisiana, who disbanded in protest. One 14 year old girl from California even attempted to instigate a nationwide cookie boycott which, of course, failed.
 
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the existence of transgendered children is a difficult reality to grasp -- it’s not just garden variety bigots who may be frightened by it. There are many who simply aren’t familiar with the concept, and can’t fathom how a young child can express a gender identity that is different from their biology with so much conviction. Part of the problem is that some are misinformed about the linkages between gender (or how a person acts, interacts, and feels about themselves), and sexuality (how a person thinks romantically and sexually about others). The latter is irrelevant in this case. But even with that understanding, there are still lingering questions. How do we know it’s not just a phase? What is the difference between someone who is transgendered, versus someone who is just a “tomboy” or “effeminate?” These are all valid questions, and there is no way to be certain. In fact, some children who express a gender identity different from their biological sex end up identifying as homosexual later. But even with all these questions, the American Psychological Association has determined that forcing conformity, rather than allowing a child to be who she wishes to be, is ultimately more damaging than helpful.

I can’t relate to what it must be like to feel alien to your own body. But I think I can understand what it means to have to reconcile seemingly contradictory pieces of yourself. I have always been Indian American, and I have always been a girl. But I have also always been very opinionated and outspoken. And although the way I define these traits has changed in many ways, I still believe them to be irrevocable parts of myself. That meant that sometimes Indian adults whom I interacted with, especially those who weren’t used to my personality, bristled when I unapologetically expressed an opinion. Some even became very aggressive when trying to put me in my place, because I was behaving contrary to what was expected of me.
 
There is no definitive guidebook on what it means to be a girl or Indian American, and I’m not saying that being a Girl Scout was instrumental in helping me figure anything out. But when I was on the verge of adolescence, being part of the organization created a space for me to explore my own femininity, or really just personhood, in a way that provided a contrast to what my local ethnic community was telling me about my identity at the time. I just got a chance to interact with people from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, all of whom also had families that were different from my own, and whose parents may have had similarly confusing ideas of how they should behave as sisters, daughters, and members of their communities.
 
It was just one of the many ways I could expand my universe, compare myself to people in a larger world, learn what pieces of myself I couldn’t change, what parts I wanted to keep, and what parts I could just let go. As this happens we’ll all inevitably collide with voices that demonize our contradictions, just as much as we find others who love us from them. For Bobby things seem to have worked out, and at least for now: a small contingent of intolerance drowned out by louder voices of acceptance.


3 comments

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Anonymous wrote 2 years 40 weeks ago

Smart and thoughtful

Very much enjoyed this tender and insightful piece -- thank you!

Denise Holliday wrote 2 years 40 weeks ago

Article about transgender children

I wish to say thank you to the Author for the above article. It was well written and I felt the honesty behind the words.
As a almost 65 year-old trans-woman I remember when being a child that Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were an unattainable thing for me. One would never have considered me an appropriate choice and the other would have been hell for me.
I struggled as a male child with knowledge that I did not even understand until I was in my early twenties. I was a reasonably good looking male but never even thought about sex or girls in that context. I was too busy trying to survive as a basic male. I eventually was confronted with a woman who wanted to marry me. It was a month before our wedding that I actually approached a doctor about my issues. He begged me not to marry, but I went ahead anyway.
We have been together over 40 years despite the fact I shared my secret with her 3 months into the marriage. We had 3 children and when I was almost at the end of my rope, my spouse suggested it was time to change things.
I have been Denise for 15 years plus, and we are still living together and our children and grand children are very supportive.
I never expected to see the day we would be accepted by groups like yours, so I thank you with all my heart on behalf of the young ones who are unable to express it to you yet.

Denise Holliday
deni...@ns.sympatico.ca

light at the end of the tunnel wrote 2 years 40 weeks ago

proud to be a girl scout

Let's just hope the organization doesn't cave into all this ridiculous pressure! They seem to have their hearts in the right places -- banning trans fats (though their saturated fat content makes me cringe a little) and standing by the position that they are an inclusive organization that will support any self-identified girl who wants to join. Great job shedding light on both issues! Cleverly written and a joy to read. Thanks!

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About The Author

Priyanka Mantha

Born in Aurora, Colorado, Priyanka Mantha grew weary of the fresh mountain air at the tender age of two and a half, when she urged her family to pack their bags and head for smoggy Los Angeles, California. Today, Priyanka lives in Washington D.C. where she continues to pursue her passion for social justice, writing, and theatre. In the near future, she hopes to commit small acts of mayhem. Immediate projects include releasing lawn gnomes back to their natural habitat. Applications for potential co-conspirators are being accepted on a rolling basis.

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