My son is 7 and intensely into drawing dragons and playing chess. When he was 6, he lived in his pirate costume for several weeks. When he was 5, he was all about his Batman outfit, especially the black cape. When he was 4, he loved the story of King Richard the Lionheart. I’ve played along, sewing outfits and trying to call him by whatever name he wore at the time — he was adamant about being called “Richard” during Lionheart’s phase. When he was the pirate captain, he played the part by narrowing his eyes and slurring his speech by hiking his lower jaw to one side.
I mostly allow him to wear his costumes everywhere except school and church, but do I need to be more careful? When I was a kid, activists were more interested in achieving equality in the workforce or eradicating world hunger than ensuring kids cement their self-expression by the time they become teens. But nowadays, things are different.
The last few years have seen a crescendo in battles among activists, the media, governments, lawyers and families over “rights” versus safety for transgender youth to use hormone therapy or surgical procedures to permanently alter their physical bodies. Sadly, some media and medical organizations have thrown out child safety in the name of “rights.” Those fighting for child safety point out that these medical transition methods carry many health risks for youth, such as potentially hijacking normal bone and brain development, setting up diabetes when messing with normal levels of testosterone, or causing permanent infertility.
In the name of child safety, our government does not allow minors to smoke, drink alcohol or consume marijuana, but most state governments will enable them to choose to become infertile or have parts of their bodies cut off. The pro-mutilation side says the kids’ lives may be in danger if they don’t self-mutilate. But why has this drastic form of depression-induced cutting become a valid treatment option for mental distress?
But what doesn’t get much coverage is the havoc this “medicine” wreaked on the central process of role-playing in childhood development — possibly resulting in the normal child identity experimentation being mislabeled as a definite, permanent transgender personhood that needs surgical establishment. That’s a big oops if the teen has been convinced to amputate undesired features and later realizes they were going through a stage.
So, what is the importance of this role-playing stuff for kids? Let’s pick my son playing pirate — an activity I also enjoyed as a kid. This pretending is far more than donning a few pieces of cloth. Role-play is part of the normal identity investigation vital to every childhood and adolescent development stage.
Thalia R. Goldstein and Ellen Winner studied children ages 8 to 11. They found that role-playing and identity try-ons are entirely natural and essential elements for helping kids figure out themselves concerning others and the world.
But wait, transgender activists and doctors encourage transgender kids at these same ages — 8 to 11 — to start puberty-blocking hormone therapy to begin permanenting this one identity — even though in most cases, a young kid’s transgender trial run usually gets discarded by age 9 or 10.
I thank God these activists weren’t lurking around my elementary school to press me to stick with looking like a pirate for my entire life. In middle school, no one pushed me to surgically remove my left eye and cut off my right leg from the knee down so that I could really look like a pirate captain when I was 14. If any doctor “affirmed” my pirate self-diagnosis and performed the requested eye-gouging and leg-chopping, that doctor would have been thrown in prison. But not anymore; activists herald these doctors as civil rights stars.
Sadly, I may need to be more careful with what my son wears.