I'm not usually a big fan of Barbara Walters -- I find her long on schmalz and short on substance.
But I dare anyone to watch this segment she did on transgender kids and come away still thinking gender identity is a "choice", or that these kids deserve anything other than loving acceptance.
Meet the girl who is biologically a boy (picture, above), who started wanting her gender changed at age 2 and told her parents at age six that she wanted to kill herself because she hated her body.
Or the boy who is biologically a girl. His parents at first put him in therapy to try to cure him. But now he is taking hormone treatments -- involving multiple, regular injections -- and plans to have breast-removal surgery before going to college.
Then meet the support group for transgender kids -- a place they can go and just be themselves, and not worry about what society thinks. These are often pre-pubescent kids -- not the sort interested in making a socially painful choice out of some sort of desire to be naughty.
And read about all the adjustments and precautions the family has to take in order to deal with the issue, and tell me that anybody would put up with this unless they felt it was necessary.
In addition, most everyone thinks this is a biological development, though the precise cause has not been proven:
Through the first eight weeks of pregnancy, all fetuses' brains look exactly the same: female, nature's default position. Only after testosterone surges in the womb do male brains start to develop differently. Some scientists suggest that a hormone imbalance during this stage of development stamped the brains of transgender children with the wrong gender imprint.
Now this is gender identity, a different issue from sexual orientation. But activists on both sides of the gay/straight divide tend to lump them together, so they suffer much of the same discrimination as gays -- all of it equally, if not more, unjustified.
But if biology can cause this, might it not easily cause homosexuality, too? And so perhaps understanding and compassion for transgenders will lead us toward a day when we start seeing gay people not as "deviants" that threaten society -- a claim for which there is scant evidence -- but simply as people with a different biological history who have as much right as any of us to live, love, marry and have kids. Is that so much to ask?
I think not. But for now, can we at least agree that transgenders should be left out of that debate? Their case, it seems to me, is open and shut: It's not a choice, and it's not their fault. Instead of sanctioning them when they come out, we should accept them instead.
Barbara Walters, gay rights, transgender, politics, midtopia