Sometimes people speak from experience that isn’t relevant to the issue upon which they’re speaking. Oh sure, that never actually stops anyone and this is 2014 which is approximately 2014 years of this exact thing happening, but it never ceases to amaze me how people just continue to do it. Now, before we get too far into this story, I want to be clear in saying this: I don’t believe people are being malicious, I just think they’re wrong and they’re talking about things they don’t understand through a prism of experiences they didn’t have with knowledge they don’t really have. Makes sense? Okay, maybe it will shortly.
A friend of mine who I consider a very smart guy recently posted about the story that’s all over the media; the story of Ryland Whittington. Ryland is 6 years old, but ever since he was able to talk he was proudly proclaiming that he was a boy. That wouldn’t garner so much attention if he wasn’t born a girl.
Cue the controversy mongers.
As is usually the case with anyone who eschews normal gender or sexual ortientation at a young age, the “experts” immediately start chiding the parents because “kids can’t possibly know.” In many cases, I’ve read people saying “I was a tomboy, does that mean I’m a boy too?” Well, no, stupid, and that’s not what it means to be transgender, either. Ryland’s parents recognized this, and instead allowed young Ryland to explore his own gender identity and, if he wanted to be a boy, allowed him to dress as a boy, “act” like a boy, and so on. For all intents and purposes, Ryland Whittington is a young happy boy. His parents even made a video introducing Ryland to the world and talking about their experience. That’s what started the ball rolling and the criticism rolled in.
One point that was made, getting back to my friend, is that Ryland is being used as a political prop by liberal parents and LGBT organizations and that’s the sole reason for all of this attention. He reposted something from a relatively popular libertarian commenter who said the following.
First of all, who gives her the right to criticize someone else’s parenting? While it’s all well and good that Borowski’s parents let her become what she wanted to become, her implication is that the Whittington family is doing something else because, judging by the reaction, they didn’t “keep it to themselves” enough.
I don’t see it that way.
I loathe parents using their kids as political props. Few things make me as angry as seeing some 7 year old being dragged through a protest holding a sign they can’t even read yet about an issue they’re way too young to comprehend, but at the same time I also recognize the importance of getting kids involved and helping them understand the world around them in a better way. As it is, we sometimes have adults who had no exposure to important issues until they hit college, and even then it’s minimal or biased. Even with all that taken in mind, the idea that the Whittington family is doing this solely for political purposes is presumptive garbage.
Ryland Whittington’s story is not typical by any stretch of the imagination. While many experts have come out saying that at age 6 children are starting to form their gender identity and that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Ryland to have recognize that he was “in the wrong body,” so the idea that there’s some illegitimacy to this is foolish and wrong. It’s not common, but it’s not impossible either.
Without knowing the Whittington family, I’m going to indulge in my number one philosophy on life: assume benign intent. Unless you have a history of being a politically motivated self-important douchebag, I can’t ascribe those motives to you without “inside information.” Instead, I’m going with my initial reaction to this, which is as follows.
I believe the Whittingtons realized early on that this wasn’t just a case of a tomboy daughter, and decided that instead of trying to beat conformity into their kid (figuratively) they let their kid choose their own path in life. I believe they made the video and have made public appearances with Ryland in an effort to get people to realize that things don’t always go according to “plan” and that you need to be good to your kids and love them and allow them to grow and develop in a way they choose to.
But it also may open a few eyes and change the way people react to their children identifying as outside of the “normal” gender and sexual orientation spectrum. Based on what the Whittington family says (and, as I’ve said, I have no reason to think they’re being disingenuous) I’m going to have to say their motives are pure and they’re just trying to make the world an easier place for someone like Ryland.
Many have argued that the reaction to him is also over the top and that the people praising the Whittingtons are doing so in a politically motivated fashion. Even if I cede the point completely, can a person be responsible for the societal reaction to something done with a pure motive? Are we now at a point where we are holding people to a standard that says their motives are only as pure as the reactions their actions garner?
I sure as hell hope not!
Seeing as no one has proof that the publicity the Whittingtons are seeking are for anything but honest and helpful reasons, I’m going to say that the folks calling them out for using Ryland as a “political prop” probably aren’t being fair and aren’t taking into account what the pure motive for what they’re doing could be.