It has been an uncharacteristically long time since writing my last post. In late 2015, a story surfaced that has had me quite perplexed, and I have had to take the time to think, study, talk with others, and decide how to approach it. What I am about to say may anger some people in the Trans community. As a Genderqueer person myself, I don’t want to offend anybody, but as an activist I have to speak up when I feel something is being done to harm our goals of visibility, acceptance, and equality.
In late 2015, we learned about the 52-year-old father of seven who left his family to live life as a 6-year-old girl, Stefonknee (Stef-on-knee) Wolscht. She was interviewed and applauded by The Daily Xtra and The Transgender Project (read about it here), has become a well-known advocate for Trans issues, and while we need and welcome more advocates, I’m just going to say it … ‘trans-age’ and abandonment should not be celebrated
In a very small nutshell, gender is largely a social construct. The gender binary (man and woman) is part of this, as are the roles assigned to those genders, and oftentimes a person’s sex does not correlate with the gender distinctions placed upon it. It’s really much more complex than this, and I have written about it in more length in previous posts, but in the most basic of terms, this is how we get the multitude of legitimate Trans identities. Age, on the other hand, is a temporal condition that is NOT socially constructed. Age just IS, it’s defined largely by the responsibilities and relationships that develop over time, and a responsible adult does not get to stop being an adult just because they have had enough of it. One can certainly live as a child in their own home, but when you have responsibilities, namely seven children, you don’t get to just quit and move on. When somebody has a psychotic break and decides to go back to being a child, they do not need to be celebrated. They need compassion, empathy, and professional help.
Now, I have no doubt that Stefonknee Wolscht is a Trans woman. That is a legitimate identity for many, many, many reasons; including those mentioned above. Also, she has suffered a great deal for being Trans, an experience that should never be diminished. What I take issue with is the celebration of her decision to abandon her family and live as a child. We all wish we could escape adulthood from time to time. Sometimes the pressure gets too much and we have to step back to catch our breath. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it may very well be that the play therapy she is doing is a legitimate form of healing. But at the end of the day we are the sum of our years, we have whatever responsibilities we have taken on, and we don’t get to escape that by deciding we are once again six years old.
Frankly, I am disappointed with The Daily Xtra and The Transgender Project. Evangelicals are constantly looking at us and asking “what’s next?” They already see us as degenerates, and just as we start to gain legitimacy at the discussion table, you go and praise somebody for abandoning their family to escape reality and live as a six-year-old. Do you know how far back you have set us? Do you know how many evangelical radio hosts and public figures are using this to further their cause? Yes, we must accept everybody as they are, but that doesn’t mean without question. There is a big difference between gender and age, and jumping to celebrate something before attempting to think about it and understand it is an act of ignorance. Even your own reporting on Stefonknee reveals a troubled person in need of help, and your actions are not at all conducive to her mental health. We certainly need to accept and support her, and in this case that means validating her identity as a Trans woman, and helping her to learn to cope and heal as an adult.
The movement for civil liberties, for equality, understanding, and acceptance, is where I feel at home. I love people, and I love this work. When I came out in August, I received all kinds of support. This fight is very dear to me, and I feel honoured that there are people who read and appreciate what I have to say. I feel the need to protect it because it has helped so many people; myself included. On one hand, I sympathize with Stefonknee’s struggle, on the other I see a gross misuse of the movement when abandonment is celebrated. In Stefonknee’s case, it was clear that she would no longer be welcome as a Trans person in her own home. This is devastating, and it’s no surprise that it would cause a meltdown. As an adult, she had to move out, and find another place to live. But to leave your children behind because you “don’t want to be an adult right now,” is not okay.
I’ll be honest, this one story has made me question my involvement with the movement altogether. I have a dilemma regarding my alliance with a group of people who lack the ability to understand when a person has had a mental breakdown and needs help. And what about empathy for the family affected by this? There are seven children, where was the compassion for them in the coverage? All I saw was a condemning tone when speaking about the letters Stefonknee’s children wrote expressing embarrassment and hurt. Sure they clearly don’t understand Trans issues, but they are children! They are children, and they have just been abandoned by a parent with very little explanation as to why! Is that what we’re doing now? Condemning children for feeling hurt over abandonment? If we don’t care about the obvious issues here, what business do we have reaching out to anybody? Am I wrong? Am I the only one who feels this way?