Notes on Pride

Medicalized Gatekeeping: Jules Gill-Peterson's Histories of the Transgender Child

June 21st, 2021

Yet an even more fundamental assumption about trans children that floats this contrast has yet to be challenged: that they are, in fact, new and future-bound. The narrative that we are in the midst of the first generation of trans children is so omnipresent as to be ambient (Gill-Peterson, 2018, p.2)
"Adults, whether anti-trans hate groups, trans exclusionary feminists, conservative activists, parents, so-called invested observers, or even allies and advocates, tarry within the dangerously limiting circumstances of a system that continues to assay the value of trans children’s being in terms not of their humanity and personhood but via questions absurd in their abstraction for howe the biological bliss of sex and gender or how identity politics have so injured a cis, white, heteronormative imaginary that cannot fathom the obvious fragility of its claims to universalism in the face of a defiant no" (Gill-Peterson, 2018, p. vii)
Trans children have been reduced to figures for what they are so clearly not , abstract ciphers of this or that etiology of gender, this or that political platform. Trans childhood, under such circumstances, has yet to visit us. Yet trans children already exist, left to fend for themselves in a culture that suffers from being unable to imagine children with a richly expressive sense of who they are (Gill-Peterson, 2018, p. viii)

Jules Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child shows us how trans children have been “central to the medicalization of sex and gender during the 20th century” (3). Refuting the pernicious myth that transgender children are somehow a “new phenomenon” that represents shifting cultural ideas of gender or identity politics. Rather, Gill-Peterson shows is the receipts of a much longer history, wherein transgender children were part of a living laboratory to codify medicine’s hold over stabilizing the gender binary and “truth” of biological sex. Her book develops the concept of plasticity-the malleability or potential of the body to be changed-to examine how some white children were enfolded into a system that tried to normalize gender variant children into a binary (male or female), while black trans kids were often left out/not believed to be plastic (or trans) enough by gatekeeping doctors. She reminds us that trans children are not new or part of some recent identity politics crisis. Instead, the historic experiments on the bodies of transgender children from at least the early 20th century onward demonstrate the centrality of transgender children to the codification of medical sex and gender. Or as she writes, “Trans children have been forced to pay one of the heaviest prices for the sex and gender binary, silenced as the raw material of its medical formation (4).