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“He’s dead – his mother has had a nervous breakdown. They spoiled him rotten. I mean most parents would be proud of a kid like that – good lookin’ and smart and everything, but they gave in to him all the time. He kept trying to make someone say ‘No’ and they never did. They never did. That was what he wanted. For somebody to tell him ‘No.’ To have somebody lay down the law, set the limits, give him something solid to stand on. That’s what we all want, really. One time . . .” — S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders, 1967
“I wonder things I don’t say aloud, too: Whether this transgender craze isn’t partially the result of over-parented, coddled kids desperate to stake out territory for rebellion. Whether it is no coincidence that so many of these kids comes from upper-middle-class white families, seeking cover in a minority identity? Or is it the fact that they overwhelmingly come from progressive families – raised with few walls, they hunt for barriers to knock down?” — Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage, 2020
S.E. Hinton was 16 years old when she wrote The Outsiders, the now classic novel of the class conflicts between the Greasers and the Socs in mid-1960s Tulsa, OK. Writing allowed her to cope with the unpleasantness of the social scene in her high school. Her fictional story was assigned reading in my daughters’ seventh-grade English classes in Virginia and Texas. Although the book was already the subject of a popular movie by the time I was in middle school, I never read the book when I was growing up. I kept meaning to read it so that I could discuss it with my girls, and I finally got the chance during the deep freeze and power outage that hit Texas on February 15.
The lines from The Outsiders quoted above struck me as a timeless and true observation. Teenagers need boundaries and they will test those boundaries. When boundaries are too early breached, or absent altogether, the natural tendency toward rebellion seems to escalate rather than diminish. This can be glaringly obvious in the case of toddlers who throw tantrums to get what they want, but teenagers being raised by today’s ingratiating adults need more subtle methods of pushing the envelope.
In progressive towns and suburbs, in my experience, children are encouraged to pursue political ideas and lifestyle choices that only appear rebellious. For instance, in 2018, my daughter’s middle school teachers announced in class that students would be walking out to support the March for Our Lives protest against gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. When my daughter expressed unease and confusion about whether she should attend class, her teacher replied to my email saying that he would be in class in case students didn’t walk out. However, he said that he wished he could walk out, too. I had the thought at the time that these stupid teachers were robbing the students of the chance to actually rebel by essentially organizing and encouraging the protest activity. Without the risk of punishment or disapproval, the students were reduced to parroting the views of their authority figures. What could have been a chance for the truly dedicated protestors to make a meaningful statement became another way for students to display obedience.
Like Abigail Shrier, and probably most of you, I never knew a single transgender person in any of the schools I attended. From 2016, when my oldest when to middle school, until we left Virginia in September 2020, transgender classmates, or siblings of classmates, were common to all three of my elementary, middle, and high school daughters. Some classmates identified as pan-sexual or non-binary. When my oldest daughter’s sixth-grade friend announced she was bisexual, followed by pan-sexual, then transgender, I thought perhaps the girl was acting out in response to her parents’ recent divorce and her own recent experience of puberty. This girl changed her name at school to a male name, even though her given name was already androgynous. By ninth grade, this girl had a girlfriend and appeared to be a lesbian instead of one of the more exotic identities that she had experimented with in middle school. I always thought she should be treated fairly and with compassion; I just never thought she was actually a boy.
Puberty, middle and high school, and the process of growing up have always been fraught with difficulties. The social problems of the 1960s are not necessarily the same of those today, and many modern problems are exacerbated by the absence of societal and physical boundaries. As Shrier points out in Irreversible Damage, there is evidence to support the theory that transgender identity crises are encouraged and perpetuated through social media. As a parent, I can eliminate the influence of social media as successfully as the king and queen in Sleeping Beauty could banish all spindles from the kingdom. But I can say, “No,” to my child. No, you were not assigned female at birth. You are a girl. You will be a woman someday, God willing. No, you are not helping a confused friend by buying them a binder or helping them lie to their parents. No, you are not actually able to define reality for yourself or others. Reality gets a vote, and in fact, reality is not all that interested in democracy.Published in