Well dear readers, this ragtime gal goofed...I tried to post this earlier, but a glitch caused my entry to post twice (those troublesome Babbage engines will do that if not properly oiled....) In my attempt to delete one of the copies, I deleted both, so I had to repost. If you had commented before my abrupt deletion, I apologize...Rachel
Not long ago, while re-reading my introductory blog post about the need for more disabled TG characters, I was reminded of a book I read which was as far removed from the subject of TG fiction as one could be. Nonetheless, it provided what I consider to be a most intriguing idea.
The book was a series of profiles of influential disabled people--one of whom, a cerebral-palsied individual named Bernard Carabello, had spent his childhood in Willowbrook, a notorious institution for the developmentally disabled in upstate New York. His account of his years there was more chilling than the darkest Gothic horror--untended children sitting in their own filth; children restrained for torturously long periods; children poorly and hastily fed by an overworked staff, as well as poorly clothed. These unspeakably awful conditions were first brought to the public's attention in the early '70s by a young investigative reporter named Geraldo Rivera. His findings led to the eventual closing of said institution in 1973. (This turned out to be wrong. Incredibly, it stayed open until 1987.)
One particular passage of the chapter on Carabello and Willowbrook caught my attention immediately, and set the idea machinery in motion. The Willowbrook staff, it seemed, had an unusual method for distributing the clothing donated by charities to the institution--they would throw it into a pile, and the kids who could dress themselves would grab what items they could. Whatever they got they were stuck with, whether it fit or not, whether it was appropriate for the time of year or not.
You can, no doubt, already sense where this is going--it doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination to picture one child who happens to be fascinated with a pretty dress at the top of that pile. The child grabs it, puts it on, and proudly displays it to the staff.
The problem is, the child is a boy.
Suppose the staff immediately tries to put something more gender-appropriate on him, but he resists so violently, they give in. Maybe they're pressed for time, maybe they're just apathetic, maybe they're amused by the "retard kid"-- so they let it pass. Imagine that he--or perhaps we should say "she" at this point--is in truth a bright child, but one who, through isolation, had scant notion of gender norms. Or has an inherent femininity without being able to give those feelings a name--likely, the concept of "girl brain/boy body" is completely foreign to her. She's so naive, she figures everyone, boy or girl, simply wears what they choose to wear, just as she did. And the staff never bothers to tell her differently, perhaps figuring she wouldn't understand anyway.
Over the years, she becomes something of a mascot to the staff--while they are a bit kinder to this child than the others for that reason, that treatment masks a contempt lurking beneath the surface. The orderlies in particular aren't shy about making jokes about the poor kid when she isn't around. (Remarks that she sometimes overhears).
One day, however, the institution is investigated and subsequently closed, and its residents sent into foster care in the surrounding towns (including our young hero/heroine, who is about eleven by this time). Our protagonist catches the attention of a social worker, who at first considers the child's gender confusion to be a manifestation of severe abuse. She attempts to educate the child and teach her about gender differences. But when the social worker shows the child two pictures, one of a boy and one of a girl, and asks, "Which one are you?" the child invariably points to the picture of the girl.
The social worker gradually comes to realize that this child prefers the female role, and thinks of him/herself as female (this story would be set in the late sixties/early seventies, so it could be somewhat conceivable that the social worker has had some previous experience with gender-dysphoric individuals. Or failing that, maybe she'd read about them in medical literature.)
She attempts to gain permanent custody, but faces a protracted court battle made worse when it's discovered the social worker lets the child present as female.
I never went anywhere with this idea, because I'm a stickler for realism. Although I like some TG fantasy, as in the Altered Fates or SRU stories, I much prefer stories that are plausible. And for the story idea to work, it would require far too many implausibilities, enough that one could hear an audible "snap"--the sound of several thousand pairs of eyes rolling simultaneously the world over.
Yet at the same time, I can't let the idea go....
(Additional note: I've never been able to corroborate the bit of information about the clothes, nor have I been able to find any evidence of the book in which I read it. The book is called "They Didn't Quit," and may have been written by Geraldo Rivera. It was published around 1974, should anyone care to embark on the search for it).
UPDATE: The book has been found. I had the title completely wrong, perhaps confusing it with another similar book I'd seen about the same time. The actual title is A Special Kind Of Courage: Profiles Of Young Americans. It was indeed written by Rivera, but it was published in 1977.