“Pretending I was a boy felt like telling a lie.” So says “Jazz” Jennings, a boy who is pretending to be a girl (“A Child’s Perspective on Being Transgender,” Princetonians, Feb. 4). Something is very wrong with this picture.
In the 1979 movie Breaking Away, an American boy assumes an Italian persona and, while in it, woos a college girl. When she learns he is not really an Italian native, she feels deeply betrayed — and understandably. He lied to her! And it would be no defense to say he felt that “inside” he was really Italian, or that he thought keeping up the ruse was the best option for all involved.
We are men or women, male or female. Those who feel like mismatches on the inside have real feelings, but their biology remains what it is. To treat the feelings as trumping biology is not to be honest; it is to exalt subjectivity over reality. The solution is not to patronize the person feeling the mismatch by calling him “her” and agreeing he is a girl. That’s like telling the asylum resident, “Yes, yes, you are really Napoleon.” Such people need love and support, not illusions that dodge the underlying mind-body tension.
Co-author Jessica Mayer Herthel ’96 should listen to the wisdom of her daughter. When Herthel proposed treating sexual differentiation as irrelevant, her 5-year-old said, “That would be weird.” And more to the point, it does no one any favors.