Transcending Flesh: Children and Childhoods

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

a pink and blue sky with a radio tower

This essay is one in a series which focuses on writing gender in science fiction and fantasy settings that provide body modification options beyond our current level of technology. Note that you can download this collection of essays from my website here.


Transcending Flesh:
Gender and Body Diversity in Futuristic and Fantastical Settings

Essay #13: Children and Childhoods

~Infants and Alteration~

Giselle is an author who wants to write a BodyMod magitech society wherein every child is altered at birth to have a "boy" body (i.e., with a penis) and are only allowed to switch to a "girl" body (i.e., with a vagina) when they reach adulthood and legal emancipation from their parents' decisions.

I do have to point out that this premise makes very little sense to me. Some societies heavily prioritize bearing children of a specific body configuration, yes, but those communities do not attain total parental adherence to that ideal. Some parents will always exist who disagree with the larger cultural values around them, or who simply refuse to alter the bodies of their children against their will. Having said that, this is one premise which has a note of real world truth: it is still legal and acceptable in many places for parents and doctors to surgically alter the genitals of children without their consent.

The belief that all infants are born with one of two types of genitals is incorrect and unscientific. Many people are born with genitals which cannot be easily sorted into a binary "male/female" dichotomy. Our society uses the term "intersex" to refer to people who experience one or more of a variety of conditions which may lead to atypical development of physical sex characteristics; in this book I will use the term "perisex" to refer to people who are not intersex, with a note that the term "dyadic" may be used elsewhere.

In an effort to force a binary state which does not occur in nature, our culture has accepted the use of genital surgery on infants incapable of consent. Many intersex people are subjected to surgery at a very young age because of a bigoted society which believes that adherence to a constructed cultural norm of what genitals "should" look like is more important than individual bodily autonomy and self-determination.

Given this context, Giselle's world in which babies are fed into the BodyTron5000 to receive a standardized body becomes much more plausible. However, it is important for the author to understand that this culture is terrible, and to make certain that this fact comes across to the reader. The alteration of children's bodies without their consent is a human rights violation which flies in the face of all personal autonomy.

Giselle's fictional culture is not performing a "favor" for its infants. Bodies, whether intersex or perisex, are allowed to possess beautiful variation. Neither intersex nor perisex people are all longing for surgery to make them identical to everyone else. Any setting which performs body modifications on babies is a dystopia, and the author must be aware of that; this situation is not something which can be played off as a cutesy cultural quirk of Planet Monogender. Moreover, the author must be aware of real world parallels and how this situation isn't hypothetical for many of their readers.


Let us now consider two trans people in their late thirties, both of whom have the bodies they desire through the wondrous invention of BodyMod magitech. However, one of them was allowed to access that magitech at age four, while the other was not allowed access until age eighteen and legal emancipation from their parental guardians. As a result, these two trans people have had very different childhoods.

When an author writes a BodyMod magitech setting, it is important they understand that even if bodies can be changed easily later, experiences cannot be: we only have one childhood. Some authors get so wrapped up in the fact that their trans characters can "change later" that they forget that childhood experiences, validation, and affirmation are all incredibly important things which can affect a person's mental wellness.

Forcing someone to experience puberty in a body which causes them dysphoria is cruel. In Giselle's fictional world, every person in her setting is forced to experience puberty in a specific type of body regardless of their consent. This is an act of society-wide violence which would harm a large number of its inhabitants, and which only contributes to the stark fact that Giselle's setting is a dystopia and cannot be played for laughs or cutesy cultural characterization. If you are writing a society which is in any manner accepting of trans identity, then people must recognize that children have bodily autonomy and deserve the right to experience childhood and puberty in a body which does not cause them discomfort.

In our society, the biggest objection to allowing children to transition is that they might be "wrong" about their identity or could "change their minds later". This is not a good reason to deny a child access to transition, in part because it is based on a fundamental misconception of what "transition" is in this context. Childhood transition involves social transition (i.e., telling people the correct pronouns to use), presentation changes (i.e., clothing, hair, etc.), and puberty-delaying medication which prevents early onset of puberty and the major bodily changes which accompany it. None of these steps are irreversible, and it is important that cis people stop portraying childhood transition as scary and primarily surgical when it is neither.

Moreover, in a society where every body can be custom-made at any time to any specification, there is no good reason to deny a child the chance to grow up in a body they feel comfortable with. "But what if they change their mind later?" ceases to have any meaning in a world where there are no consequences to changing one's mind because the BodyTron5000 can grow and attach an unlimited number of body parts! "We can change it later, so you can't change it now" makes no sense unless bigotry is in play.


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