When Caspar is really Lina

Sven Saar

When Caspar is three years old, he asks: “Mummy, when will I be a girl?” His mother smiles: “Let’s see, Caspar” and tells her husband about it that afternoon. She notes his words in the small booklet they keep for all the children – the kind of things it will be nice to look back on in the future.

They also report in the booklet about the weekend when Caspar insists on only being called Lina. For two days everyone plays along with him, not least because their little brother appears really to mean it. When Mum says on Monday morning: “Right, now you’re Caspar again!” there are tears. Caspar bangs his fists on the floor in anger and cannot be consoled – he categorically wants to be Lina also in kindergarten. But his mother sticks to her decision: it was a fun game, but now it’s over.

The blue dress

For a time nothing more is heard about Lina. Then friends are clearing out their attic and Caspar is given a large dressing up box: boots, suits, a top hat, feather boa, and also a number of beautiful girls’ dresses. Caspar particularly likes a blue, shiny silk dress. Since it just happens to be the Easter holidays, he wears the dress every day. Caspar is a happy child. Caspar has accepting, modern parents who support and tolerate the antics of his imagination.

The holidays are over, Caspar has just turned four. On the first morning he comes down the stairs in the blue dress. “Are you intending to wear that to kindergarten?” his mother wants to know.

“This is my loveliest dress,” Caspar says.

“But you have to wear your own clothes. This is only for dressing up. You can’t be a girl in kindergarten.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a boy. You’ve got a boy’s name and boy’s gear and a penis.”

“And if I have a girl’s name and girl’s clothes, am I then a little bit a girl?”

“No, then you’re still a boy – just one who’s dressed up.”

Caspar suddenly begins to shout: “But I’m not a boy! I don’t want to go to stupid kindergarten! Stupid Mummy!”, and storms back up the stairs slamming the door.

On this particular morning neither his mother nor father manage to get their son out of the house. He clings to the furniture, scratches, bites and screams, and they neither know where it has come from nor what they should do about it.

“I’m allowed to be a girl.”

That afternoon his father calls the kindergarten teacher. She says: “I don’t mind if Caspar wants to put on girls’ clothes. He is still young, after all. We can quite easily put up with such moods.” So everything is fine again the next day. Caspar proudly goes to kindergarten in his dress and rubber boots and announces to his friends: “You have to call me Lina. I’m now allowed to be a girl!” He also corrects the kindergarten teacher every time she calls him by his “old” name.

The weeks pass. The adults wait in vain for the child to resume the identity he has apparently lost. He doesn’t want to go to the hairdresser, fixes his increasingly long hair with hairpins and wants to have beautiful shoes with glitter on. Gradually his parents realise that this is no longer a game. They see their child with new eyes and discover many things in him which had escaped them until then. Have they had a daughter for many years without knowing it? Lina sits at the table even when the grandparents come to visit.

Love – without ifs and buts

The parents are increasingly facing inquisitive conversations: “For how much longer are you going to put up with it? At some point you’re going to have to do something!”

“What happens when he needs to go to the toilet?”

Yes, that wretched toilet issue. It is not easy at the beginning. Lina no longer wants to go to the boys’ toilet – but can she be allowed to go to the girls’ one? For weeks this question is the subject of debate in the kindergarten teachers’ meeting until agreement is finally reached that the child may for the time being use the adult toilet.

Finally one of the teachers plucks up the courage to ask the parents for a meeting: “Have you considered that Caspar might be suffering from gender dysphoria?” Of course the parents have thought about it and investigated the question. They have their answer well prepared: “For one thing, it is wrong to talk about suffering, our child is feeling remarkably happy. Secondly, ‘dysphoria’  describes a psychiatric disorder, and this is also much disputed in psychiatric circles. Previously homosexuality was also thought to be a disorder.” – “But how do you intend to deal with the situation?”

“Just as now. We love our child and try to ensure that she has what she needs. If she is happier being allowed to live as a girl then we don’t see a problem. We hope that kindergarten, and later school, will support us in that.”

“I can’t promise that. After all, your child was born as a boy – that’s just how it is. Aren’t you contributing to potentially harmful confusion if you approve of this fantasy? You have to decide one way or the other!”

“Why?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“Why do we have to decide? Whose salvation depends on it? Is Lina a disruptive influence in kindergarten?”

“No, on the contrary. She … he is always helpful and his behaviour is excellent. She ... he is also very popular with the other children.”

“You see, why does anything have to be done? Caspar is now Lina and can remain Lina for as long as she does not cause trouble for anyone. That, at least, is how we as parents see it.”

The meeting comes to an end, the kindergarten teacher is not totally convinced. Next day she addresses Lina directly: “Tell me, Lina, don’t you ever want to be Caspar again?” – “No!”

“Would you rather be a girl, then?”

Lina looks at her uncomprehendingly: “I AM a girl!”

Finally the penny drops. She talks to her fellow teachers and together they think about the practical implications of supporting the child. As it turns out, it isn’t that difficult. It still says “Caspar” in the files but who is bothered about that in day-to-day life? The children have apparently forgotten that Lina has not always been a girl. That’s life at age five or six: everything changes. Suddenly you have lost a tooth or from one day to the next can ride a bicycle. Or, as in this case, become a girl. Or a boy. The only important thing, after all, is that the others like you.

Lina is a happy child.

Should differences be treated differently?

Children from six different kindergartens have come together in class 1. All those who have met Lina for the first time have got to know her as a girl. Meanwhile she has long hair and spends most of break time with the other girls. She loves skipping and is learning to ride a unicycle. In the teachers’ meeting the teachers discuss whether Lina’s status should be raised at the parents’ evening. Her parents would prefer not.

“And if the other children tease her? Shouldn’t we at least tell the parents that Lina is different?”

“Why? Do we insist with all the children that their genitalia are discussed by everyone? Why, then, in the case of Lina? Her sexual organs belong to her private sphere and she has a right to privacy. Her difference is nobody’s business but her own.”

This is true: Lina is a girl with a penis. Might she change her mind one day and turn back into Caspar? Possibly, but each day as happy Lina makes it less likely. Perhaps one day there will be a bad moment when Lina’s secret gets out, when Lina’s many friends who are girls discover what is different about her. She will have to cope with it if and when it happens, and her parents will support her in that.

The teachers’ meeting agrees to treat the matter as confidential. What makes Lina different is not even discussed with all of the new subject teachers – what difference would it make? No one notices anything unusual in the first years of school. Lina is popular and often receives invitations. Most of her friendships are with girls. Her parents worry every time she goes to a sleepover at friends’ houses – but Lina appears to handle it with considerable discretion and confidence.

Hormone treatment – interference in freedom?

Class teachers and parents discuss Lina’s progress in regular meetings and also talk about foreseeable problems: how will she deal with the questions which naturally arise at around the age of ten when all children became aware of their differences? Will she fall prey to an emotional crisis?

The question of hormone treatment will also arise one day. Her parents discuss the pros and cons with doctors: if they don’t do anything, Lina will develop broad shoulders and small hips, her voice will drop and body hair increase. Most of these changes can no longer be reversed at a later time. Targeted treatment with drugs can delay the signs of male puberty until the growing person is more mature and better able to contribute to a decision themselves. Any possible surgical gender reassignment can only be done once the age of majority has been reached.

Is it an intervention in human freedom if puberty is delayed or is the right of personal fulfilment being undermined if it is not? No one can make those decisions for the parents – they themselves have to judge the extent to which they take the wishes of their ten-year-old child seriously. There is no moral or legal clarity here yet. We are in uncharted territory.

What both Lina and her parents can do without is people who suggest to them that there is something wrong with them. Almost half of all young people who feel themselves to be a different gender make at least one suicide attempt. As pre-school teachers, parents and teachers we have a duty to meet the needs of the child with as much responsibility and sensitivity as possible. If it restricts no one else, what is there to stop us giving a young person in Lina’s position all possible support?

Should Lina confide in her best friend Maja? Should her parents let Maja’s parents into the secret? Not a day passes when there isn’t the need to take major or minor difficult decisions, and everyone knows that the puberty of Lina’s fellow pupils will force the family to act.

That is Lina and her family’s destiny. What role should the school play here? Does the question arise at all? After all,  we support all children as best we can. Be it that they play cello wonderfully, have lost their mother, are dyslexic or highly gifted, be it that they can speak very little German or are excellent gymnasts – all children have something that makes them different and all have the right that we acknowledge what is different about them.

The teachers will of course have to take care to ensure that Lina, if she “outs” herself at some point, is treated sensitively and fairly. But such an attitude is a predisposition which they should hopefully have created in their class in any case.

Overcoming gender barriers

Because we grew up in the last century, we have to watch out that we do not let the social developments of today pass us by. We do ourselves and the young people no favours if we measure them by old standards. According to recent surveys, only 60 percent of 18 to 30-year-olds in Germany say that they exclude from the outset being attracted by the same sex. In Great Britain 46 percent of young people declare themselves to be completely heterosexual, but only six percent to be homosexual. The rest see themselves as somewhere in between.

The old barriers are disappearing and we should be grateful for that. Classifying people by the colour of their skin, wealth, religion or gender confines them and reduces their freedom. How paltry was social life previously when poor, white boys were only allowed to play with other poor, white boys! Today’s enlightened young people ignore such categories.

When during our final school trip I sat with my class 8 pupils at the camp fire and was telling a story, I noticed that one boy had comfortably snuggled up against another boy who absentmindedly ran his fingers through the first boy’s hair. I noticed it – their fellow pupils saw no reason at all to notice it. Ten years ago there would have been sniggers, twenty years ago no boy would have dared to do it. What a gift for this generation to grow up in a world in which we can have gentle feelings for all people!

That the developing human being could overcome the gender barriers in the distant future was indicated by Rudolf Steiner as long as a hundred years ago. Are we seeing the first signs of this? If it is the case, then we should wish for all the pioneers in this development that they come across loving adults in their childhood – particularly at those schools which in their name have committed themselves to freedom.

Lina is a happy child.

About the author: Sven Saar is a class teacher at the Wahlwies Free Waldorf School in Stockach and is currently on sabbatical in England.