Friday, May 16, 2008

Transgender Children - How old do you have to be to know who you are?


Okay, have you heard these amazing reports on NPR's "All Things Considered" that aired May 7th and 8th, on the three families with young boys who identify as girls?

Here's the low-down:

Two families with sons the same age, on different coasts, were both faced with the same issue: their two year old boys were obsessed with girly things - toys (dolls and Barbie), clothes (dresses and pretend long hair), the color pink, etc...

By the time both boys were 5, they wanted to be referred to as girls, as "daughters" and both believed STRONGLY that they were actually girls, despite their bodies' external biology.

One family took their son to a clinic where the psychologist's approach is to view it as similar to a black child who insists he's white. The treatment: so far 8 months of intense deprivation for the boy of everything that is girly. No playing with girls. No girl toys. Not even "girly" colors when he's drawing.

The other family took their son to a psychologist who views the situation as parallel to homosexuality. This psychologist told them that their son was most likely going to grow up to be transgender, and that if he wasn't depressed or unhappy about identifying as a girl, that he didn't need therapy, and they should allow him to bloom as the person he is inside.

A side note: Psychiatry only relatively recently (in 1973) took homosexuality off their list of "disorders" and "diseases." And homosexuality used to be treated (by mental health "professionals") with punative measures (like electro-shock therapy - i.e., expose the gay person to images of gay sexuality, and when they got aroused, shock them.) The idea being they would associate pain with the images they liked, and thus become straight. It didn't work.

So where are these two kids now?

The first boy, deprived of anything girly, is struggling. He asks his Mom to cover his eyes when they pass anything the color pink, afraid he won't be able to control himself. He's learned the answers his parents want to hear - he tells them he doesn't want to be a girl anymore. But he screams it - angry, intense, afraid. He plays with girl toys whenever he can (they find him behind closed doors in relatives' houses, playing with dolls...) The parents aren't convinced all the therapy has truly helped their kid be more comfortable with who he is outside. They don't know what to do... And so the therapy (and the deprivation) continue.

The second boy, functioning as a girl and now in school, is thriving. Joyous. Popular.

(You can listen to this first news story here, "Two Families Grapple With Sons' Gender Preferences")

In part two of the series, they introduce us to a 10 year old who, while born a boy, identified so strongly with being a girl inside that the parents were afraid their child would kill themselves if he was not allowed to be who he felt he truly was - a she.

After years of struggling with this, the family finally allowed their son to change his name and "he" now lives as a girl. They are planning to have her take medicine to prevent her from going into male puberty, thinking that at 16 she'll be older and better able to decide for "good" if she wants to take female hormones to then go into female puberty.

(Interestingly, preventing her from going through male puberty will make her physically much closer to a biological female if and when she transitions. That way her body (think hips, hands, height) will grow to be a woman's size, rather than a man's size.)

You can listen to part two here, "Parents Consider Treatment to Delay Son's Puberty"

Another interesting wrinkle in this is that our culture is SO uncomfortable with boys acting feminine - but we're much more comfortable with girls acting masculine. Nobody blinks at a girl taking Karate, but it's still a fuss to see a boy taking Ballet.

Girls can wear pants, but boys can't wear dresses. Or can they?

My heart goes out to the three families featured, and to these kids. I'm not Transgender, so I can't completely understand what these kids are going through, but the whole issue of DENIAL OF SELF hits me very powerfully.

I know that the family (and even the therapist) who are trying to force that little boy to deny anything girly he identifies with and likes are trying to help him, but I also know how painful it is to deny a huge chunk of who you are.

I think that family (and that therapist) are mainly motivated by a world that on the whole isn't kind to those who are different. The Mother even cited an incident when her son was playing with a Barbie Doll at the local park and two ten year old boys took him and threw him off a jungle gym because he was acting like a girl. He was hurt, and she feared for his future safety if he didn't learn "to get along."

If he didn't conform to what everyone expected a little boy to be like.

If he didn't HIDE who he was inside.


That's so painful.

And yet, in a world where Gay 15 year old Lawrence King is murdered by a classmate for being himself, for being honest and true to who he was, is the mother of this child so wrong? Every parent wants to protect their kid, right?

But will our world ever change if everyone hides who they truly believe themselves to be?

And how old to you have to be to truly know who you are?

What do you think?

Take this survey (super-quick, I promise) and cast your vote!

Click Here to take survey

Results next Friday...

Also, you can go ahead and weigh in with your thoughts right here, in "comments!"



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you posted this. I haven't listened to NPR in a while, but will certainly listen when I get home. As a Librarian serving teens, I worry about my "outsider" teens, but especially my GLBTQ kids. They have such a rough time in our small-ish town...