Transgender Children?

In good tabloid tradition, The Sun posted an article today titled: “We let our daughter become a boy at the age of four – Story that will shock every parent”. The last bit being a bit of an exaggeration don’t you think? Well, tabloid … anyway.

A MUM and dad told last night of their astonishing decision to let their little GIRL start to live as a BOY from the age of just four. In a move that will shock every parent, they cut the child’s hair and changed her name from Sophie to Jake. […] Sarah and Yuri Brown believe Jake, now five, is a little boy trapped in a girl’s body — the youngest-ever case of its kind. By the time she was two, Sophie was repeatedly insisting to his parents: “I really am a boy”.

Now, I have to admit, this last statement worries me a bit. I am pretty sure a two year old child doesn’t really know what a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ is. They do seem to start understanding the social differences of gender somewhere around this age though – as far as I have been able to figure out by reading some research at least.

My problem with these types of stories is that most children who have these signs of gender identity disorder (GID) at a very young age do not actually turn out to be transgender adults. Neither do all transgender adults show these signs as a child. Funny thing with the last point is that a lot of adult transgender people will shoe-horn their own narrative into the standard narrative expected by a lot of psychologists who handle these cases in order to ‘qualify’ for medical treatment. It is commonly known as ‘gatekeeping’ in the community – as people have actually been denied treatment because they do not conform to some arbitrary binary gender standard set down by misguided ‘professionals’.

Professional health care has historically been, and sadly still is to a large degree, very bad at both understanding and handling transgender and intersex people (see references)*. Even the term gender identity disorder implies that natural variations of gender identity is a disorder. The same way homosexuality used to be classified. Many suffer from depression and have other problems that are related to them being transgender, and these can be very serious; but many transgender people do not. Acceptance by society has a lot to do with this. In addition some sort of medical diagnosis is needed as transsexual people, who are a subgroup of transgender people, do need medical treatment.

So all things considered, being aware of, and listening to, gender variant children is important. In a society where children are pigeonholed into a gender stereotype earlier and earlier, it is tough to be different. So both the parents of the child in this article, and in this article form last year, is well advised to listen to their child. Who cares if a child is more comfortable in ‘boy’ clothes or ‘girl’ clothes? Or prefer to play with ‘girl’ toys or ‘boy’ toys? The fact that these distinctions exist in the first place is a large part of the problem. I find it more sad that it is necessary to change the name of the child. I see that in a gender binary society it may be necessary, but it shouldn’t be. That’s for the child to decide when he or she grows up.

As one commenter notes:

A tiny percentage will turn out to feel they have been born into a body of the wrong sex but most will develop normally. My worry about labelling children who aren’t even at school is that a normal stage of development is being branded as dysfunctional.

I have to agree with this. As much as I applaud parents for being open minded; I worry when children this young feel uncomfortable with the roles assigned to them by society. Children should be allowed to be themselves, no matter what. It is pretty much the only time in their lives where they have that chance.

* A good book about the history of intersex care and to an extent transgender, read: Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling (2000). For a more transgender focused book, read Whipping Girl by Julia Serano (2007).

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  1. I find myself (as someone who knew I was a boy when I was little) wondering how many of these people described here:

    “A tiny percentage will turn out to feel they have been born into a body of the wrong sex but most will develop normally”

    who ‘develop normally’ were like me? Born into a society that, at the time, was never going to accept transgendered feelings as anything except pathological, I suppressed them and gave up. So, to all intents and purposes, I ‘developed normally’. I married, had children, etc. Except that I had a decades-old battle with depression, until I accepted myself for who I really am and not the person society had forced me to become. I’ll probably never do anything about it. By now, what would I have to gain from transition? Not a lot. What would I have to lose, at this stage? Way too much.

    I’ve read similar things written about “Gay children?! Shock!! Horror!!!” in the past; since, at the time, many (if not most) gay adults were in ‘normal’ heterosexual relationships (societal pressure being what it was), sentences like the above could once have been written about gay children.

    The whole idea that comforming to the expectations of others is considered ‘developing normally’ is horrifying.

    I am going to feel pretty bad about myself if my existence is going to be held up as an example of how transgendered children should be treated. My parents were very progressive, for the fifties and sixties. We didn’t have ‘gendered’ toys. I mostly played with toy vehicles (I had a huge collection of my own), my brother played with dolls (and had his own), as did my sisters. But…

    I was dressed as a girl, always. My mother wouldn’t let me climb trees (“People will see your knickers” “So may I wear trousers?” “Girls don’t wear trousers” “I’m not a girl” “Yes, you are”). I played with the boys at primary school. So I was sent to a girls’ secondary school. I learned, more-or-less to conform to expectations. Except, in my late teens, I became a biker and hung out with blokes.

    Nobody knows how many trans male and trans female people they are because, probably, most of us are hiding in plain sight in our assigned-at-birth roles (to some degree; I’ve been addressed as male, and had my gender queried). To my mind, that isn’t ‘developing normally’, it’s developing abnormally in order to fit in. The people who the public, and the medical/psychiatric professions, know about are the ones who didn’t want to, or couldn’t, suppress their identity. Some have managed to transition, to varying degrees of success (depending on their definition of ‘success’) some (far, far too many; there shouldn’t be any) have committed suicide.

    By the way, I didn’t change my name; but at the all-girls school I attended, my nickname was ‘Ken’. Make of that what you will.

  2. Veronica says:

    “who ‘develop normally’ were like me? Born into a society that, at the time, was never going to accept transgendered feelings as anything except pathological, I suppressed them and gave up.”

    I should have made that point better too when I wrote that blogpost. I am also one of those who just kept quiet and adapted to the gender role I was assigned for many years. I am of course not talking about that, but about ‘gender variant’ children (I don’t really like that term either because it implies there us a ‘normal’) who are accepted by their parent and given the opportunity to choose and then choose to not take any treatment. But yeah, there are plenty of people who just conform, and at a high personal cost.

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