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).