M. is a girl living as a boy
May 26, 2002 1:06 PM   Subscribe

M. is a girl living as a boy and his school is helping to keep his secret. Is that just asking for trouble? And should a 13 year old be considered for gender-reassignment therapy or is this just an extreme case of tomboy-ism that s/he'll grow out of? [NYT mefi/mefi]
posted by mdn (32 comments total)

 
Oh, that poor baby...that has got to be incredibly difficult, not only for the child, but for the family as well. I don't think gender reassignment can be considered while the body is still in growth phase, but I'm no doctor, so it's speculation on my part.

For her/his sake, I hope the resources are available later that allow for the gender realignment if that is still a desire. I doubt that it's a phase that can be outgrown, but like sexual orientation, is set at birth/early youth.

(Wow, writing that while trying to stay gender neutral was really difficult...hmmm, must investigate gender memes more.)
posted by dejah420 at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2002


I think this girl needs some therapy fast. She just can't survive with a support group alone.

At least the teachers and administration have been able to use some common sense and have handled the situation good so far. I'm still concerned with what seems best and what is best. I doubt she'll be able to keep her secret in high school, especially if she doesn't receive some kind of hormonal treatment to stop her breasts developing. It'll be a big change for her, especially when her popular friends dump her (which will almost be certainly the case, can you see a bunch of popular jocks accepting a transgenderal person?). I just hope she's adequately prepared for it when it comes, with therapy and the such.
posted by geoff. at 2:15 PM on May 26, 2002


Isn't the "transgender" assumtion a little hasty if it's based only on the fact that she dosen't like dresses and likes hanging out with guys? That could describe plenty of women I know, all of whom are quite happy being female and most of whom are not even gay. We're basing things on societal gender roles rather than clinical study here arent we.
I'm all in favor of treating GLBT people of whatever age as full and equal, but gender and sexuality is a welter of confusion at any age, and at 13, as I recall I barely knew how to pick my nose without help. Is she transsexual? gay? I dunno. I do know that identity is very fluid during adolecsence and stucturing her whole world around one facet of it, however important may not be a good idea.
posted by jonmc at 2:17 PM on May 26, 2002


See, this is why we need socialized medicine. This family obviously couldn't afford a good doctor, seeing as the one they had must have dropped poor little "M." on her head several times.

And I find this sentence hilarious:
''If [M.] gets found out at school as having a vagina, he will probably be beaten or raped.''
posted by Keen at 2:36 PM on May 26, 2002


I don't think gender reassignment can be considered while the body is still in growth phase, but I'm no doctor, so it's speculation on my part.

The article said the hormones would be more effective if given earlier - if she got testosterone now, her breasts might never fully develop and she wouldn't need a masectomy later, e.g. So from a medical perspective, it would probably be better to start the therapy earlier; it's just the concern that this is only a phase, that eventually M. will want to be female.

Isn't the "transgender" assumtion a little hasty if it's based only on the fact that she dosen't like dresses and likes hanging out with guys?

I don't think it's based on her not liking dresses though. It's based on her decision to live as a boy, to go to some rather extensive trouble to hide her natural gender. I was never one for dresses / dolls / make-up, and often had closer male friends than female (tho' not jocks) but I never questioned that I was a girl. But for me that's because I had a female body; I also feel that if i had had a male body, I wouldn't have questioned that, either. In other words, I find it difficult to relate to the idea of having a gender identity separate from the body you have, and also separate from who you're attracted to...
posted by mdn at 2:39 PM on May 26, 2002


It's based on her decision to live as a boy, to go to some rather extensive trouble to hide her natural gender.

At the same age I went to similar extremes to hide my intelligence because I thought being dumb was more fun; ie acting like a little hoodlum, willfully screwing off academically and acquiring numerous bad habits that I have yet to shed. I wouldn't trade my experiences during those years cos they're part of what make me what I am, but my life could've been a lot easier. But by this logic had I asked for a lobotomy at 13, I should have been given one, since hey it was my decision to be a galoot.

I don't mean to sound all harsh and flippant, but just imagine if everyone made decisions this significant based on how you feel at 13, when from the perspective of 31 your average 13 year old don't know shit.
posted by jonmc at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2002


But by this logic had I asked for a lobotomy at 13, I should have been given one, since hey it was my decision to be a galoot.

would you have asked for a lobotomy at that age? Did you want to not be able to be intelligent, or did you just want to fuck around? There's a real difference.

but just imagine if everyone made decisions this significant based on how you feel at 13,

I think in most primary ways I agree with how I saw things at 13. I tried a little too hard to fit in, maybe - but that's the opposite of what M. is doing. I suppose he could end up happy as a butch lesbian, & then you could consider his wanting to be a boy bowing to traditional roles, but if the issue is peer pressure not to gender bend, then we should question all transgenders, whatever their age when they make that decision.

Like I said, i find it hard to relate to this notion of an essential, internal gender - do other people feel like they are at heart purely of their gender, that they could have been born with the "wrong" body, if they'd had the other gender externally?

seeing as the one they had must have dropped poor little "M." on her head several times.

yeah, how do you figure? Interesting that being beaten and raped simply for being physically female is funny to you, too.
posted by mdn at 3:29 PM on May 26, 2002


I don't really understand the whole transgender community as a whole. If a woman wants to live as a man, and vice versa, by all means go ahead. But to suggest that perhaps those chromosomes were wrong and you were actually supposed to be male and not female, despite what your chromosome says? It seems as ridiculous as suggesting that, if I "feel Asian on the inside" then I should get medical operations to make me Asian because I was never really meant to be a white guy. I don't understand it at all.
posted by Kevs at 3:55 PM on May 26, 2002


yeah, how do you figure? Interesting that being beaten and raped simply for being physically female is funny to you, too.

When did that happen to M? I missed that. Shame on on keen.
posted by NortonDC at 4:12 PM on May 26, 2002


Kevs, tragically oversimplifying, the genes determine hormones and the hormones determine body structure (and keep in mind that much of personality is the result of body structure, particularly that part of the body called the brain).

If something unusual happens to either mother or fetus, a genetic male can do it's developing in the bath of hormones that grows a female, or vice versa. Depending on timing, a person can result that has a brain consistent with a one sex in a body that is otherwise mostly the opposite gender.
posted by NortonDC at 4:19 PM on May 26, 2002


When did that happen to M? I missed that. Shame on on keen.

I was referring to this comment he made:
And I find this sentence hilarious:
''If [M.] gets found out at school as having a vagina, he will probably be beaten or raped.''


I assume what he thought was funny was the necessarily clumsy pronoun situation, but the sentence is describing a real danger.
posted by mdn at 4:20 PM on May 26, 2002


Gender is different from race Kevs. Race is merely external. The cliche's true - we're all the same on the inside.

But gender affects all kinds of things that aren't even properly understood yet, including brain chemistry and sexuality. And it's not merely a matter of chromosomes, it's a matter of hormones. Hormones make you feel and look like a man or a woman, chromosomes just make you more likely to get those hormones, but it's by no means certain. Things go wrong.

Germaine Greer always argues that transexuals who have become women shouldn't be called women because no matter how much surgery and hormone therapy they have, their chromosomes will always say male. But gender's not as absolute as that. Get the wrong dose of hormones and your body changes, your brain develops differently and you feel differently about yourself, no matter what your genes or chromosomes say.

If something's gone on with this girl's internal chemistry to make her feel like a boy, then the realities of her body aren't going to make much difference to her.
posted by Summer at 4:31 PM on May 26, 2002


Yeah, I'm not finding the rape part funny, esp. given Brandon Teena, who was raped then murdered for exactly the same thing.

What is more basic than knowing what sex you are? The kid *knows*, period. It's hard to say what is best for a child but unless the child seems deeply disturbed, gender reassignment seems ok to me. I'm glad they're letting this kid live as he chooses.

Re: the child's body growing, it's tough because with a child in a male body who feels female ... testosterone during puberty is going to do a lot of very unfemale things to that body that will take surgery after surgery to undo. But in this child's case, yeah, why not let it go for now.
posted by jillmatrix at 4:42 PM on May 26, 2002


If something unusual happens to either mother or fetus, a genetic male can do it's developing in the bath of hormones that grows a female, or vice versa.

are you saying there are examples of XX males or XY females? Any links?

Gender is different from race Kevs. Race is merely external. The cliche's true - we're all the same on the inside.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that gender differences are greater than race differences, not that race differences aren't real and gender differences are? On average, there are differences in race - asians do tend to be smaller, and to be better at math. Blacks do tend to excel more in athletics. But the cross over is great, and there will certainly be some black people who are better at math than some asian people, etc. Just as with men and women - men tend to be stronger and better at turning shapes around in their minds, e.g., but this is just on average; when it comes to individuals, this only shows likelihood. The gap is certainly greater between men and women than between races, but I don't see why we should consider it completely different.

Get the wrong dose of hormones and your body changes, your brain develops differently and you feel differently about yourself, no matter what your genes or chromosomes say.

Of course, hormones affect body and mind: why are there no cases of, for instance, someone who goes through the wrong puberty? If these hormones can get screwed up so easily, why are there no cases of little girls who start growing facial hair and little boys who develop breasts? I'm not saying the internal chemistry isn't screwed up, but just it seems that you guys are making somewhat unfounded claims.
posted by mdn at 4:50 PM on May 26, 2002


mdn-- try a google search of XX males and you'll get the info before the porn, oddly enough. my links are in paperback, unfortunatley. An easy but informative read is "Brain Sex".
posted by G_Ask at 5:03 PM on May 26, 2002


ahem...written by Anne Moir, PhD., and David Jessel
posted by G_Ask at 5:06 PM on May 26, 2002


I don't know much about gender re-assignment therapy so please excuse the ignorance of the following question. If M does go through with this reassingment thing, and ends up in the body of boy, will M ever be able to reproduce? Or does M just become a genetic dead end?
posted by Apoch at 5:33 PM on May 26, 2002


why are there no cases of, for instance, someone who goes through the wrong puberty? If these hormones can get screwed up so easily, why are there no cases of little girls who start growing facial hair and little boys who develop breasts?

Because by the time they hit puberty, they have usually already been born.
posted by kindall at 5:36 PM on May 26, 2002


mdn, it's entirely possible he finds it funny it precisely because he does not think it's a real danger and is being way overplayed. And beyond that, if a beating did happen, it would not automatically follow that the beating was because of the child's genitalia. Are these people roaming about beating random girls? No. Real deception and perceived betrayal would probably play a much larger role than gender itself if violence were to result.

XX males and XY females

Note that they say the finer-grained genetic anomaly they discuss does not account for all the gender reversals.

From Amazon's page for Brain Sex:
Moir and Jessel explain how the embryonic brain is shaped as either male or female at about six weeks, when the male fetus begins producing hormones that organize its brain's neural networks into a male pattern; in their absence, the brain will be female. Not surprisingly, there are endless variations in degree of maleness, and mishaps can lead to a male brain in a female body and vice versa.
posted by NortonDC at 6:15 PM on May 26, 2002


try a google search of XX males and you'll get the info before the porn, oddly enough.

That was interesting, but seems to have nothing to do with gender reassignment; apparently most of these mis-chromosomed people have no idea anything's wrong until they find themselves infertile. If gender confusion related so neatly to chromosomes, I think it would be a much less controversial topic. This article even says that there is a small fragment of the Y chromosomes that these XX males have and that's missing in XY females which accounts for their sex.

If M does go through with this reassingment thing, and ends up in the body of boy, will M ever be able to reproduce?

No; most FTM trannies can't even get a working penis, though on testosterone the clitoris grows into a really small penis, and some people choose to construct regular-sized dicks from other soft tissue bu they're not very effective. Gender reassignment is still very young and the main thing is hormone therapy, and removal of unwanted sex characteristics (women have their breasts removed, post-op males have their weenies removed). Creating sperm, eggs, uteruses & working penises is way in the future.

Because by the time they hit puberty, they have usually already been born.

The argument was that the process which determines one's gender is imperfect and may mess up, giving a person a female body but an internal sense of male-ness. If this is really purely biological wouldn't we expect more physical cross-over?
posted by mdn at 6:22 PM on May 26, 2002


are you saying there are examples of XX males or XY females? Any links?

yes, it happens, not too uncommon. on the Y chromosome there is a sex determining region (SRY) if you have it you become male, if not you become female, you don't need the whole chromosome (not many genes on Y). there is pretty good sequence homology between the X and Y at parts, so if a recombination occurs the SRY can go to the X. now the 2 X's are not the same, one has part of the Y on it. they would look still be considered 46,XX though, and would come out male.

For 46,XY females it's easier, you can lack a functional androgen receptor gene (androgen insensitivity syndrome), so when your hormones start telling you to become male you are insensitive to that signal, ignore it and continue developing as a female (default). your chromosomes would still be 46,XY though. it's kinda genetics gossip that jamie lee curtis has AIS, that may be a total urban legend though.

Male 46,XX

Female 46,XY
posted by rhyax at 6:22 PM on May 26, 2002


on preview: yes, this is unrelated to gender reassignment.
posted by rhyax at 6:26 PM on May 26, 2002


Check out Klinefelters syndrome, Turner syndrome & other sex chromosome anomalies
posted by redhead at 8:42 PM on May 26, 2002


mdn, the question I addressed whether there were actual cases of XX males or xy females has nothing to do with sexual (surgical) reassignment. It simply points to the (rare) occurance of hormonal vs appendage, if you will, arrangements of a given person.
Thanks for the link, nortondc.
posted by G_Ask at 9:01 PM on May 26, 2002


The argument was that the process which determines one's gender is imperfect and may mess up, giving a person a female body but an internal sense of male-ness. If this is really purely biological wouldn't we expect more physical cross-over?

This paper suggests male to female transsexuality is due to the abnormal development of a part of the brain that deals with sexual behaviour. It affects whether the person 'feels' male or female, but not sexual orientation or physical development. It doesn't say anything about female to male transsexuals though.
posted by Summer at 4:21 AM on May 27, 2002


Amazing. Throughout this entire thread, everyone has accepted that this child has made an informed decision about his/her sexuality.

This stands in stark contrast to the thread a few weeks back about children's sexuality, in which a number of MeFi-ites thought kids couldn't choose to be sexually active until age sixteen, were horrified that some countries allow adult-child sexual relationships at age thirteen, and a few folk threatened to murder anyone who so much as looked at their daughters.

So it looks like there are MeFi-ites who (a) think kids don't have sexual desires, or at least shouldn't fulfill them, until age sixteen; but (b) think kids should be able to choose gender assignment at age thirteen.

What a wonderful, weird place we have here!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 AM on May 27, 2002


not have participated (or even read) the previous thread, I'll just add this: gender and sexuality are not the same thing.
posted by epersonae at 9:02 AM on May 27, 2002


That's just what I was about to say, epersonae. Plus, sexuality's all about how you feel about, and what you do with, other people - hence the potential for exploitation. Gender's just about how you and other people see yourself.
posted by Summer at 9:12 AM on May 27, 2002


Oh look, it's five fresh fish making an unsupported blanket statement. How refreshing!
posted by NortonDC at 9:37 AM on May 27, 2002


FFF -
1 - the posters who were adamant about that topic have not commented here; there were a variety of reactions altogether & it is senseless to talk of "Mefi-ites" as if we have one voice.
2 - the primary concern was adult-child sexual relations; most people were fine with sexual exploration among same-age children and were only concerned about coercion on the part of the adult. There is no possibility of coercion here.
posted by mdn at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2002


Humph. No bites.

But I am surprised at the general ease with which everyone's accepted that this child's gender-identity is deep enough to warrant a sex-change operation.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:51 AM on May 27, 2002


did you read the article? He's not getting an operation, hasn't even started counseling, & as I understand it you can't start chemical therapy until you've been in counseling for like a year.

Some people on this thread have said he might change his mind later; most disagree. It seems nearly impossible that he'd switch gears to become really femme, but it seems it's safer to put off the possibility of hormonal therapy until he's certain he wants to be a trannie instead of a butch lesbian. The only reason one might argue against waiting is that surgery later will be more complicated if his female characteristics are allowed to grow. Still, no one is seriously backing this position, even in the article. It's just a thought.
posted by mdn at 11:09 AM on May 27, 2002


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