Child taken from parents over gender politics.
September 23, 2000 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Child taken from parents over gender politics. Born Zachary Lipsomb, this six year old child has insisted since the age of two that she's actually a girl named Aurora, and her parents have tried to support her on this -- but the state of Ohio is convinced she's sick and needs treatment.
posted by webmutant (21 comments total)
GPAC Executive Director Riki Wilchins: "No child should ever be taken from her parents and forced to conform to narrow, out-dated gender stereotypes."

You mean stereotypes like "if you have a penis, you are a boy"? I mean, breaking down sterotypes about masculinity is one thing, but denying physical gender is a-whole-nother matter. If you are a boy and want to be feminine and not rough and tough, well all I can say is "you go girl." But you're still a boy.
posted by ericost at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2000

I think an adult (say, anyone over age 14) who decides they're transgender ought to be allowed to do whatever they can or want about it.

But a two year old isn't capable of such decisions; in all likelihood if the parents had simply ignored it it would have been a passing phase. Kids that age do a lot of things, like have invisible friends. Shall we then assign a bedroom to the invisible friend, and buy clothes for them, simply on a 2-year-old's say-so?

Probably that kid is suffering from gender problems now. But almost certainly he wasn't at the time, and wouldn't be now if it had been handled properly. It isn't necessary to give in to everything that a child wants.

Some friends of mine had a daughter, and at age five she and her best friend claimed they were going to get married when they grew up. The parents handled it perfectly: they simply said "OK, dear" and otherwise ignored it. No, the girls didn't turn out to be lesbians (though there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that); it was just that they didn't really understand what marriage was. There was nothing more to it than that. When they grew older we never heard about that any more.

I have no sympathy for the parents in this case at all. It's a shame he had to be taken away from his parents, but it's equally clear that some parents are not fit to be parents. One of the jobs of a parent is to know when to say "no".
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:35 AM on September 23, 2000

Here's a link to Columbus Dispatch stories about the situation.
posted by rcade at 12:00 PM on September 23, 2000

This was a raging topic of discussion a while back; I can't remember if it was here or elsewhere though.

I think an adult (say, anyone over age 14)

Well. That's an awfully arbitrary age selection, especially considering that to both Canadian and American governments, you aren't an "adult" until you're 18.

Aside from that little bit of nit picking, I just generally disagree with what you said Steven.

Read anything written by anyone who's gay, or transgendered, or otherwise deviates from society's definition of the "Sexual Norm" and almost all of them say they knew at a very early age.

This child's parents were being supportive. Their boy wanted to dress in dresses, wanted to play with Barbie, wanted to do girl things. They listened, and supported her decision, but they certainly didn't just say "Okay, let's go get you some pink overalls from Gap for Kids then."

The child's been through rigourous psychological examination, more than most people will experience in their life, let alone by the age of 6 and following their doctors' (yes, plural, as in more than one doctor) recommendations, they decided they would support their daughter, rather than write it off as a "stage" or forcefully stifling what she was expressing and feeling.

I can't say this enough: They listened to their child, talked with their child, tried to understand what their child was feeling and in the end decided to support their child through thick and thin. They decided to fight for their daughter's right to be herself.

That is doing the job of being a parent.
posted by cCranium at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2000

From what I've read, it didn't necessarily look like the parents were being supportive. It looked much more likely that the father was projecting his gender difficulties on to his child. There have been other problems, including violence, in this marriage. Because of this I'm reluctant to believe a word they say.

I believe the foster parents said they'd left the dresses out for the child, and he refused them.

It's certainly a mess--the parents have added to the child's trauma in an attempt to support him. Support is helping him with his questions and not judging him. Support is helping him survive in the real world. Dressing him as a girl for school--at a school that knew him as a boy--is doing just the opposite.

Idealism is wonderful (if that's what it is), but I would put the safety of my child above it in this case.
posted by frykitty at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2000

waitaminnit...i missed where you found info on the father's gender difficulties, frykitty. did i pass over it in one of the links?
posted by patricking at 2:13 PM on September 23, 2000

I believe the foster parents said they'd left the dresses out for the child, and he refused them.

I hadn't heard that. That's interesting.

Though it'd be interesting to hear if the child had been told that the reason he was removed from his parents was because he wore dresses. That would spoil it for almost anyone, I think.

at a school that knew him as a boy

I didn't know that, either. Moving schools and registering him as a girl - perhaps filling the teacher and principal and vice principal(s) in to avoid any "That girl has a penis!!" issues - seems like an obvious thing to do. Children are generally merciless. Unfortunately, even adults can be.

I did a bit of search here at MeFi for previous discussions about this, but couldn't find one, so maybe I'm thinking of somewhere else.

No matter what the full story - something we'll probably never get - this poor child is going to have an awfully rough time for at least the next 15 years (can you imagine being a teenager AND having to go through this overly publicized mess? If someone does a vanity search for this kid, her name's going to pop up all over the place regarding this. Ick).
posted by cCranium at 2:55 PM on September 23, 2000

Well, I'm having a helluva time finding the story I read when this first broke. It seems the information about the father's gender issues, not to mention the earlier family problems, have been excised since public sympathy has swung toward the parents.

I did read it. The story put special emphasis on the father/son gender identification issues.

That's what I get for sucking in too many news sources. I've been working at it for 30 minutes--if anyone else would care to take a crack at it, that would be great. We could use some more info on this.
posted by frykitty at 3:07 PM on September 23, 2000

i don't understand how this child could be having gender issues at such a young age, but i'm basing that on my own experiences as a homosexual child...and i didn't notice anything different about myself until i was about six.

i'm really wondering how, at such a young age, a child would be enough of a rational being to be able to discern in him/herself a difference between other kids.

am i underestimating the amount of social knowledge a child has at that age? parents, got an answer?

frykitty, would love to see the initial info you found if/when it resurfaces.

in the meantime, let's all hope this doesn't turn up as yet another springer topic.
posted by patricking at 3:23 PM on September 23, 2000

I find this to be a really messy situation. From the GPAC article, the writer seems to gloss over the creepiness of the kid's parents, making it seem like they are being supportive of their child. In the Columbus Dispatch article, it seems they are at least partially responsible for their child's gender and psychological problems, dressing him as a boy for school and dressing him as a girl at home. That'll certainly screw with a young kid's mind and it's definitely not right to do that. For Christ's sake, the kid has suicidal fantasies. A boy by day, a girl by night, the parents aren't being supportive; they are hurting him.
posted by evilmaryellen at 3:47 PM on September 23, 2000

Like frykitty, I've spent a good deal of time (20-40 minutes, it's been sporadic searchs) searching for my original sources on this story, and I can't find any of them, which really irritates me.

All I really know about this situation is that this child definetely needs help. Since the courts presumably heard many more details than I about this situation, hopefully they made the right choice, and the foster parents will be able to provide what the kid needs.

patricking: thank you for the differing view point. Most of the stories I've read by homosexuals about their sexuality have included something along the lines of "I've known since I was concious that there was something different about me, but it took until I was x years old to realise what that was."
posted by cCranium at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2000

I've said this before... it's really hard to judge from this distance and with so little information.

But one thing that does creep me out, is a quote from the GPAC article: "She's never even had an outside baby sitter-not even family. She can't be fine. She's petrified. I know it."

Um... is it just me, or is that just strange: a six year old that's never been left with anyone -- "not even family"? That just smacks of parents crossing the line from protection to brainwashing.

Also... a comment about a post in the thread: "I think an adult (say, anyone over age 14)". What are you smoking Steve? Fourteen is NOT an adult... emotionally, physically or otherwise. For crying out loud!

I think I'll stop there... before this devolves into a diatribe.

At any rate: great thread, everyone!
posted by silusGROK at 4:22 PM on September 23, 2000

Technically a 14-year-old is of course not an adult. That is, however, old enough to know to which sex you are attracted.

Certainly not every 14-year-old knows what their gender identity is, but if I had a 14-year-old that said "Mom, I'm gay", you better believe I'd support them.
posted by frykitty at 4:38 PM on September 23, 2000

At what age do you suppose notions 'gender identity' and sexuality surface?

As a child, I didn't discover that girls could be anything more than disgusting creatures to be avoided until I was in 6th grade. Though I spent nearly all my time with male friends, I'd have taken great offense were I accused of being gay (though I'd have only a dim understanding of what the term meant).

Kids are wierd. It takes a while for them to discover themselves. The last thing this poor child needs is some sort of institutional reprogramming.

But aside from all this, the story raises some other interesting issues. Parents are entitled to raise their children as they see fit. If, for example, they prefer their child to have long hair, no one can do a thing about it. Likewise, should they desire that their child wear nothing but black sweatpants, there's no action that a government agency can take to stop it.

As long as a child is guaranteed adaquate welfare, parents have the right to do as they please.

Therefore, is it really wrong for parents to raise a physically male child as a female?

What of 'Tom Boys' - girls encouraged by their parents to engage in activities considered by many to be 'male'?

I most certainly don't have the answers. Indeed, I'm glad I'm not on a jury that has to contemplate these issues.
posted by aladfar at 7:02 PM on September 23, 2000

don't know if this has been noted yet, but the courts have placed a gag order on the parents, which seems hopeful. maybe aurora-or-whatever will retain a little sanity after a few years.

cCranium: you're not allowed to use my experience to judge anyone else's. end of story.
posted by patricking at 7:03 PM on September 23, 2000

I think all of this sort of thing demonstrates just how primative our ways of thinking about gender are. And I don't just mean society at large I mean the acedemics and opinion makers as well.
posted by davidgentle at 7:34 PM on September 23, 2000

This story mentions the parent's mental health issues, frykitty, but there is no mention of the father's "gender issues".

One of the articles does mention a suspicion of "Munchausen syndrome by proxy,'' a disorder that causes parents to compulsively harm their children or convince their children that they are ill for attention....

Like vis10n said, "it's really hard to judge from this distance and with so little information."
posted by Ms Snit at 10:36 PM on September 23, 2000

All issues of possible gender dysphoria and violence and so forth from the parents aside, as the parent of five very bright, very self-aware young kids, I have a hard time buying the notion of a two year old willfully exerting transsexuality to the extent that has been attributed to this child.

And even if it were true, the added confusion of being a boy sometimes, a girl sometimes, and being so terribly isolated was undoubtedly a harm.

I don't know why things surprise me anymore, but this surprised and saddened me. It can only be hoped and prayed that this child has some good mental health professionals working to help straighten out this mess. Oy vey.
posted by Dreama at 10:50 PM on September 23, 2000

What I find particularly bizarre -- and suspicious -- is the claim that a 2-year-old child would have spontaneously chosen the name "Aurora" as that of his true, female identity. Why not "Jane" or "Sarah" or "Mary"? It screams of profound parental intervention, at a minimum.

There are very clear therapeutic standards for making gender transition. They could perhaps stand to be updated in important respects, but there is no way that a 6 year old or his parents are competent to make these decisions.

posted by MattD at 12:00 PM on September 24, 2000

Matt: that speaks to the profound lack of detail in the most recent stories on this topic. Usually as a story progresses, you see more detail, not less. In this case none of the recent stories tells you anything about the family or how they arrived at their decisions.

On point: In the early-breaking story I read, they explained that the child chose the name Aurora for The Little Mermaid. He and the parents chose it "together".
posted by frykitty at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2000

Frykitty: interesting on the name, didn't know that. Guess I have to withdraw at least part of my objection, although I still cannot quite imagine even the most progressive parents sitting down "together" to use a Disney fantasy as a gender transition research tool for their 2-year old.
posted by MattD at 2:55 PM on September 24, 2000

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