A Boy's Life
October 27, 2008 2:53 AM   Subscribe

The November Atlantic on transgender children: "Since he could speak, Brandon, now 8, has insisted that he was meant to be a girl. This summer, his parents decided to let him grow up as one. His case, and a rising number of others like it, illuminates a heated scientific debate about the nature of gender—and raises troubling questions about whether the limits of child indulgence have stretched too far."

Meanwhile the BBC reports on a new genetic link to transsexualism.
posted by dgaicun (117 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
and raises troubling questions about whether the limits of child indulgence have stretched too far.

Oh goodness. Heaven forfend that children grow up with a sense that their identity is valid.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:39 AM on October 27, 2008 [21 favorites]


It's weird that the prevailing schools of thought when a preschool boy says he wants to be a girl are take away all of the girl things or agree that he's a girl. What about - helping him see that boys can wear pretty things and play with dolls yet still be boys? Of course there are transgendered people and this approach won't "solve" anything for those who are... but it makes sense as a starting place. It seems like the grownups in that story are all buying into the same rigid polarity around gender that is causing (some of) these kids distress in the first place.
posted by moxiedoll at 4:02 AM on October 27, 2008 [65 favorites]


raises troubling questions about whether the limits of child indulgence have stretched too far.

Let me just say that I agree with grapefruitmoon.

But since we're the side of this that values rational discourse, try to look at this from our opponents' perspective. Assume for the sake of argument that you don't see transgenderism as a valid alternative lifestyle. Assume, further, that you don't believe it to have a biological component -- or if you do, that the biological influences behind it don't morally justify that identity.

Given that, this is indeed "child indulgence gone to far." It's indistinguishable, in their minds, from letting a child skip school to play World of Warcraft because he "identifies" that he's going to be a professional video game player when he grows up.

This may sound like I'm arguing semantics, but my point is that this is not a controversy about how to properly raise children. This is just another part of the same old debate about LGBT tolerance and acceptance; no more, no less. "The limits of child indulgence" is a red herring that can make us stray off-topic to safer and more familiar ground for fundamentalists. After all, won't somebody please think of the children?
posted by Riki tiki at 4:06 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't get how thoroughly gendered the boy wants to be, refusing gender neutral toys. I've yet to meet a woman who doesn't reminisce about blocks, cars and the time she stole her brother's toys. My barbies loved riding the G.I. Joe tank and I would even have trouble with a girl wanting to be this girly.
posted by debbie_ann at 4:09 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Let's not rush to judgement. BBC's article suggests there is a testosterone deficiency (among other causes) and clearly Brandon has some parenting deficiencies... who takes their kid to a therapist because he likes dolls and pink? Being a girl has nothing to do with dolls and pink.

Whether or not transgender is a mental illness or a physical condition (or both) is still in play. Don't politicize it.
posted by ewkpates at 4:09 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


moxiedoll, I suspect telling him that he's a boy wearing a dress would only anger him. He really wants to be a girl, and doing girly things are just a part of it.

Whether or not transgender is a mental illness or a physical condition (or both) is still in play. Don't politicize it.

Why did the similar debate about homosexuality end? Because we realized that homosexuality hurt no one. The same is true for transgender.
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:13 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are there cases where children (or adults, for that matter) go through a 'phase' where they identify as the opposite sex and then that urge goes away? Just curious.
posted by mattholomew at 4:15 AM on October 27, 2008


Don't conflate the questions. This is challenging enough problem as it is. We need science and thoughtfulness rather than a willingness to let 4 year olds decide what kind of clinical help, if any, they need.

Transgender does not equal Gay does not equal Lesbian does not equal Post Menopausal does not equal the ERA does not equal Women's Suffrage.
posted by ewkpates at 4:19 AM on October 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's understandable for the parents to be freaked and want to change this, but if the kid is pushing that hard for it, then let it be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:26 AM on October 27, 2008


Yeah, and I remember when I insisted on being called "Fluff" The Kitten, and I remember when my brother insisted on wearing a dress. He's in a fraternity now and lives with his girlfriend, and I'm definitely not a furry.

What I did find disturbing was a piece in a Portland, Maine museum (whose issue at the time was transgendered rights) showcasing a 9-year old boy who was insisting along with his parents that he get hormone treatments, so his voice wouldn't change and he'd start growing breasts.

At nine years old, I think that's kind of fucked up.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:27 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


what, when he was 4or5 he just felt like he was a "girl"? hmm, well I'd be surprised if any 4/5 year old could have any true sense of gender identity to start with.. he wouldn't have even known what it meant to be a girl to distinguish between the two..
posted by mary8nne at 4:28 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


NPR had a very touching, very personal piece on this several months ago. I encourage everyone to read or listen.

Why did the similar debate about homosexuality end? Because we realized that homosexuality hurt no one. The same is true for transgender.

I don't know how many transgendered people you know... but it is no fun to be disowned, gender confused and lacking the money for a sex change. Don't forget the homeless population. Definitely the debate about why TG happens should not be closed just yet.
posted by shii at 4:28 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


related:
When Adele was born they couldn't tell if she was a girl or a boy. A series of childhood genital operations 'corrected' her into a boy but as she grew up it became apparent a mistake had been made. Now at 29 Adele is trying to transition into a woman, only to find she belongs somewhere in between. 1 in 2000 babies are born like Adele and she asks if it isn't time to make room in our society for more than two genders.
http://current.com/items/89405000_i_m_80_girl_20_boy
posted by robbyrobs at 4:30 AM on October 27, 2008


Oh goodness. Heaven forfend that children grow up with a sense that their identity is valid.

That's a bit hard when the kid is convinced he is Harry Potter.
posted by afu at 4:34 AM on October 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


Are there cases where children (or adults, for that matter) go through a 'phase' where they identify as the opposite sex and then that urge goes away?

Yes, read the article.

"The most extensive study on transgender boys was published in 1987 as The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality. For 15 years, Dr. Richard Green followed 44 boys who exhibited extreme feminine behaviors, and a control group of boys who did not. The boys in the feminine group all played with dolls, preferred the company of girls to boys, and avoided “rough-and-tumble play.” Reports from their parents sound very much like the testimonies one reads on the listservs today. “He started … cross-dressing when he was about 3,” reported one mother. “[He stood] in front of the mirror and he took his penis and he folded it under, and he said, ‘Look, Mommy, I’m a girl,’” said another.

Green expected most of the boys in the study to end up as transsexuals, but nothing like that happened. Three-fourths of the 44 boys turned out to be gay or bisexual (Green says a few more have since contacted him and told him they too were gay). Only one became a transsexual. “We can’t tell a pre-gay from a pre-transsexual at 8,” says Green, who recently retired from running the adult gender-identity clinic in England. “Are you helping or hurting a kid by allowing them to live as the other gender? If everyone is caught up in facilitating the thing, then there may be a hell of a lot of pressure to remain that way, regardless of how strongly the kid still feels gender-dysphoric. Who knows? That’s a study that hasn’t found its investigator yet.” "
posted by afu at 4:37 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Everyone leaping in here really should read the damn article first. All of it. It's very long and very well written, addressing pretty much every side that anyone will reflexively bring up.

I flinched at the single-link to a magazine story... but it's a hell of a story. Nice find, dgaicun.

That Green study made me flinch in a different way, though. I'm a pretty boringly-hetero male. I played little league baseball and HS football, had a slingshot and went hunting in the woods. I like Meccano and Lego, not Barbies... I did all those average-boy things in my midwest upbringing, and enjoyed it.

But I think I ALSO tried that penis-hiding thing in a mirror as a kid. (It can't just be Silence of the Lambs in my head, can it?) And I definitely remember trying to walk in someone's high heels (sister? mother?) once. Even "worse" for my case, my best friends in grade school were almost always girls, from my earliest sandbox memory. Likewise high school. And college. And today.

But transgendered? Homosexual? It would almost make my life easier, since I live in the heart of Gay New York, but sadly no. Still a boring straight guy and happy with it. :)

So while support is good, I worry about an overreaction, too. I hope conventional kids living their regular young lives of growing/experimenting don't automatically get shoved on a track of "supportive" hormones and therapy just because they liked princesses or the color pink, yikes.
posted by rokusan at 4:57 AM on October 27, 2008 [9 favorites]


Oh goodness. Heaven forfend that children grow up with a sense that their identity is valid.

That's a bit hard when the kid is convinced he is Harry Potter.

I lived on a farm for awhile. It had a garden hose that must have been 500 feet long. I spent at least a couple of summer days convinced I was a fire engine.
posted by rokusan at 5:00 AM on October 27, 2008 [12 favorites]


Dressing and behaving as if you're the other sex is relatively easily reversible. It's the early hormone treatments that make me unsure. If you're not old enough to consent to bumping genitalia with others, are you old enough to decide what sort of genitalia you are supposed to have for the rest of your life? Enough that you should be given drugs that will change your body forever?

I don't know. It's all a coin toss anyway whether we turn out male or female or something in between, but if someone's going to snatch the tossed coin out of the air and actively decide heads or tails, I don't know if the little kid is the right one. Not that the parents are going to be very reliable, impartial judges. Physically, we should do nothing until there's no more time to wait, I suppose, and then if the kid is still physically and psychologically leaning pretty far in the other direction, think about treatment to give the kid some symmetry in life.
posted by pracowity at 5:02 AM on October 27, 2008


afu: Well put I think that nails it. Whatever anyone thinks about adult transgendered decisions, children are just not ready to make any. I am not a parent, but it seems like something between complicity and repression could exist. Encouraging kids to talk about their feelings and play dress up for instance, but teaching them how to exist in their bio-gender as well? Or maybe just take my parents' tactic and completely ignore everything about the child, including his/her name...leave him at soccer practice...cold, so very cold...like a knife. ANYway I turned out just fine, mother.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:07 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder.

Is it made worse when parents (and grandparents, and friends, and the community at large) insists that kids adhere to incomprehensible gender rules? My nephew used to prance around in a tiara and heels (and ONLY a tiara and heels), and no one freaked out about it and told him he couldn't do it. We told him he looked beautiful. If we had said ONLY GIRLS WEAR THAT TAKE IT OFF wouldn't we have encouraged him to imagine that he must be a girl himself if he enjoys wearing that tiara? Is that too simplistic?

The little boy in the story seems pretty extreme, though. The obnoxiously feminine self-portraits seem pretty telling.

The Toronto therapist brings up a tricksy point; what if the gender acting out is really a way to express a sense of being different, and gender is the only way children know how to communicate it?
posted by Hildegarde at 5:13 AM on October 27, 2008


The article mentioned a few children born female who were male-identified, but, generally, it seems the focus is on born male children. Always.

I go back and forth on if that is because male children are valued more or because it is a little easier to be a "tomboy" than a "sissy."
posted by QIbHom at 5:17 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


ewkpates: Don't conflate the questions. This is challenging enough problem as it is. We need science and thoughtfulness rather than a willingness to let 4 year olds decide what kind of clinical help, if any, they need.

Well, that's the thing. I think that the people who are spending thousands of dollars and years wrestling with these issues are approaching this with a great deal of thought. And as was shown in the NPR piece earlier, the therapists recommending postponing puberty are, in fact, quite aware of that some of the children they work with are feminine boys, masculine girls or kids just going through a phase. And its not as if children must start puberty at age 9. The onset of puberty has jumped back over the last 50 years. Postponing puberty puts off some critical decisions that involve some non-trivial and painful surgery until the child is older.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:57 AM on October 27, 2008


Related? Gay Scientists Isolate the "Christian" Gene
posted by spock at 5:58 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


NPR had a story on two families' approach to this, back in May.
posted by spock at 6:01 AM on October 27, 2008


Dressing and behaving as if you're the other sex is relatively easily reversible.

I have a fairly close relative who lives in a very conservative state. My whole life I've heard that I am his spitting image in appearance, mannerisms and even voice. However there is a difference. He's lived the last 60 years of his life with a dark secret. He likes to dress in women's clothing when in private and act like a woman in private. He is not gay, not at all. He is not interested in becoming a woman in public, not at all. He is a transvestite and not a transexual. His (conservative Christian) wife has left him. His children hardly speak to him at all. He's quit working. He won't take calls from friends or relatives, even ones offering him support and understanding. All he does is lie on the couch and drink and wait for his death, which, at the rate he drinks and smokes and lies on the couch in filth, will not be long.

If it was simple to reverse even this behavior, my relative would not be in the middle of a slow suicide right now.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:14 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


When I was 6 or 7, I remember thinking/wishing I would grow up to be a boy (I am female). And why wouldn't I? My father got to go to work and travel instead of staying home with the kids, and my brothers got to run around shirtless, play with pocketknives and dirt, and never got in trouble for being loud and boisterous. Bad behavior on their part was winked at as, "boys will be boys." Aggression was leadership instead of "bossiness", smarts was "unlimited potential" instead of "little miss know it all"; they got to stay out later and do more dangerous things, I preferred running around and making mud-and-stick castles to playing with dolls, and I didn't particularly enjoy hearing about how girls were in constant danger of "bad touch" by strangers or even relatives. It was often remarked (not kindly) that I was more of a boy than my brothers. The way I talked, played, interacted with groups, my mannerisms and interests, even the pitch and volume of my voice...with a short enough haircut, you would have mistaken me for a boy. And again, that's what I would have wanted to grow up to be, if wishes were granted.

Was I transgendered, or did I envy male privilege and (correctly) figure my personality, basic temperament, and interests would be better tolerated/nurtured if I had been "John" instead of "Jane"? Should I have been allowed to change my actual gender--by harming my body and setting me up for potential health problems--or should it have been recognized that there are "male" women, and "female" men, and that you don't have to cross-dress and go by a different name to play with a different set of toys, display a different kind of temperament, embrace a different level of grooming regimen?

I see toddler boys all the time who are allowed to run around in public with long hair and mommy's nailpolish and dolls (granted, I live in godless, satanic "fake America"). Do we tell them that they eventually have to change their bodies to continue to enjoy sparkly things, high maintenance grooming, or playing "parent and child" games with soft toys?

I understand that the diagnostic criteria for true transgender status involves going beyond "tomboy" or "sissy" or even the more enlightened "genderqueer" and requires feeling deeply dissociated from your physical body, not just your assigned gender role. But how easy is it to determine this in a prepubescent kid? I would have insisted I had the brain and heart of a boy/man (and I didn't outgrow this) and should have grown up to be male so my body would match my mind-- but I also grew into a woman who greatly enjoys heterosexual sex with the parts I have, and am glad I didn't stunt or remove any secondary sex features. It makes me sad to think of mutilating/punishing my body for not matching my brain-- which means I'm not truly transgendered. But how easy would it have been for medical professionals to make this distinction in elementary or even middle school? Should I have adopted a male name and suppressed any pubescent development until the situation became more clear? As someone who turned out to not be truly transgendered, could I have even learned that it was OK to be a "butch" straight woman--that I didn't have to cut my breasts off to be who I was, and there was even something wonderful in that kind of diversity--if I had spent those years having it reinforced that I needed to be a boy to act like one?
posted by availablelight at 6:16 AM on October 27, 2008 [45 favorites]


article is rather good and actually very balanhced. and discusses pretty much everything said in this thread - and more.
posted by mary8nne at 6:21 AM on October 27, 2008


boys all the time who are allowed to run around in public with long hair and mommy's nailpolish

At various times in my life I've sported long hair and earrings and I know plenty of other grown men who've done the same and who've worn nailpolish and eyeliner, and none of them have said that they want to be girls, many of them would be consideed 'butch' men in a lot of ways. All this theorizing is complicated by the fact that cultural gender signifiers seem to be flexible.
posted by jonmc at 6:22 AM on October 27, 2008


If anyone's interested, I am transgendered/intersexed. But I can't really think of anything to add to the discussion at this time.

I ended up sticking with my raised-as gender (masculine) as the one I present at work or during normal social discourse. Generally I come off as a little effeminate sometimes, depending on the context, but I pretty much try not to think about it anyhow.

It's really no one's business but my own (although any marriage I got involved in would be invalid in Texas).
posted by kalessin at 6:23 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It can't just be Silence of the Lambs in my head, can it?

You tell us, Clarice. (Do you picture yourself more of a Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore type?)
posted by Pollomacho at 6:26 AM on October 27, 2008


"boys all the time who are allowed to run around in public with long hair and mommy's nailpolish"

At various times in my life I've sported long hair and earrings and I know plenty of other grown men who've done the same and who've worn nailpolish and eyeliner, and none of them have said that they want to be girls, many of them would be consideed 'butch' men in a lot of ways. All this theorizing is complicated by the fact that cultural gender signifiers seem to be flexible.

posted by jonmc at 9:22 AM on October 27 [+] [!]

These aren't goth, punk rock, death metal or pirate toddlers I'm referring to....they include kids I know personally who wear Mom's sparkle polish because they love Mommie and want to wear the same things as her (just like I'd walk around in my dad's work boots), and want to play "baby" with dolls. They're not wearing the long, flowing locks to look like Alice Cooper either.
posted by availablelight at 6:32 AM on October 27, 2008


"The article mentioned a few children born female who were male-identified, but, generally, it seems the focus is on born male children. Always."

I always felt that this made a stronger case for the genetic and epigenetic basis for all the variations of self-identity.

All fetuses start out as generically female, and then undergo changes due to certain hormones at certain times in development. Those hormones are only coded by the Y chromosone, which [genetically XX] women lack. The reverse is not true, and men still possess the X chromosone for all other hormones. Some of those Y chromosone hormones code for the development of gonads instead of ovaries, while others [like androgen] cause the transition of most of the rest of the body to include certain bone structures and the development of a penis from the clitoris.

When something is wrong with an X chromosone on a woman, there is still another X to balance things out. With men, anything wrong with either chromosone will be more likely to make a difference. Just looking at issues with the Y chromosone, there's a whole spectrum of possibilities for things that can change. These range from a genetic male who is physically female [aka Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome], to various forms of hermaphrotism. Who's to say that it couldn't cause neurological differences, too?

When you add in epigenetics (which is still a developing field of study), things get even stranger. There are studies that show an increased statistical likelihood of male homosexuality that is directly proportional to the number of male children born before that individual. Given all of this, born male children would be expected to dominate the landscape for these questions.
posted by mystyk at 6:34 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


@Citizen Premier

The difference being that homosexuality requires no interference on the part of the parents, except perhaps a modified version on the birds and bees lecture with an emphasis on avoiding bigots for your safety. Transgendered children suggests changes in parenting up to suspending your offspring's passage through puberty, and making sure the school system is prepared to deal with little Veronica's insistence that he's now Vincent, and that putting him on the girls' team was gross.

The problem also comes from fear that overzealous parents will take a brief dabbling in the roles of another gender too seriously, either to panic when Veronica spends all the time hitting action men with trucks, and rush her to therapy, or to repaint Vincent's room in pale rose and ballerinas because his favourite activity is telling everyone that his babydoll made a poo. It also raises the issue of what is being male, female or neither and what is acting like a healthy human being. After all, when you're an adult, the little stuff we assign to gender is seen as personal choice, and not a reflection on the hardware you should have been issued. The trappings of gender are not the gender, which is why Iran’s state supplied sex changes for gays is seen as dubious in some circles.

For example I was born content with my biologically female bits, had an absent father and two gender ambiguous signalling females caring for me from 0-5. I strongly resisted my mother dressing me as a boy (she didn’t think it trumped female to send me out in a boy’s sailor costume, despite my protests that I was a pink loving princess). On the other hand I built factories out of my blocks and adored toy weapons. I spent my childhood playing ‘Princess’ as a war game and ‘guns’ with the neighbourhood boys, and these days, after dabbling with cross dressing fedoras n’ suits in my adolescence, I’m a very femme (mildly) bisexual domme-switch who likes to fence.

And then there’s my friend N, who’s content with his male hardware, but not being a ‘man’. For him, normal heterosexual men are stupid and scary, are he indentifies more strongly as a woman, even if he still keeps a male name and pronouns. Cousin L is a mother of one child, broke up with her girlfriend when she decided to lean male, and changed her mind, leaving herself a butch lesbian with piercings. Some people have no gender at all, and suffer frustration that they have to pick one to please the public. It’s bloody complicated, so presented with a child who claimed the opposite gender, I’d humour them to the extent my mother humoured my childhood uber-femme identity, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable suspending my child’s puberty, anymore than I would buying them breast implants if they felt that as a 16 year old A cup they were under represented, or a nose job because they didn’t like that my genetics run beaky. Anything else is just window dressing, and Veronica/Vincent can have as many dolls and trucks as they want.

Of course I'd have the same problems if an offspring decided they were a handicapped person trapped in an intact body (for example with a revulsion for having legs), or an otherkin or an alien or any other identity label that might grow and bloom in their heads.
posted by Phalene at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


Man, I read this article last week--it's fantastic.

Just yesterday I was thinking about posting it but assumed this is where I'd seen it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2008


availablelight: I know. I was just sort of making the tangential point that in, say, 1950, a dude with shoulder legnth hair and rings in his ears meant 'drag queen.' Today, it just means a guy with long hair and earrings. So what culturally signifies 'masculine' and 'feminine' seems to change over time some.
posted by jonmc at 6:38 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


availiblelight: As someone who turned out to not be truly transgendered, could I have even learned that it was OK to be a "butch" straight woman--that I didn't have to cut my breasts off to be who I was, and there was even something wonderful in that kind of diversity--if I had spent those years having it reinforced that I needed to be a boy to act like one?

As far as I can tell, the people who are treating transgender kids as transgender rather than as confused kids that need to be coerced into a gender role, are not at all reinforcing or enforcing the idea that you need to be a boy rather than act like one. The fact that puberty blockers are prescribed for a subset of kids for whom acceptance does not appear to be enough, does not mean that they are being prescribed for every gender-atypical child referred to them.

Now of course, the flip side of the coin is that there are a fair number of transgender and transsexual activists who are criticizing the "traditional narrative" or the "standard narrative" that ignores the fact that not all transwomen are stereotypically feminine, and not all transmen are stereotypically masculine. This article is a bit frustrating for conflating the two.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:41 AM on October 27, 2008


It's weird that the prevailing schools of thought when a preschool boy says he wants to be a girl are take away all of the girl things or agree that he's a girl. What about - helping him see that boys can wear pretty things and play with dolls yet still be boys? Of course there are transgendered people and this approach won't "solve" anything for those who are... but it makes sense as a starting place. It seems like the grownups in that story are all buying into the same rigid polarity around gender that is causing (some of) these kids distress in the first place.

I read the article in the magazine last week, and this was pretty much my reaction, too. I totally believe that some people are pretty much born with the certainty that they were given the wrong gender at conception -- they know as firmly at age five as they do at age fifty about what gender they "really" are. And for someone like that, the possibility of pre-adolescent hormone treatments has got to be an amazing gift.

But there's also a middle space, of kids who are kind of gender-queer or gender-flexible (I'm sure there are better terms to use); boys who like to dress like girls and act like girls and pee like girls... but who don't need that extra step of physical transformation into a female body.

Yet, at least in the few cases discussed in the article, that didn't appear to be an option, and that struck me as sad. I'm glad that the option is starting to appear of the early hormone blockers, but I also wish the option was there to just dress the way one wants and act the way one wants (be that butch or effeminate or whatever), without the need to force every kid into this binary A/B gender decision. It seems to me that "neither" or "both" or "two-thirds male, one-third female" should be perfectly acceptable answers here.
posted by Forktine at 6:44 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Phalene: I doubt that many parents are comfortable with suspending a child's puberty. But it actually seems to be a fairly conservative treatment option in that it postpones having to deal with the multitude of medical decision a transsexual person is forced to make.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:45 AM on October 27, 2008


~ Should I have been allowed to change my actual gender--by harming my body and setting me up for potential health problems--or should it have been recognized that there are "male" women, and "female" men, and that you don't have to cross-dress and go by a different name to play with a different set of toys, display a different kind of temperament, embrace a different level of grooming regimen?

When you are done with my exact thoughts, can I have them back, please?

In my opinion any hormone treatment that isn't medically needed being preformed on a child this age is some bizarre type of child abuse.

I will RTFA and leave a more detailed post, after I break my fast.
posted by paisley henosis at 6:50 AM on October 27, 2008


Does anyone remember an ad that Leslie Nielsen did a long long time ago (maybe for Coors), where, when asked about why he was wearing a tutu (or something) he said, "Sometimes, I just like to feel pretty."? I think that's why my favorite Halloween outfit is a non-over-the-top drag look. The double takes at parties are hilarious: "Hey she's not wearing a cos . . . waitaminnit." Plus, it's a great way to help the ladies wishing to explore their lesbian side but too scared to actually do it.

Why, no. I didn't read the article.
posted by whuppy at 6:50 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


How long do you use the hormone blockers to suppress puberty?

Until around 16. Then you use the cross hormones to bring on the characteristics of the opposite sex. And remember, if you just stop the hormone blockers at 16, the person will go right back to genetic puberty within months. So the beauty of the suppressant is not as a treatment but for prolonging the evaluation phase ... 'til a young person has greater ability for abstract reasoning. It buys you time without a tremendous fear of their body getting out of control. - Dr. Norman Spack on NPR
That article also discusses some of the diagnostics that children go through before they even are considered for puberty-blocking drugs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:56 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the people who are treating transgender kids as transgender rather than as confused kids that need to be coerced into a gender role, are not at all reinforcing or enforcing the idea that you need to be a boy rather than act like one. The fact that puberty blockers are prescribed for a subset of kids for whom acceptance does not appear to be enough, does not mean that they are being prescribed for every gender-atypical child referred to them.

I guess my point was that, as a little kid, I was the one conflating gender roles and "mental gender" with biological gender, and if you had asked ME whether or not I wanted to be a biological male, or should have been a biological male, my answer would have been a resounding YES PLEASE PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME GROW UP TO BE A YUCKY GIRL AND HAVE TO BE OR LOOK LIKE THAT. I have little doubt this preference would have been accepted at face value: I had all the characteristics (still do) of someone with a "male brain", "male personality", etc....I even have longer index fingers than ring fingers, if we want to talk evo-bio psychology.

My personality and gender identity hasn't changed, but at a certain point after my early 20s, I discovered that I was happy with my body as is, regardless of whether anyone else thought it "matched" (and despite that fact that, if I presented as male, I probably would have greater acceptance in many areas). On a literal level, I'm glad I didn't do anything to alter the sexual functioning I turned out to enjoy--on a philosophical level, I'm glad I present to folks as a physical woman who is comfortable acting any way she damn well pleases, even if it's confusing or even offensive to folks with certain ideas of what a woman should be. (It helps that, as a grown up, I can pick and choose many of my associates, and where I choose to live--something else that a small child trapped in public schooling can't imagine any more than eventual sexual turn-ons.)

I do agree that the article could have explored that fact that gender does not conflate with sexuality even among folks who ARE medically transgendered....many MTFs prefer to date women, and there are FTMs who prefer men.
posted by availablelight at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2008


When I was a child I played with tea sets and with G. I. Joe. What did I want to be when I grew up? The Batmobile. I turned out fine.

I have no one-size-fits-all answer for parents or for 'questioning youth.'
posted by eccnineten at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


CORRECTION: That should have read, "I have have larger RING fingers than INDEX fingers."
posted by availablelight at 7:07 AM on October 27, 2008


My son seems to be a pretty standard male. He recently he had to go to a speech therapist. And while I thought she was going to help him with enunciation, she was partly concerned when he didn't clearly identify a doll as a boy or girl. For one thing, the doll was not wearing a dress or sporting a mustache so it could have been either, and for two, he's three, and we don't spend a lot of time discussing gender differences with him, because it just doesn't come up that much. He would much rather discuss a) motorcycles and b) monsters.

And I *like* that, I like that "being a boy not a girl" is not high on his agenda, because I don't regard that as something he has to be taught. But apparently just not being overly concerned with gender now makes you a non-normal three year old.
posted by emjaybee at 7:18 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


availablelight: I guess my point was that, as a little kid, I was the one conflating gender roles and "mental gender" with biological gender, and if you had asked ME whether or not I wanted to be a biological male, or should have been a biological male, my answer would have been a resounding YES PLEASE PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME GROW UP TO BE A YUCKY GIRL AND HAVE TO BE OR LOOK LIKE THAT. I have little doubt this preference would have been accepted at face value: I had all the characteristics (still do) of someone with a "male brain", "male personality", etc....I even have longer index fingers than ring fingers, if we want to talk evo-bio psychology.

What I'm reading here, is a rather disturbing idea that all gender-atypical kids are being shoehorned into puberty-blocking treatments and future SRS.

Would your preference be taken at face value? Sure, I don't see a reason why it shouldn't be, regardless of whether that means becoming comfortable with your biological gender or changing your gender.

Would you be recommended for puberty-blocking treatments? Not without some fairly extensive interviews and testing that seem to be pretty conservative when it comes to those recommendations.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:24 AM on October 27, 2008


I watched a compelling episode of 20/20 this summer which I found moving and touching:

'I'm a Girl' -- Understanding Transgender Children
"Last year Barbara Walters spoke with the families of three transgender children who agreed to share their story. Now, one year later, "20/20" has reached out to the families again to learn what's happened since the original episode aired. All three families said that the story helped change their world for the better. Advocacy groups also report a significant surge in young transgenders coming out. [more]"
7 year old Jazz's thoughts on being a transgender child -- video clip.

TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation.
posted by ericb at 7:28 AM on October 27, 2008


The parents seem to be trying very hard to make good decisions about something that is very foreign to their world. I'm pretty impressed with their desire to learn and their care for their child. I don't think there's enough research to support or disprove their choices, and I don't envy them the task.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on October 27, 2008



What I'm reading here, is a rather disturbing idea that all gender-atypical kids are being shoehorned into puberty-blocking treatments and future SRS.

posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:24 AM on October 27 [+] [!]

You're very much misreading my comments, then--I'm not suggesting anything like that, just bringing up a single anecdotal data point (myself), where true, medical transgender status couldn't have been properly differentiated in my case until past the age of 18. I'm not the strawman you're picturing me to be.

Accusing anyone (including folks like myself who believe that transgenderism exists as a legitimate, treatment-worthy medical condition) who expresses reservations about the ease and validity of early childhood identification/intervention of transgenderism of believing that "all gender-atypical kids [will be] shoehorned into puberty-blocking treatments and future SRS" isn't helpful.
posted by availablelight at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2008


availablelight: The problem is, I think just about everyone involved in this issue shares similar reservations.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2008


The article mentioned a few children born female who were male-identified, but, generally, it seems the focus is on born male children. Always.

I go back and forth on if that is because male children are valued more or because it is a little easier to be a "tomboy" than a "sissy."


Part of it is definitely that, but a lot of it is because these things are just more prevalent among men than women. In sex research, homosexuality and transgenderism are considered paraphilias (yes, so is foot fetishism, bestiality, sadism/masochism, and most everything else), and the simple fact is that all paraphilias are more common in males than in females. mystyk pointed out some of the reasons why. One of the evolutionary theories is that since throughout evolutionary history males have competed with each other to be chosen as mate (whereas females choose among the competing males) it has benefited males to have a broader range of sexual expression - gives them a competitive edge, making them evolutionarily fitter. Sometimes this range goes beyond what might help them reproduce.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:52 AM on October 27, 2008


Ok I read the article and seriously? What kid seriously knows the difference between genders this well at such a young age? And how does he know what a naked girl looks like enough to do a silence of the lamb tuck job? When I was 3-5ish you could ask me what a girl looks like without clothes and I wouldn't have been able to answer you. Also kids under the age of reason don't know what they want. If he was 16 and saying this then yes by all means he knows what he wants. But right now, today he wants to be a girl, tomorrow he'll want to be a fire fighter. Also why would anyone make puberty-blocking drugs? What parent would consider giving their kid these drugs? I agree with paisley, that would be a form of child abuse. Interesting post to say the least.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2008


Also why would anyone make puberty-blocking drugs?

Parents who want to give themselves and their kids more time to figure out what's what. When the drugs stop, puberty starts; their effects aren't permanent. How is this abuse? Is it less abusive to keep your kid suicidally depressed as s/he enters puberty in the "wrong" body?
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I must also make sure to point out that:

Sex is biological sex, and when not applied to intersex folks (i.e. when applied to conventional biology folks), sex terminology maps thusly: male = XY sex chromosomes, with both primary (genitals) and secondary (musculature, fat deposits, lack of or minimal moobs, etc.) sex characteristics; female = XX sex chromoxomes, with both primary (genitals) and secondary (musculature, fat deposits, boobs, etc.) sex characteristics. These aspects can be difficult to engineer, re-engineer or reassign, though many are possible to change with modern surgical and hormone-based treatments - they usually require some intervention by medical professionals at one level or another.

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct and is a mix of different perceptions of ourselves - performative (conscious and unconscious), appearance or other-perception-related (makeup, clothing, haircuts, facial hair, vocal style/tone, smell, posture, etc.) and behavioral (dominance games, conversational style, posture, etc.) that all sum up to what folks interpret about us and our gender identity. Terminology here is: man ~ masculine = presenting your gender in a majority masculine way; woman ~ feminine = presenting your gender in a majority feminine way.

The really tricky part about social interpretation of gender that a lot of male to female transsexuals deal with is that it turns out that folks in America tend to make masculine gender indicators be much more forceful than feminine ones, to the order of about 2 or 3 to 1, so say you are presenting 4 or 5 feminine indicators (i.e. dress, voice, hair, makeup, clothing) but you have really strong 5 o'clock shadow and you still haven't learned to walk in heels. Yet you are required by your psychiatrist to live as a woman. Likely folks will twig to your transsexualism (which can result in violence).
posted by kalessin at 8:39 AM on October 27, 2008


I wish my puberty had been delayed - it would have saved on teasing in grade six. And I would be taller. The delay of puberty isn't a major issue - it is reversable, and not damaging to the child's future physical health (and in the case of early puberty might actually help them).

More concerning is the issue of reinforcing an identity which may or may not be the child's final identity. While I found the Toronto doctor's approach to be somewhat closeminded (and he highlights his successes, but not potential problems), Green's research does suggest that children can experiment with gender identity without necessarily feeling transgendered later in life. So parents really do have a difficult choice - choosing to act on a child's expressed desire to change gender might make them much happier and more confident later in life, or it might make things more difficult for them (because making the physical change is difficult and fraught with problems). I supose that is actually a dilemna all parents face, all the time, but it's more pressing in these cases.

My husband has been wondering about the relationship between transgender and the strength of gender idenities in a given subculture. Are people more likely to be transgender when gender roles are more strongly defined and reinforced? Certainly, I have wondered at times whether I had transgendered tendancies - I read books about girls who disguised themselves as boys, and I always wanted to be doing what the boys were. If I were raised in a traditionally gendered family, rather than a rather liberal environment, I think I might have been very unhappy with my assigned gender role and begin to strongly believe that I should be male. But I'm not transgendered - though my gender identity is not as strong as some, I'm happy being female, so long as that female gender isn't a strongly defined role. I don't think I could have been a happy female in an Amish community, for instance, or even in many conservative Christian communities, though I like long hair and long skirts. But I also like shaving my head and wearing men's clothes, and would rather work outside on a farm than inside.

I think that research on gender and gender identity has a long way to go - and will continually change even as our society and how gender is constructed changes. Sex is biological - and I fully believe that gender/sex identity has biological and instinctual components - but other aspects of gender are social and how one's biological instincts are expressed is constantly shaped through social expectations and norms. Gender identity among many western subcultures has become more flexible for women than for men, but will eventually become more flexible for men as well. How will this affect who feels transgendered? Will some who might feel transgendered under one gender regime not feel transgendered under another, more flexible gender construct? Will more people feel gender-flexible or gender-vague, while others continue to have strong gender identity?
posted by jb at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2008


Ok, I read the article, finally. 5 pages in The Atlantic is a lot longer than 5 pages in The New Yorker, and for some stupid reason that surprised me. Out of the whole article, this is the part that stood out the most to me:

Zucker’s belief is that with enough therapy, such children can be made to feel comfortable in their birth sex. Zucker has compared young children who believe they are meant to live as the other sex to people who want to amputate healthy limbs, or who believe they are cats, or those with something called ethnic-identity disorder. “If a 5-year-old black kid came into the clinic and said he wanted to be white, would we endorse that?” he told me. “I don’t think so. What we would want to do is say, ‘What’s going on with this kid that’s making him feel that it would be better to be white?’”

Now, for me, what consenting adults do with or to their bodies, what they put into or take out of them, that is up to them, ethically speaking. It may be indicative of other issues or moral dilemmas, but smoking pot or being gay or whatever else doesn't make you a bad person any more than it makes you a good one.

Children, however, are not consenting adults. They shouldn't be made responsible for decisions of this weight anymore than they should be responsible for what happens if you let an 8 year old drive a car.

No one should have to live the rest of their lives under the shadow of something that sounded awesome when they were 7.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:51 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


A few kids I grew up with in Silicon Valley were somewhere in the middle on the gender spectrum, and reading this article tickles my memories of them. I ran into one of them recently, and he (of the XY variety) was about to get married to another guy in short order in case California's Proposition 8 passes. I asked him if he ever thought about how he used to want to be a girl when we were in middle school, and he said sure, sometimes he gets those urges and even acts on them. But he pointed out something I think is very relevant to this discussion: nature employs negative feedback loops in all kinds of systems, and many of them are very long-lived. Aberrant patterns that suddenly appear in a natural system with no sign of a cyclical presence are a bit suspicious.

When he feels like playing pretty little princess, there are places around here he can do that and then the urge goes away. He told me that when he was a kid, his parents eventually decided that he wasn't that serious about his gender identity crisis -- just a little fruity -- and he's glad that he didn't transition.

The article mentions that the spectre of Fantabulous Homosexuality does taint the transsexual discussion. The juxtaposition of that and thinking about my friend makes me wonder if it will ever be normal for a gender confused pre-adolescent child to seriously consider the lack of their preferred sexual activity as something they might miss if they transition. Even weirder, the committee that would have to develop guidance to therapists who are trying to diagnose such a child might have to come up with suggestions on how to determine the child's preferred sexual activities and then my imagination breaks down when it tries to picture the look on the parents' faces.

On the other hand, one of the girls in my high school was the same person as one of the guys in my junior high school, and the school district quietly showed what I'm told was a very nice explanatory presentation to some of the parents who would be involved in the switcharoo. I was simply told that she was using a different first name now and everything I saw indicated that this new fact was accepted without incident (although I just remembered as I'm typing this that someone did get yelled at for asking why they can't wear dresses too.)

In fact, she was so unremarkable in general that I don't think anyone gave it a second thought until she started growing a pair of very nice sweater puppies earlier than usual and then there was a lot of staring that didn't have anything to do with what was between her legs. I think this says something about the culture here, but I'm not sure what.
posted by thalakan at 9:05 AM on October 27, 2008


Again I agree with Paisley here. An adult makes an educated decision and wants to be whatever, that is their adult decision. God bless them, I hope they are happy. However a child at the age of 7ish cannot have the mental capacity to make a life altering choice. As for weird child abuse because of puberty stopping drugs, maybe abuse is the wrong wording. However for a parent to cater to a kid that way could be abuse in an indirect way. If a child really really wanted to become a dog, should the parents cater to that? I'm sorry but for the time being, a kid should just be a kid until the time comes when they are adults can make an intelligent and informed life altering decision.

Also I don't know the side effects of blocking puberty. Does the child grow at a normal rate?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 9:09 AM on October 27, 2008


You tell us, Clarice. (Do you picture yourself more of a Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore type?)

What kind of trouble will I be in if I say that Jodie Foster is pretty hot? Good god WHAT AM I?
posted by rokusan at 9:19 AM on October 27, 2008


Don't conflate the questions... transgender does not equal Gay does not equal Lesbian does not equal Post Menopausal does not equal the ERA does not equal Women's Suffrage.

Looks like the bad time of the month for someone! ;)

This is a messed-up enough issue without tangling so many other things into it, though. They probably get confused because you can legally shoot any or all of those in Texas.
posted by rokusan at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2008


I ran into one of them recently, and he (of the XY variety) was about to get married to another guy in short order in case California's Proposition 8 passes.

Yeah, you might want to call him about that. Proposition 8 bans same-sex marriage, which is currently legal there.
posted by topynate at 9:26 AM on October 27, 2008


Also I don't know the side effects of blocking puberty. Does the child grow at a normal rate?

While the child is on the drugs, they don't go through puberty. When they stop taking the drugs, they enter puberty. That's it.

I don't see how putting your potentially transgender kid on puberty-blocking drugs is "catering" to them - it's simply delaying puberty for a while, so that the kid has time, and the parents have time, to think and feel and cry and have therapy and all that. Kids who really believe they were born in the "wrong" body can undergo horrendously damaging psychological and emotional stuff when puberty hormones hit. Putting them on the blocking drugs does not mean that surgery is next. It's a delaying mechanism.

You should really listen to/read the NPR piece linked above.
posted by rtha at 9:31 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


If these kids were actually taking opposite-gender hormones, I would have a problem with this, but as it is, they're just delaying something that can easily be restarted. Lots of people go through puberty late.

As for all those who are saying that they liked the idea of being the opposite gender as a kid- I'm pretty sure your experience was significantly different from that of actual transgender people. At what age did you stop feeling that way? Did you feel constantly disgusted by your own body? Were you shocked when people told you what gender you were? There are a host of issues that come up for transgender people which have nothing to do with tomboyishness/being a girly boy. It takes an enormous amount of psychological evaluation to even be prescribed hormone pills in the first place, and they would never do it until late in one's teens, at least. All this therapy does is buy time until it can be determined if the person is really transgender; it doesn't itself alter the gender at all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:39 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm disappointed with the amount of "Oh yeah? Well, I pretended to be a _____ when I was a kid, hurf durf," responses in here. They seem to convey a serious inability or unwillingness to consider a mindset that you don't have an inherent understanding of. Some ideas and people are outside of one's ability to adequately relate to them. It's harder to accept that and try to learn more about them than it is to tackle the situation as it relates to you personally, but that shouldn't stop you from trying.

When it comes to gender and sexuality, becoming comfortable in our own skins and with our own issues requires us to take a great deal for granted. Instead of thinking back to the harmless, nonconfusing time you may have slipped on your sister's dress out of curiosity, try to recall a time when you felt a seriously threatening sense of sexual confusion, no matter how ordinary or heteronormative the circumstances. Now imagine that time spanning across years, and becoming something that marks you and makes you visibly different from everyone around you. That's what these children and families are dealing with.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 9:40 AM on October 27, 2008 [9 favorites]


paisley henosis: Now, for me, what consenting adults do with or to their bodies, what they put into or take out of them, that is up to them, ethically speaking. It may be indicative of other issues or moral dilemmas, but smoking pot or being gay or whatever else doesn't make you a bad person any more than it makes you a good one.

Children, however, are not consenting adults. They shouldn't be made responsible for decisions of this weight anymore than they should be responsible for what happens if you let an 8 year old drive a car.


Well, the other side of the story is that many transsexual and transgendered people knew their internal sense of self didn't match their bodies or the gender roles that were imposed on them from a very young age. Where Zucker misses is that one of those things is not like the other, and there is a good bit of evidence behind the notion that sexual and gender identities are, if not entirely inborn, strongly shaped in early childhood.

No one should have to live the rest of their lives under the shadow of something that sounded awesome when they were 7.

And the difference is that we are not talking about my niece who spent six months pretending to be a cat. We are talking about something that's only considered after years of introspection, debate, therapy and batteries of diagnostic tests. And the treatment advocated here is temporary, reversible, and allows the family to postpone some critical decisions until the child is 15-16.

At that point in time, if the kid decides it was just a phase, puberty goes ahead well within the range of normal sexual development.

But, here is a critical problem. If the teen is transsexual, (and just about every transsexual person I know point out that getting support for transition is extremely difficult, especially if one is not stereotypically heterosexual and masculine/feminine) then the effects of puberty will require a mess of expensive and painful surgery.

Mastercheddar: If a child really really wanted to become a dog, should the parents cater to that? I'm sorry but for the time being, a kid should just be a kid until the time comes when they are adults can make an intelligent and informed life altering decision.

Apples and oranges. We have a lot of strong, but indirect evidence that human brains are gendered to some extent. (Although this is more likely to be a range than a hard gender dimorphism.) We have no such indications that wanting to be a dog is at all similar.

At least in our current culture, a kid just can't be a kid. We grow up immersed in a gendered culture with arbitrary rules that some of struggle to understand, and others obviously reject.

All of this hysteria regarding kids being pressured into transsexuality would be funny if it were not for the fact that the standards of care for transsexuality are deliberately strict to avoid misdiagnosis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:41 AM on October 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


First off, great article.

Some stories from friends of mine from college. I'm a boring heterosexual male, but I was friends with several people who were at various places along the gender spectrum.

B. who has changed her name to something else (we aren't as close as we were in college) once told me how frustrated she was with her voice. I had commented how (this was before her transition, when she was, for lack of a better term "practicing") her voice was really breathy when she was a woman. She said that during high school she had forced her voice into the lower registers, given herself a deeper voice to avoid being teased by the other boys at her school (she grew up in rural OR). Now that she was finally transitioning to a woman, she wished she could get back her old voice. I know that if she had known and given a choice, she would have wanted to delay puberty and help save herself from the headache.

My friend T. is FtM transgendered (I actually lost a girlfriend to him, but that's another story...). He's opted not to take testosterone or any other hormones, as he thinks (and not without due cause I think) that they'd shorten his life. He told me that everyone who matters knows he's a man, and that's what matters. I think part of it also is that reassignment surgery for women to men is (in the words of our mutual ex) at the Wright Brothers stage, while male to female reassignment surgery is nineteen fifties Detroit. Not unsubtle, but it does get the job done, versus something that's likely to crash after traversing less than the wingspan of a 747.

My last friend on the spectrum is D. She's interesting, and perhaps the best argument that I know of for the existence of more than one gender. Physically, she's male and I doubt she'll change that. But she does wear dresses a bit and thinks of herself as female. She has some identity issues with facial hair growth. I don't know where she considers herself, but in my mind, while I use a female pronoun to write and talk about her, I consider her somewhere between male and female. I don't know if this is wrong of me, it's not something I've ever actually talked to her about.

Sexually, B is bi with lesbian leanings, J is straight (he's attracted only to women) and I'm not sure about D. (I know she's attracted to women, but I don't know about men). There's a whole level of problems between parts of the radical feminist movement and transpeople, most notably FtM men. That's outside of the scope of this discussion, but it's worth knowing that the LGBT movement is not necessarily unified on this issue. (The Michigan Womyn Music Festival just changed their policy of allowing only people who were born female in.)

As to what this has to do with the article: I think that the decision about hormone blockers should be made at as late a stage as possible by the child. I know one friend who would have liked them, another who would probably have taken them and then regretted it and I'm not sure about a third. And all three are transgendered. But I do think offering the option is a good one. And allowing kids to identify earlier is positive. But I think that each and every case requires some serious work to figure out what is appropriate or not. Broad generalizations either way will cause more harm than good.

(On a final note, as this is going on too long already, I think some discussion about gender versus physical sex should occur, but I'm not the one to start it, at least not here.)

On preview, KirkJobSluder has an excellent point. The amount of therapy and practice B. had to go through was enormous before she was allowed to start hormones, let alone get surgery. I know misdiagnoses do happen, but with reassignment, they do everything they can to avoid them.
posted by Hactar at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel like "gender reassignment surgery" is a name that gives medical technology more credit than it deserves. It's no more a "gender reassignment" than a facelift is an "age reassignment" or a drastic rhinoplasty is an "ethnicity reassignment".
posted by specialfriend at 10:31 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


As for all those who are saying that they liked the idea of being the opposite gender as a kid- I'm pretty sure your experience was significantly different from that of actual transgender people.

A friend of mine grew up desperately believing that when she grew up she would be a man. From the age of three onward (at least, that's as early as she remembers) she would stuff a teddy bear down her pants to try to feel like she had a penis. She was deeply disgusted by the fact that she had a vagina instead. She called herself by a boy's name and requested that everyone else call her that as well. Her family was tolerant, but not exactly supportive. Her mom let her wear whatever she wanted and play with whatever she wanted, but stopped short at calling her by a boy's name. Eventually she grew out of it and is now a happily adjusted lesbian.

I asked her about this article and she said that if the drugs had been available, she would definitely have taken the hormone blockers, and if that had happened, she may have ended up FtM transgendered. As it is, she is happy she turned out gay instead of trans and thinks that she has a lot less baggage than she would have if things had turned out otherwise. Maybe there are some trans-ish kids who will, no matter what, turn out trans but others who could turn out either way. The problem is: how can you tell at 8 years old what would be the best for any particular child? If I give my kid the blocker, I am making it easier for them if transition does come, but what if the kid is one who might grow out of it? By giving them this opening, am I decreasing the chances they'll grow out of it? Am I making the outcome of full transition easier than it would otherwise be, or actually more likely than it otherwise be? Like I said, my friend is pretty sure she would have turned out trans if she had had more support, but is happy she outgrew it. Others, of course, will not outgrow it. How do you know? What can you do?
posted by arcticwoman at 10:34 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


I asked her about this article and she said that if the drugs had been available, she would definitely have taken the hormone blockers

We ought to try to give specialists the benefit of the doubt and consider that your friend might have wanted those hormones, but could just as likely have been denied them based on a professional clinical opinion.

I'm not operating under any delusions; I know what the suicide rate is for even successful FTM transsexuals. But these situations are case-by-case, and as long as they are genuinely treated as such by professionals, then I don't see a problem.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:38 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm much more interested in a rigorous diagnostic process that is repeatable, physical (say a PET scan), and has a high confidence interval. After that, go to town. I have little to no faith in paper tests - it's relatively simple to score how I might like on the Taylor-Johnson or Myers-Briggs. You can even game the MMPI a bit. And those online gender tests, not that hard - just play the "how would $gender respond?" game. Children are quite capable of that.

If swapping out the plumbing (and secondary sexual characteristics) were as without problem as a bellybutton piercing, this would not be an issue. As it stands now, however, this is Serious Business. The surgical road isn't exactly one-way (I recollect that one individual has had three SRSs), but it's not exactly reversible-without-issues. If there's hard data that "proves" (in as much as it can be proven) that a child has the wrong body, then by all means, start as early as possible.

This may sound chilly, and it probably is, but it could relieve at least a portion of the "God doesn't make mistakes" nonsense (the corollary of which is always "your suffering has a purpose you will not understand in this lifetime") from those people still at least vaguely in touch with science. I know there will be no spot on a printout where the doctor can circle with a Sharpie and say, "See there? Your son has an shrunken G.I. Joe Center and practically no Fissure of Chickdom." Nevertheless, having something physical to point to, however subtle and diffuse, would be better than relying on self-perception, which is notoriously unreliable in humans.
posted by adipocere at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


We ought to try to give specialists the benefit of the doubt and consider that your friend might have wanted those hormones, but could just as likely have been denied them based on a professional clinical opinion.

Sure that's possible, but I would say that it's about as probable as a kid like Brandon (from the story) being denied them. She did everything she could to live as a boy for several years. If any kid qualifies for those drugs, she would have.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2008


I feel like "gender reassignment surgery" is a name that gives medical technology more credit than it deserves. It's no more a "gender reassignment" than a facelift is an "age reassignment" or a drastic rhinoplasty is an "ethnicity reassignment".

Finally some sense here.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 10:57 AM on October 27, 2008


Adding to the neurochemistry of gender data: Lesbianism May Be Increased By Thyroxine And Amphetamine In Pregnancy
posted by nickyskye at 11:00 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to wonder how many people read the article.

~ Putting them on the blocking drugs does not mean that surgery is next. It's a delaying mechanism.

I fully understand this, but the article also says that: "no case of a child stopping the blockers and changing course has yet been reported." To me, that sounds like once the kids start on the puberty-blocking shots, 100% of them wind up continuing on the path to "gender reassignment." The shots themselves are a delaying mechanism, but it seems like they are also part of a positive feedback loop to reaffirm a decision made by 10-12 year olds.

~ And the difference is that we are not talking about my niece who spent six months pretending to be a cat. We are talking about something that's only considered after years of introspection, debate, therapy and batteries of diagnostic tests. And the treatment advocated here is temporary, reversible, and allows the family to postpone some critical decisions until the child is 15-16.

I'm fully aware, and I am not in the least trying to make that comparison; I hope you weren't trying to imply that I think the one thing is like the other, since I never said that.

The fact is that this isn't 'years of introspection, debate, therapy and batteries of tests,' it is, according to the article, a part time psychologist doing all of 4 hours of talking, which is sometimes skipped entirely. And, as far as I can tell, this 'screening' puts the children on a course from which none have actually changed their minds.

So this part time psych is either an absolute miracle worker, or there is something off about all this.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:06 AM on October 27, 2008


adiposcere: If swapping out the plumbing (and secondary sexual characteristics) were as without problem as a bellybutton piercing, this would not be an issue. As it stands now, however, this is Serious Business. The surgical road isn't exactly one-way (I recollect that one individual has had three SRSs), but it's not exactly reversible-without-issues. If there's hard data that "proves" (in as much as it can be proven) that a child has the wrong body, then by all means, start as early as possible.

No one is advocating irreversible surgery for children. In fact, the benefit of puberty-blockers is that they postpone irreversible changes until an adolescent can consider more permanent hormone therapies. And even those changes can be partially reversed. No one is proposing that Brandon be fast-tracked into vaginaplasty and breast implants at age 12.

paisley henosis: The fact is that this isn't 'years of introspection, debate, therapy and batteries of tests,' it is, according to the article, a part time psychologist doing all of 4 hours of talking, which is sometimes skipped entirely. And, as far as I can tell, this 'screening' puts the children on a course from which none have actually changed their minds.

That's a four-hour screening just to get in the door. The Netherlands study in which all of the children eventually transitioned had more selective protocols, and if you look down the article a bit, the Dutch study found that only 20%-25% of children opted to change genders at adolescence. The Portman Clinic published a study which showed that 80% of children treated did not go on to transition.

So again, it's most certainly not the case that children who show signs of gender non-conformity are being fast-tracked into either puberty-blocking drugs, hormone therapy, or SRS.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:30 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or to clarify it. Two clinics discussed:
The Dutch clinic which uses a through screening protocol over multiple sessions and reports no case of a person giving up on treatment. Although they do report that only 20-25% of patients do full-time transition.

The Spack clinic which uses the four-hour interview. (Although no mention is made as to whether his patients are referred from other therapists.)

It's not very responsible to conflate the two as if the clinic using a four-hour interview is reporting 100% transition.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:46 AM on October 27, 2008


Mastercheddaar: What kid seriously knows the difference between genders this well at such a young age?

Adi: And those online gender tests, not that hard - just play the "how would $gender respond?" game. Children are quite capable of that.

I agree completely with this latter assessment of children's abiloty to read and interpret gender cues. How can people forget that these little geniuses acculturate at a breakneck pace? It is mindblowing how much cultural learning children do. This must be especially true when their environments are chock-full of mediated representations of culture, and look at our culture! More sexually schizophrenic than ever - expressive/repressive. Binary/exploded. It is confusing, but kids catch right up to it. It's an open identity market.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:47 AM on October 27, 2008


I wasn't saying that people are advocating irreversible surgery for children (although, if you look up the tragic story of David Reimer, folks can be rather cavalier about the issue). I read the article. I "get" the puberty-blockers. But let us not kid ourselves about what comes after the puberty blockers, particularly after they become (relatively) commonplace.

I only argue that, in light of the potential consequences, a more rigorous testing method would better serve everyone, no matter what the age of the individual. It may be especially important given that children (and even adolescents) are less able to grasp the richness of the impact of these decisions (even the decision to postpone), but overall, it seems like a sound concept.
posted by adipocere at 11:56 AM on October 27, 2008


adipocere: Ok, we are in agreement.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:00 PM on October 27, 2008


Making these types of decisions at this young of an age worries me a lot because it fails to consider that many of these kids stand a good chance of finding happiness as either very masculine women or very feminine men. All while not altering their bodies or hormones. It also fails to account for the fact that puberty in and of itself may change how these kids feel about their bodies, their gender and their sexuality. I don't have any easy solution to offer here. I realize transsexuals are real and many know when they are young that they are in the wrong body. However, I don't think medical science is at the point where they can reliably say whether a 5 year old who likes high heels and says he's a girl is just going through a phase, will just be a very feminine man, will be gay, will be a cross dresser, or needs his male hormones blocked and an injection of estrogen so that he can convincingly live life as a woman one day.
posted by whoaali at 12:07 PM on October 27, 2008


"Today, the notion that gender is purely a social construction seems nearly as outmoded as bra-burning or free love."

This is the root of the error in thinking about transgenderism. Science doesn't support a genetic gender, only a genetic tendency in behavior that reflects social value. The male sex tends is chemically different than the female sex, more prone to aggression for example. As long as the social construct is that females can't be aggressive, then unagressive males and hyper aggressive females may be lead to wonder if they would be better off as the opposite sex.

The rush to judgement is alarming. Anything we do with children is alarming. Remember recovered memory therapy?
posted by ewkpates at 12:16 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


whoaali: However, I don't think medical science is at the point where they can reliably say whether a 5 year old who likes high heels and says he's a girl is just going through a phase, will just be a very feminine man, will be gay, will be a cross dresser, or needs his male hormones blocked and an injection of estrogen so that he can convincingly live life as a woman one day.

No one in the quoted articles is proposing that a young transwoman start on estrogen before the age of 16-17.

ewkpates: The rush to judgement is alarming. Anything we do with children is alarming. Remember recovered memory therapy?

As far as I can tell, the rush to judgement happens in discussions about this article. Just about everyone involved in the actual treatment and support of transgender children seems to be well aware of the concept that many transgender* children don't need full transition, and that the big decisions should be carefully considered.

Which, it seems like everyone is fixated on the concept of puberty-blocking and full transition, while I find these articles most interesting for the two very different concepts of how to treat transgender children. You have the conforming model and you have the permissive model. I'll stake the claim that Zucker's forced conformity probably isn't effective at preventing transsexuality, and likely has some serious drawbacks.

* (Using transgender in the broad sense to include genderqueer and gender non-conforming.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:31 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel like "gender reassignment surgery" is a name that gives medical technology more credit than it deserves. It's no more a "gender reassignment" than a facelift is an "age reassignment" or a drastic rhinoplasty is an "ethnicity reassignment".

Okay then, suggestions?


...many of these kids stand a good chance of finding happiness as either very masculine women or very feminine men.

I really do wonder whether these parents, who are grappling with the idea of transsexualism, wind up doing much thinking about genderqueer identities, and how that sort of information is presented to children.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 12:36 PM on October 27, 2008


As long as the social construct is that females can't be aggressive, then unagressive males and hyper aggressive females may be lead to wonder if they would be better off as the opposite sex.

As a total tomboy of a little girl, I certainly wondered (and sort of wanted to be, sometimes) if I would be better off as a boy. But I didn't believe I was a boy in spite of what my body told me. I wasn't, and am not, transgender. If I'd been born 20 years later, I might have gone the genderqueer route. As it is, I'm a butchy dyke, and happy this way. I get called sir a lot, which amuses me to no end, but some people just don't have eyes in their heads. Or, they're trying to be polite, because they think I'm FTM.
posted by rtha at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2008


~ It's not very responsible to conflate the two as if the clinic using a four-hour interview is reporting 100% transition.

You're right, it isn't. That was my mistake on reading, which I failed to catch when posting. Thanks for correcting me.

The Dutch clinic which uses a through screening protocol over multiple sessions and reports no case of a person giving up on treatment. Although they do report that only 20-25% of patients do full-time transition.

I know that you are correct, and that that is what the article says. Those facts seem to contradict one another, though, and it confuses me.

Just to clarify: I am not saying that no one should be able to have whatever elective surgery they feel that they need, nor am I saying that some people might not know from a very early age how they feel about certain things and never change their mind, while other people may have many differing ideas over a lifetime. I've known people who say they were gay before they could read, and I've known people who had to figure it out the hard way; I've know people who were deeply religious from early childhood and never wavered and others who became apostate or converts.

My worry stems from two facts:
One is that many medical professionals are more interested in the business they run than the ethics of their clients lives. I'm not pointing fingers at anyone in this article, but it is a true problem, and the more common these types of things get, the more room for human error or opportunism there will be. Psych meds for children and plastic surgery were both rare phenomena, once upon a time.
The second is the fact that many parents (again, no one specifically) set out to encourage their child or children in something that child expresses interest in, and wind up shoving that child down a path that they haven't been interested in in years. I know hormone therapy and massive surgery aren't the same as Little League, but it is something I worry about.
posted by paisley henosis at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2008


What an excellent article. It does make me wonder though, what would have happened if people around me had more readily embraced my stated wish (from memory to age 11) to get a Female-to-Male sex change. I had short hair, used the boys washroom, swam without a top until I was 12 and tried to go by a boy's name for a few years (to no avail). People asked my mother what her son would like for dinner, and I would smile, happy that my image reflected who I felt like- just one of the guys!

After puberty hit, I couldn't fight it. My body is a female. I still relate better with men, enjoy more 'male' endeavours, and am often considered insensitive by other women, but I am a woman. My penis envy turned into penis love, and I am happy as can be to have majorily hetero sex, although I identify as bisexual. I enjoy my body for what it's worth, and I wouldn't cut anything off or add some doctor's artwork to it evereverever.

It seems to me that we should just let kids be kids and quit trying to mold and harness their sexual and gender-identity.

Teach your child to love their body, and don't discourage their mind either. That's how you create an emotionally and physically healthy individual.
posted by sunshinesky at 2:10 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I want to comment and thank everyone in this thread for being civil, rational and open minded about a controversial and powerful topic that we're all still learning a lot about. And I'm pretty sure I want to thank everyone. I haven't read anything yet that was demeaning, attacking or stated from a position of fear or misunderstanding, much less outright bigotry.

It's threads like this that make me honored to be a member of MetaFilter.
posted by loquacious at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2008


Hear hear.

Proof that the stigma is lessening!
posted by sunshinesky at 2:45 PM on October 27, 2008


Great. So now we've got eight year-old boys who instead of running around saying "Girls? Ew!" are now running around saying "Me? Ew!" Thanks a bunch, science!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:55 PM on October 27, 2008


It's understandable for the parents to be freaked and want to change this, but if the kid is pushing that hard for it, then let it be.

I used to push hard for Omega Supreme, and my parents told me that when I got a job, I could buy it myself.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:01 PM on October 27, 2008


Play. Laugh. Grow.
posted by Restless Day at 3:03 PM on October 27, 2008


Kirkjobsluder: No one in the quoted articles is proposing that a young transwoman start on estrogen before the age of 16-17.

But they are talking about blocking puberty as early as age 10 and halting normal sexual development.
posted by whoaali at 3:11 PM on October 27, 2008


I think that part of the solution to the "problem" with children feeling compelled to fit into confined gender roles is for us, as a culture, to expand what those roles mean. Certainly this is an area that has improved quite a bit over the last few decades and is continuing to improve, but we can still do better. Gender exploration is totally normal for kids, as all of us who wore the clothes of/played with the toys with the other gender as kids can attest. I even changed my name to "Davey" when I was five years old because I wanted to be Davey Jones of the Monkees (which was currently being shown on Nickelodeon at that prime "just when I get home from school" time). I was a weird kid, and certainly in photos of me from ages 9-12, it's sometimes hard to tell if I was an ugly girl or... an ugly boy. Anyhoo.

The point that we should be making with kids is that boys CAN wear dresses. Girls CAN drive tanks. And if a male child wants to wear dresses for a year and be called Princess - there's no harm. Certainly it may cause a few giggles when his college friends find those photos in a few decades, but at least whatever his issues as an adult may be, feeling like his parents totally oppressed his gender expression won't be one of them.

Knowing transgender folk, I'm confident that the standards of care are stringent enough that no psychiatrist would allow for any kind of hormone treatment for a child who didn't fit the diagnostic criteria. Maybe mistakes would be made, but that's a decision that *should* be left to the families involved. I know that if I had a transgender child, I would do everything that I could to affirm his/her identity and make sure that first and foremost, s/he was a confident and sane individual first and a gendered individual second.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2008


whoaali: But they are talking about blocking puberty as early as age 10 and halting normal sexual development.

Puberty at age 16 is well within the range of "normal." And if the child is a strong candidate for the full legal and medical transition, minimizing some of the secondary sexual characteristics is a good thing.

grapefruitmoon: I've been told many times that while changing or removing prescribed gender roles is a good thing, it really is tangental to the basic problem. That there is something there beyond pink or blue, dolls or trucks.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:55 PM on October 27, 2008


But they are talking about blocking puberty as early as age 10 and halting normal sexual development.

They're delaying puberty, not halting it. I got to go through puberty early (I was not yet 11), and believe me, if I could have delayed it for a year or two, so I'd have been more in line with most of my other female friends, I would have. Being the only 10-year-old with boobs is NO FUN AT ALL. Especially when you're a tomboy. They just get in the way.

While the minimizing of strict gender roles would be a great thing for all kids, I suspect it would not make much difference to kids who are really really yes really transgender, because they're not boys who want to wear a skirt sometimes, or girls who like firetrucks; they're kids suffering under the weight of feeling they've been born in the wrong body. I'm not disagreeing with you at all, grapefruitmoon, just kind of expanding.
posted by rtha at 4:11 PM on October 27, 2008


Man, sometimes I want to comment, but sometimes I’m so out of my depth or element...

Still, this I can second wholeheartedly:

“I want to comment and thank everyone in this thread for being civil, rational and open minded about a controversial and powerful topic that we're all still learning a lot about.” - loquacious
posted by Smedleyman at 5:05 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I really feel like I ought to comment, since I've been such a loudmouth in all the other threads on the subject, but I'm way too tired and unlikely to wake up properly in the next few days for amusingly coincidental reasons. So I'll just do the silent favouriting thing and try not to feel too passive aggressive about it :)

Briefly, I do think that there is a massive difference between the trans experience of childhood and the experience some people in this thread have described, and that because of this I'm inclined to a believe a child who says they are a boy when everyone else says they're a girl, particularly if they are consistent in this over a number of years. But then, I can't know for certain, since I had a trans childhood and I really don't know much about what it's like to grow up cis.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:32 PM on October 27, 2008


What kid seriously knows the difference between genders this well at such a young age? And how does he know what a naked girl looks like enough to do a silence of the lamb tuck job? When I was 3-5ish you could ask me what a girl looks like without clothes and I wouldn't have been able to answer you.

Gosh, yes. Because you didn't know what girl parts look like, no one could know such things!

When I was 3ish, I was playing doctor with the neighbour girl. I sure as heck did know what girls looked like 'down there.'

My guess is that you were a socially deprived child.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I really don't know much about what it's like to grow up cis.

It seems (from what has been said in this thread) that the primary difference between those who are not strongly gendered or are gender-flexible and those who are transgendered is that the not strongly gendered can at times experience desire to be the opposite sex/gender - but this desire to be the opposite sex/gender at the same time recognises that they are not. Whereas the transgendered person feels/knows that they are the opposite sex/gender, regardless of what their physical body may look like. Does this seem like a fair assessment?

The question remains - if this is the true difference (between desire and feeling/knowledge) - can this difference be expressed by children, and be understood by parents? As noted in some of the studies, sometimes the behaviour and actions of the children seem the same.

This issue of gender actually comes up a fair bit at my house, which might be surprising for a male-female, cisgendered couple. But my gay-positive husband nonetheless has both a strong straight orientation and innate sense of his own gender (as a male) - and he keeps trying to explain them to me (since I lack both). It is hard to understand someone having an innate sense of something like that if you do not - it's like they see a colour you do not. You just have to believe them. Even if they would look really cute in a dress.
posted by jb at 7:20 PM on October 27, 2008


Does this seem like a fair assessment?

For me, yes. I'm reluctant to speak for other trans people, though. And of course my self-knowledge was attacked daily and constantly by just, well, living in the world.

The question remains - if this is the true difference (between desire and feeling/knowledge) - can this difference be expressed by children, and be understood by parents?

I have a feeling, based solely on my own experience, that this difference would be observable in behaviour and therapy over a decent amount of time. I wouldn't make policy based on my feelings, though!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:33 AM on October 28, 2008


This is like listening to men talk about the ethics of abortion. The thread, not the article. It's a little sad, really.
posted by cytherea at 3:22 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


While the minimizing of strict gender roles would be a great thing for all kids, I suspect it would not make much difference to kids who are really really yes really transgender, because they're not boys who want to wear a skirt sometimes, or girls who like firetrucks; they're kids suffering under the weight of feeling they've been born in the wrong body.

I agree wholeheartedly. And I think that expanding gender roles would help sort out which kids truly ARE transgender, and perhaps make them feel more comfortable. If it's not aberrant to explore the "other" gender's behavior, perhaps these kids could grow up with less of a stigma around them.

That is, if it's ok to explore gender and talk about it, it would be easier for trans kids to identify that what they feel is *beyond* normal exploration and easier for parents to say "Ok, well, Bobby wanted to be Princess for a year and now that he's done it, he really feels more comfortable as a girl and thinks that maybe nature made a few mistakes." Rather than simply jumping to the "HE'S WEARING A DRESS HE HAS TEH GHEY" conclusion.

I could just be a wild-eyed idealist though. It's certainly happened to me before.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:06 AM on October 28, 2008


This is like listening to men talk about the ethics of abortion. The thread, not the article. It's a little sad, really.
posted by cytherea Almost 4 hours ago [1 favorite +]


Since they are thinking human beings, I think men have a place in the discussion on the ethics of abortion. Their place does not trump that of women (or vice versa), and they need to recognize that women bear the most of the burden of unplanned pregnancies (physically, psycologically and socially). But it is an issue that affects them. My husband, for instance, is concerned about laws which give women all the choice on whether to have an abortion, but require that men provide child support should she decide to bear the child. In such cases, men's choices on parenthood are taken away. (He and I have debated this a lot, and come to no easy answers).
posted by jb at 7:34 AM on October 28, 2008


Comments like cytherea's illustrate the real dangers of us thinking that transgender as a condition or diagnosis is settled science. The comment is uniformed about both philosophical and scientific processes.

Ethics in a philosophical discipline that examines the choices we make, the motivations behind those choices, and the impacts that our choices have. There is no one, there can be no one, excluded from the dialogue which forms the foundation of ethics. To suggest otherwise is to argue that there is no ethics, there is only individual preference. This is nonsense. Stakeholders do not get preference in an ethical discussion.

Transgenderism as a concept is not settled science. As I pointed out, the BBC article suggests that testosterone deficiency may play a role in transgenderism for male children. Should this be the case, testosterone therapy could eliminate this condition for some children. The prevalence of these cases in the male population compared to the female population is suggestive. In any case we do not yet understand the condition. We don't yet fully understand sexual orientation, let alone gender orientation. A discussion of the scientific discoveries that underlie the phenomena now referred to as transgenderism is a conversation for those interested in the biological, psychological, and sociological data.

Reality is not something that one decides for themselves. This is the fundamental basis of modern scientific thought, beginning with Francis Bacon. Like ethics, scientific conclusions are not decided by a special subgroup of stakeholders. Once we step outside of these limits transgenderism becomes a religion of personal experience, not a scientific fact.
posted by ewkpates at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've seen some FTMs start testosterone treatment and they really do turn into different people, not just physically but psychologically. Before that, I would have said that gender was purely a social construct and that it was infinitely malleable if you just started soon enough. But after watching someone turn into an aggressive horndog upon the injection of hormones, I am firmly convinced that gender has a biological basis. Certainly not all men are aggressive horndogs, but those traits unmistakably fall on the masculine end of the gender spectrum. My acquaintances were not merely acting like they thought men should act; it was the hormones affecting their behavior. It drove one of them a little nuts because his sex drive couldn't be sated.

These were adults in their 30s and 40s, who had the rational capacity to moderate their behavior, or realize they'd face serious consequences if they didn't. I don't know how a teenager would handle this. Weren't we all a little fucked up as teenagers (regardless of gender identity)? I think 15 or 16 is still too young to make this decision.
posted by desjardins at 9:45 AM on October 28, 2008


there's also a middle space, of kids who are kind of gender-queer or gender-flexible (I'm sure there are better terms to use); boys who like to dress like girls and act like girls and pee like girls... but who don't need that extra step of physical transformation into a female body.

Yet, at least in the few cases discussed in the article, that didn't appear to be an option, and that struck me as sad.


Indeed. Danielle Berry (formerly Dan Bunton) agrees. Quite strongly. (oddly enough, I found that from the m.u.l.e. post ...)

"Being my 'real self' could have included having a penis and including more femininity in whatever forms made sense. I didn't know that until too late and now I have to make the best of the life I've stumbled into."

I agree with all those who say that unnecessary medical treatment on a child who hasn't even gone through adolescence is a big mistake, imo.

Let girls go topless, play football, and fix cars. Let boys wear dresses, join the dance team, and compete in beauty pageants.

Pollomacho's relative's situation makes me extremely sad. A man's life, completely ruined, because he likes to wear women's clothes. It's time for human civilization to pull its collective head out its ass.

I'm one of those people who sees very little difference between women and men, however, despite the screaming at me from all sides that I'm an idiot. :) Whenever I hear someone say they were born as the opposite gender, I don't really get it. I assume they just mean the physical equipment, which seems like such a minor part of your personality to me.

I have some traditionally masculine tendencies and some traditional feminine tendencies. If I were born with my same exact personality as a woman, I'd feel fine. (I'd be a lesbian, though.) I know, I know, if I was born as a woman I'd have all those hormonal differences, etc., but I'm not sure I'm buying that.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:59 AM on October 28, 2008


ewkpates: Reality is not something that one decides for themselves. This is the fundamental basis of modern scientific thought, beginning with Francis Bacon. Like ethics, scientific conclusions are not decided by a special subgroup of stakeholders. Once we step outside of these limits transgenderism becomes a religion of personal experience, not a scientific fact.

A problem I see with this is that it pretends that science is quite objective when, in fact, it often isn't in regards to these phenomena. Collected, collated and triangulated personal experience is data, and shouldn't be arbitrarily excluded just because you have an instrument that validates your particular theory.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:10 AM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I could just be a wild-eyed idealist though. It's certainly happened to me before.

You keep hanging on to that, grapefruitmoon. Hang on and don't let go.
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2008


Weren't we all a little fucked up as teenagers (regardless of gender identity)? I think 15 or 16 is still too young to make this decision.

Having been there, I'd disagree. Puberty and my teenage years did immense harm to me, such that I attempted suicide, and I am still left with a lot of murky water from that time. Someone of that age who chose a more reliable method of suicide would not be here today.

A problem I see with this is that it pretends that science is quite objective when, in fact, it often isn't in regards to these phenomena. Collected, collated and triangulated personal experience is data, and shouldn't be arbitrarily excluded just because you have an instrument that validates your particular theory.

Quoted for yes. Trans people often find that the evidence of their lives is discarded or treated as less valid than cis testimony.

Should this be the case, testosterone therapy could eliminate this condition for some children.

Alternatively, should it not work it could do enormous damage.

That is, if it's ok to explore gender and talk about it, it would be easier for trans kids to identify that what they feel is *beyond* normal exploration

Oh absolutely. Part of what does such damage to trans kids - and other kids who just aren't gender-typical - is that what they feel is in direct contradiction to what the world tries to impress upon them. A parent who does not enforce gender roles - like mine - can turn that hell into something a little more like a happy childhood, at least within the home.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:57 AM on October 28, 2008


If I were born with my same exact personality as a woman, I'd feel fine.

This comment suggests to me that you, like me, are not strongly gendered. My husband insists, however, that if he had been born in a female body, he wouldn't feel fine, he'd feel wrong. And this is how many trans people describe their own feelings - that they have a stong sense of their own gender, and that it does not match their biological sex.
posted by jb at 11:13 AM on October 28, 2008


Kirkjob, Collected, collated and triangulated personal experience is data, and data is the basis of science. You are referring to the bias of scientists, not science.

As far as personal experience goes, some people adjust in a healthy way to losses of limbs, radical changes in sexual identity, or unconventional relationships. Some people don't. The question this raises, in regard to triangulated personal experience and in regard to jb's comment on "strongly gendered" people, is this: Is the gender the problem, or is the attachment/psychological dependence on gender the problem?

When people base their identities on anything growth becomes difficult and change becomes a threat the mental order. The problems with depression in suicide in any subgroup have more to do with the cognitive development of the individual than the challenges that particular subgroup faces.
posted by ewkpates at 12:45 PM on October 28, 2008


My husband insists, however, that if he had been born in a female body, he wouldn't feel fine, he'd feel wrong. And this is how many trans people describe their own feelings - that they have a stong sense of their own gender, and that it does not match their biological sex.

Yes, I totally agree. What I think about in terms of what it would mean to be trans is simply imagining me, myself, in a male body.

It gives me the howling fantods. I can't possibly fathom what *living* with that would be like, but you can bet I'd sign up for any hormone treatments/surgeries/therapies/miracle diets/ANYTHING to make me feel at home in that body.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:08 PM on October 28, 2008


Reality is not something that one decides for themselves

That's what you're just not getting. It's about self determination. When you force your views of reality on other people, whether you are "right" or "wrong", it's a violent, oppressive, colonial act that denies their autonomy.
posted by cytherea at 8:10 PM on November 1, 2008


When people base their identities on anything growth becomes difficult and change becomes a threat the mental order. The problems with depression in suicide in any subgroup have more to do with the cognitive development of the individual than the challenges that particular subgroup faces.

You are a monster. Ok? You've clearly talking out of you ass have no idea about or compassion for how difficult it is to grow up as gay or transgender child. The suicide rate of gay and transgender people is significantly greater than the general population, and the only statistically significant correlation is the hostility or friendliness of the environment in which they are raised.

You are using SCIENCE! to dismiss the feelings and deny the experience of people you have a personal bias against, without realizing that actual science supports their version of reality, not yours.
posted by cytherea at 8:41 PM on November 1, 2008


Monster... seems... stronger than necessary. I'm not denying anyone's experience, I'm saying that when people suffer because of their uniqueness, this suffering is a common experience for minorities.

The study you link to is the study I've been referring to. It raises the possibility that for some, transgender may be a condition like menopause, treatable by hormone replacement therapy rather than surgically altering the genitals.

Reality sometimes denies us the freedom to believe what we want. Not my fault. It is important to carefully read articles you link to. THE ARTICLE suggests that the feelings and experiences of some transgender people might simply be hormone related, and not a deeply felt spirtual or psychological reality.
posted by ewkpates at 6:09 AM on November 3, 2008


THE ARTICLE suggests that the feelings and experiences of some transgender people might simply be hormone related, and not a deeply felt spirtual or psychological reality.

that would kind of fit with Occam's Razor, wouldn't it?
posted by desjardins at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2008


Of course. But there are many human experiences that when viewed through the lens of their bio-chemical origins become the center of contentious debate. The infatuation phase of love is strongly chemical, and so is the after death experience, the LSD trip, aggression, etc, etc.

We tend to think of depression as "chemical, treatable" in the same way as aggression (chemical, treatable) but these are different than gender, sexual orientation, and religious euphoria. But are they?

From the clinical perspective, the effectiveness of intervention is what sets them apart. But from a humanist perspective, these are seen as part of the "soul" of a person, and so shouldn't be interfered with on a chemical level. It is difficult to tell where the line is.

If we are willing to consider providing children with gender reorienting chemicals and then with surgery, than we are certainly expanding the conversation to include "take this pill and you won't be transgendered."
posted by ewkpates at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2008


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