Serena Freewomyn

What Would You Do If This Was Your Child?

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | May 26, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender identity, hormone replacement therapy, Kenneth Zucker, NPR, transgender youth

A couple of weeks ago, NPR ran a series or stories about trans youth. I've been wanting to comment on the pieces ever since then, but it's taken me a while to marinate on what I wanted to say.

Essentially, NPR featured three families who have gender variant children. Each family has handled the situation differently. I found the interviews with mental health professionals, including the controversial Dr. Kenneth Zucker, to be really fascinating. And as I listened to these families' stories, I asked myself what I would do if I had a transgender child. Follow me after the jump to find out what the parents in these situations have decided is right for their families.

Before I get too far into my analysis of these stories, I want to put out a disclaimer. I want to invite discussion in the comments section. But the intention of this post is not to debate the difference between the terms transgender, Harry Benjamin Syndrome, transsexual, etc. You can do that over on Mercedes' post about the 3 models of transsexuality. Please use the comments section to discuss the topic at hand - whether hormone suppression therapy is in the best interest of transgender youth.

I also want to make a note about pronoun usage. NPR consistently used male pronouns to refer to the children in these stories, even when the families used female pronouns for their children. When the family uses the pronouns that the child has chosen for themselves, I will do the same. Fuck NPR.

The first family interviewed by NPR has a child named Bradley.

It wasn't until Halloween when her 2 1/2-year-old son decided to dress as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz that Carol began to worry.

Bradley had always had a preference for girls' things. From his earliest days he had chosen girls' dolls, identified with female characters and gravitated toward female children. But Carol had never thought to care. As far as she was concerned, it wasn't a loaded gun; it wasn't a lit cigarette. She says it had really never crossed her mind to say, "I'd really rather you played with a truck."

Then, on Halloween, the calculus began to tip.

To simulate Dorothy's hair, Carol covered Bradley's blond crew cut with a brown tea towel. Bradley loved it. In fact, he became obsessed with his tea-towel hair. For months afterward he would wake up every morning and put the towel on his head. When Carol tried to remove it, he would protest.

"It was really obsessive," Carol says. "We really had to negotiate times when he just couldn't wear it anymore. ... He seemed to feel uncomfortable and nervous sometimes when he didn't have this hair, this tea-towel hair."

And as Bradley grew older, his discomfort with things male also grew. He would shun other boys -- he played exclusively with girls. Again, this concerned Carol, but she wasn't frantic about it.

It was a single event that transformed her vague sense of worry into something more serious. One day, Bradley came home from an outing at the local playground with his baby sitter. He was covered in blood. A gash on his forehead ran deep into his hairline.

"What had happened was that two 10-year-old boys had thrown him off some playground equipment across the pavement because he'd been playing with a Barbie doll -- and they called him a girl," Carol says. "So that sort of struck me, that, you know, if he doesn't learn to socialize with both males and females ... he was going to get hurt."

Bradley's parents decided to take him to see Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a gender specialist who believes that parents should attempt to make children accept their birth sex.

So, to treat Bradley, Zucker explained to Carol that she and her husband would have to radically change their parenting. Bradley would no longer be allowed to spend time with girls. He would no longer be allowed to play with girlish toys or pretend that he was a female character. Zucker said that all of these activities were dangerous to a kid with gender identity disorder. He explained that unless Carol and her husband helped the child to change his behavior, as Bradley grew older, he likely would be rejected by both peer groups. Boys would find his feminine interests unappealing. Girls would want more boyish boys. Bradley would be an outcast.

Carol resolved to do her best. Still, these were huge changes. By the time Bradley started therapy he was almost 6 years old, and Carol had a house full of Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets. She now had to remove them. To cushion the blow, she didn't take the toys away all at once; she told Bradley that he could choose one or two toys a day.

"In the beginning, he didn't really care, because he'd picked stuff he didn't play with," Carol says. "But then it really got down to the last few."

As his pile of toys dwindled, Carol realized Bradley was hoarding. She would find female action figures stashed between couch pillows. Rainbow unicorns were hidden in the back of Bradley's closet. Bradley seemed at a loss, she said. They gave him male toys, but he chose not to play at all.

"He turned to coloring and drawing, and he just simply wouldn't play with anything. And he would color and draw for hours and hours and hours. And that would be all he did in a day," Carol says. "I think he was really lost. ... The whole way that he knew and understood how to play was just sort of, you know, removed from his house."

I understand that Carol and her husband think that they are doing what is best for their child. And I'm not trying to judge. I really want to have compassion for them. They're getting their advice from a so-called "expert." But if Bradley is clearly upset about losing his toys, and correspondingly his sense of identity, then I don't see how this "treatment" is helping. I also don't see how referring to Bradley as "he" helps either, especially if Bradley identifies as a girl. More on this later, however.

The second family lives in California.

[Jona] was 2 when [her] father, Joel, first realized that no amount of enthusiasm could persuade his child to play with balls. Trucks languished untouched. Fire engines gathered dust. Joel says [Jona] much preferred girl toys, even [her] stuffed animals were female.

"Like, I would always say, 'What's that guy's name?' and the response would always be, 'Oh, she's bunny, she's, you know, this or that,'" Joel says.

Like Bradley, as [Jona] grew older, these preferences became more pronounced. [Jona] is physically beautiful. [She] has dark hair and eyes, a face with China-doll symmetry, and a small and graceful frame. Occasionally, while running errands, casual acquaintances, fellow shoppers, passers-by, would mistake [Jona] for a girl. This appeared to thrill [her]. And, Joel says, [Jona] would complain bitterly if [her] father tried to correct them.

"What began to happen was [Jona] started to get upset about that," Joel says. "Like, 'Why do you have to say anything!' ... I remember one distinct time when we were walking the dogs and this person came up and said ... 'Oh, is this your daughter?' and I said, 'Oh, no, this is [Jona].'... And [Jona] just came running up and said, 'Why do you have to tell! Why do you have to say anything!'"

Joel and his wife took [Jona] to see Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, who doesn't believe that parents should try to modify their children's behavior.

"She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah's not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don't put a kid in therapy until they need it," Pam says.

Ehrensaft did eventually encourage Joel and Pam to allow [Jona] to live as a little girl. By the time [she] was 5, Jonah had made it very clear to [her] parents that [she] wanted to wear girl clothes full time -- that [she] wanted to be known as a girl. [She] wanted them to call [her] their daughter. And though Ehrensaft does not always encourage children who express gender flexibility to "transition" to living as a member of the opposite sex, in the case of [Jona], she thought it was appropriate.

Last year, when [she] started kindergarten, [Jona] went as a girl. [She] wore dresses, was addressed as "she" by [her] classmates and teacher. [She] even changed [her] name, from Jonah to Jona, without the "h." It was a complete transformation.

Joel and Pam were initially anxious, but Joel says their worry soon faded.

"They have these little conferences, and, you know, we were asking, like, 'How's Jona doing? Does she have problems with other kids?' and the teacher was like, 'God, I gotta tell you, you know, Jona is one of the most popular kids. Kids love her, they want to play with her, she's fun, and it's because she's so comfortable with herself that she makes other people comfortable," Joel recalls.

I don't think it's a shocker that a child who is allowed to be themselves will be happy and well-adjusted. Jona obviously has an innate sense of who she is, no matter how young she is. And other kids are going to be drawn to her because of that.

The third family has a pre-teen daughter named Violet. She was born Armand and they realized that she identified as a girl when she discovered the joys of her sister's hand-me-down Minnie Mouse dress.

Any effort to remove the dress would provoke an outburst. In fact, the more Robert and Danielle tried to limit [Violet's] behavior, the more explosive their [daughter] became. And it only got worse as [Violet] got older.

"The terrible twos became terrible threes and fours and horrible fives and intolerable sixes," Robert says. [Violet] "seemed on edge all of the time."

There were two-hour tantrums. Tornadoes of tears and screaming that left the family exhausted. Any comment could set [Violet] off, and, once triggered, there was no controlling [her].

"One night I remember it got so bad, where she was so out of control ... I literally walked her out the front door and said, 'You need to stay,' " Robert says. "And it was probably at eleven o'clock at night. And I walked her out the front door, closed the door, because I didn't know what to do."

Robert remembers standing with Danielle beside the door, listening to his 6-year-old [daughter] scream.

"She was pounding on the door -- and my wife and I looked at each other and said, 'What is happening? Why is this child so unhappy? What have we done?' " Robert says.

This is the point where I had to turn off the radio because I was so pissed off at NPR. The fact that they can't get the pronouns right when this child is so clearly upset about people not embracing her gender just floors me. Is pronoun usage really that hard?

Thankfully, though, Robert and Danielle get it. Their doctor suggested hormone suppression to buy Violet some time before making the decision about long-term hormone therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery.

"We knew that puberty was around the corner and we needed to start looking into ... what do we do," Robert says. "How do we help this child, you know, develop in a way that is consistent with who she is."

Robert and Danielle soon came to find out about a new, highly controversial, treatment for preteen kids with gender identity issues. The treatment allows kids to postpone puberty and avoid developing the physical attributes of the sex they were born with.

The treatment has been offered in the United States only for around four years. Essentially, kids who meet the criteria for gender identity disorder are given monthly injections of a medication that blocks their bodies from releasing sex hormones. This means that while the children continue to grow taller, for the three or four years they are on the medication, they are kept from maturing sexually.

The hormone blockers have clearly made a positive difference in Violet's life.

Robert says her emotional transformation that day was nothing short of astonishing.

"It was the happiest kid I'd ever seen. Just lit up. Just ... brilliant and funny and these things that we caught glimpses of that weren't always there," he says.

Since the transition there has not been any real outburst. Still, there have been challenges. Last September, Violet returned to school, this time as a girl. Though the school was supportive, Robert says he and Danielle were terrified.

"You know just that walk from the car to the front doors of the school was the longest walk of our lives," he says. "Violet broke my heart and I was proud of her all at the same time," Robert says.

He says when Violet got out of the car she immediately put a on long coat and put her hood up. She started walking behind her father and mother. "We said, 'No!' You are not going to do this. You're not going to walk behind anybody. We're going to walk together. And we held hands and we marched right up the sidewalk into those doors. Into an extreme unknown," he says.

I think Robert and Danielle sum up the entire debate around gender identity beautifully when Robert says:

"It puzzles me because we even have well-intentioned parents who we care about and who know us ... say, 'Well she's too young to know!' Well, when did you know you were a girl? When did I know I was a boy? I knew my whole life, I can't tell you exactly when, but it wasn't like I was 10 and realized, 'Oh gee, I must be a boy!' " Robert says. "What people fail to realize is they made that decision way earlier than that. It just happened that their gender identity and their anatomy matched."

I've been thinking a bunch about the kids in each of these families. I think kids just need to be loved, no matter what their issues are. All three sets of parents are obviously trying their best. I just hope that Bradley's parents eventually come around and see Zucker's advice as ten pounds of monkey crap in a five pound bag.

As for the advantages and disadvantages of hormone blockers, the only downside NPR could point to was the fact that blocking hormones can make children sterile once they enter adulthood. And??? I don't really see an impact to this. As I said before, kids need love. There are plenty of kids in this world who need to be adopted. So if a trans kid grows up and decides that they want to be a parent, there's nothing stopping them from fulfilling that dream. Additionally, there are already too many humans on the fucking planet anyway, so I'm still not seeing the negative impact to being sterile. But I'm probably biased. I don't intend to ever give birth, so I'm not really sure why this is a downside.

NPR did follow up interviews with both Dr. Zucker and Dr. Ehrensaft. Zucker claims that the downside to allowing children to express the gender of their choice is that they will grow up to be transgender adults. Again, where's the impact? Unless you believe that being transgender is inherently bad (which Zucker clearly does), then this isn't an argument against treating youth with hormone blockers.

Ehrensaft, on the other hand, believes that children should be able to decide for themselves.

I would want us, particularly at this moment in history, to be very humble about our confidence on that question. I think it's a really complicated unfolding phenomenon. I would say I never feel totally confident. But I think that if we really listen to the children, for some children you can know as early as pre-school.

I guess these stories hit me so hard because on some level, I can identify with these kids. I was a tomboy growing up. I liked playing football and working on cars with my stepdad. I was also chubby. My stepdad used to tell me that if I got fat, no one would love me. As I entered puberty, I started to hate my body and developed an eating disorder because of it. On top of all that, I tried to fit into the mold of what a perfect Mormon girl should be like to please my family. I had really long hair all through high school. And when I finally came out as a lesbian, that hair was the first thing to go. I shaved it right down to the bare skin.

I have been out for almost a decade now, but I am still trying to make peace with my body. My heart goes out to the kids in this story, and to any child for that matter, who feels like they have to change or hide who they are in order to be worthy of their parents' love. Kids need love, period. And it makes me so angry that people like Dr. Zucker think that forcing a kid to change who they innately are is an appropriate way to treat someone who is clearly suffering.

If you want to read more about hormone blockers, check out the final story in the NPR series. Also, be sure to check out the resources over at Trans Youth Family Allies.

In the end, I don't see the difference between giving a kid Ritalin or some other drug for their mental health and giving them hormone blockers. If it helps the kid feel more at ease in their own skin, then I don't see a problem with it. It's obviously made a difference for Violet. And Jona is clearly more happy living as her authentic self. Here's hoping that Bradley eventually comes to the same point.

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Serena, this is a truly heartfelt posting, one that illustrates so clearly that, whatever the differences may be between being gay or lesbian and being trans, our differences are much fewer and smaller than our similar experiences and backgrounds.

I wasn't aware of Zucker's so-called work until recently, and I'm appalled by the very callousness of it, the fact that he seems more concerned about the embarrassment effect on the parents of having a gender-variant child, than he is the happiness and stability of the child. I'm reminded of a friend of mine, a very pretty young woman who is transsexual, who had a terrible upbringing in rural Kentucky. Her father was a Baptist preacher, and from birth, their youngest son played, acted, and looked feminine. She believed herself to be a girl until they day she entered kindergarten. From that point on, she rarely spoke to other people at school, poured herself into her studies as an escape (she is a microbiologist today), and related not to people but to the animals and plants on her family's farm. Her parents, who refuse to allow alcohol into their home, instead had her drugged by a number of pshrinks. Despite going through much of her school years in a chemical fog, some self-administered and a lot of it from doctors, she has keen scientific skills and knowledge, but she is emotionally brittle and a bit unstable today. Her parents now accept that their youngest is always going to be a girl, more from the standpoint of needing the help of their most successful offspring, than from truly accepting that she's a girl.

One evening, my friend was having a difficult night, emotionally. She'd attended the wedding of her nephew, and her mother had given her strict instructions: please, don't wear makeup, don't wear a dress or skirt, nothing too femmy, you know? (when she goes to visit, she wears jeans and a t-shirt, and ties her hair back). She chose a nice pants and tunic ensemble, very light makeup (just a little on the eyes and some foundation and conceiler to cover the flaws), subtle jewelry, nice pair of heeled sandals - she went femme where her mother omitted mention. She looked very nice, followed mom's rules for the most part, but looked very pretty and feminine. Most people she'd encountered told her they knew of her change, and she looked pretty, including the bride and groom. The only people who didn't? You guessed it, her parents. She's outwardly successful in life, good career, nice car, homeowner, has all the toys......but she can't have the one thing she wants worst: her parents to say they love her as she is.

That's what I really despise about Zucker, and those like him: the fact that his so-called therapy is teaching kids that they cannot be who they are, cannot be themselves. I have to believe that hormone blockers given to pubescent children simply must be less chemically harmful than Ritalin, Zoloft, and the rest of the fog-inducing poison that so many kids are subjected to today in the name of behavior control. Yes, kids have to have discipline and rules, have to learn right and wrong - but how can parents expect to raise children with a sense of right and wrong, children with good ethical codes, if they are told that their very inner being is wrong, evil, and must be changed?

Many have written as to Zucker's naming to the APA panel - petition drives, etc. I don't agree with that. What I want to see is the man's license to practice his so-called "medicine", revoked altogether by the Province of Ontario, and his reputation ruined. He's destroying young people as sure as we're reading this blog. Those going through his therapy are going to turn out like my friend, or worse, quite possibly - they'll still be TSs, but they'll never be able to accept it fully, and their parents will never fully accept them as who they really are. Guilt is a baseball bat that inflicts great harm on people of all ages.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 26, 2008 2:03 PM

And out of the mouths of babes comes the greatest truth.

I can't tell parents what to do. I can tell them that my life would have been much, much easier if I had the options and support that Violet does today. In every sphere.

Socialization when going through the life cycle would have been so much different. Being less obviously trans as one didn't have the effects of going through puberty "the wrong way" makes employment, relationships and just safety when walking down the street so much less difficult. The costs as an adult to mediate the effects of going through puberty as a male - I'd hate to tabulate how much I had to spend on electrolysis alone. Adults who are visibly trans may have to spend a great deal to try and bring about a more physically congruent presentation often can't get employment or coverage to do so. Because of their appearing so visibly trans. And just blocking hormones allows a kid the space to make a decision when they're older. They can still go through puberty either way when they're older.

And - without getting too much into "terms" it is important to note a few things. Zucker doesn't just advocate his "reparative" style of treatment for trans identifed kids. He supports it for any kind of gender variance on the hope of preventing trans adults. It's a sexist treatment approach. Particularly when one notes that it's applied most often to male born children who he percieves as being too feminine.

Secondly - as his conception of transsexualism is that it is a form of " extreme homosexuality" he is bringing sexual orientation back into the DSM. I think most lgb people need to take a close look at where that may lead.

What I want to see is the man's license to practice his so-called "medicine", revoked
Dr Zucker is a PhD, not an MD. He isn't licensed to practice medicine, nor psychiatry, only psychology.

It's no exaggeration to say that he's a giant in the field of research. There's basically no institution in North America apart from CAMH doing any experimentation on children. And there's no doubt that Zucker's therapy is definitely both experimentation and experimental.

CAMH, rejects all but the 10% of adult patients that fit their theories, or say they do in order to get treatment.

I've been quite outraged about Zucker and Blanchard being on the DSM workgroup. It is driving me nuts that people (including the HRC) are saying that there won't be any harm from it and we need to let the DSM people do their jobs. Our youth (and by our, I mean those youth who are being treated as queer in some way) need us (as in the GLBTQ community) to be their voices. Kids don't have voices. And when kids are being abused because of homophobia and transphobia, I think that we (the GLBTQ community) have a responsibility to do something about it. By putting this man (Zucker) on the DSM workgroup, the APA is stating that his practices and theories are not only acceptable but respectable. We can't let that be okay.

Most of us aren't in any position to argue over what treatments a child should receive. I am sure that it is highly individual and most of us are not psychiatrists or psychologists. But when a "leader" of the psych community (and chairing a DSM workgroup indicates a "leader") is treating kids to prevent adult transsexuals, then we have a responsibility to do something.

I really wish the large GLBTQ organizations would take up this fight and get it in the maintream that this is just wrong and unacceptable. I'm very glad that the blogosphere is keeping this on people's minds.

And yes, I think that health care professionals should be making decisions in the best interest of their patients, whatever their age. And if hormone suppression therapy in puberty is in their best interest, then go for it.

I am a transperson myself, so I know all too well what it's like growing up and having to live being perceived as a gender that I wasn't.

If I had a child who wished to be the opposite gender, I'd let hir express that in whatever way felt right for hir. If zie wanted to be neither gender, that'd be OK with me too.

I'd help them find a good therapist as well, so they could get help in figuring out the right choices, be it medical treatment or simply living as who they were without any modification. We'd discuss the options together, and look at both positive and negative aspects of each method.

One place I wouldn't send my child is to Zucker and others who believe in reparative "therapies". WHat they are doing is a travesty, and could be extremely damaging to the well being of the child.

Battybattybats | May 26, 2008 11:11 PM

How does someone get an ethics investigation started?

Dr Zucker's treatment is clearly experimentation but the article didn't report it as such and i wonder how clear he's being about that with the parents?

This treatment sounds like it crosses over the edge of ethical behaviour, at best i'd think it'd be right on the edge.

Okay, I have to admit; I worry about the trans kids. Kids can be notoriously fickle. What happens if it is a phase for some child? My own daughter has had a million things she'd die over - until the next thing came along. I'm not trying to say that all trans kids are just experimenting; I know some kids just know right away. You can tell, I can tell and so can the kid.

Then again, I have no idea about the trans experience. In that spirit, I'd like to ask a question: Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender? Of course, it's not a switch flipping on or off (depending on your viewpoint), but I'm interested in how old you were when you really started gender bending; were you a child or an adult?

Zythyra, since you guest posted about your personal experiences, I'd like to use you as the example. You changed your mind about transitioning as an adult; could you have lived with the decision if you'd gone all the way as a pre-teen?

I don't know if this is on point or not but I wanted to comment.

I found the stories very interesting. Myself growing up played with Barbies, I went one year for Halloween as a Princess around the age of 3 or 4. I always made a ton more girl friends then male friends. I never liked ruff sports or getting dirty. I did realize around the teen years that I was gay. I don't think I ever wanted to be a girl. People did say when I was little I was too pretty to be a boy, I had and still have very long eyelashes. I don't know how my parents would have reacted if I had wanted to be a girl. I do hope it would have been like Jona's parents. Seeking help, but seeing that the child was very happy. Growing up and being gay in school is / was hard enough. I can not speak the the fact of being gender variant. It must take much more courage.

Okay, I have to admit; I worry about the trans kids. Kids can be notoriously fickle. What happens if it is a phase for some child?

If it is a phase then it is a phase.... Kids don't normally hold on to 'phases' for too long anyway, or at least neither of my girls did. By the time the child has been through the hands of the various health professionals needed to back up a decision of this sort, the 'phase' would more than likely be over.... It is a self correcting process really, the 'phase' ends, the treatment ends.

Even if the child goes through with the treatments for delaying puberty, there is only a mild risk of it not being reversible. It is only really when HRT takes place that the changes become irreversible.... To go through puberty blocking treatment from the age of 12 to 16-18 I would suggest makes it a bit more than just a phase.

how old were you when you realized that you were transgender?

When I knew? Or when I really knew? I guess I was about 4, maybe 5 when I started to become a bit reactive. By the time I was 9 and my brother had just beaten the living sh*t out of me for wearing one of my sister's dresses..... Yea well, I kind of knew for _absolute_ sure by then.

By the time I was old enough to do anything about it legally (18), I could already grow a beard in a week, had feet and hands the size of sasquatch with body hair to match and a receding hairline..... Stopping puberty would have saved me a lot of grief over the course of my life.

The stop start approach to transition is fairly common. Hey I had a go at 18, 23, 27 and 34.

At 18 I had no idea of even how to start the process (definitely pre-internet days) and stalled at the point of swiping contraceptive pills from girlfriends. At 23 I was married with two kids, and I stopped mostly through guilt about how my kids would be effected. At 27, now single, I had a nightmare experience involving a short term partner and physical and mental abuse. Finally at 34 I got over all the societal crap and just went for it. Today I live full time and awaiting SRS in January at the grand old age of 38.

And I am surely not alone in the stop start approach for people of my age and older. I just hope that changes for future generations.

BTW the Australian Family Court has once again ordered puberty blocking treatment for an unnamed boy (a natal female).

It's not going "all the way." Nobody is doing surgery on kids. The treatment is to delay puberty until the child can have some experience so as to make a better-informed decision.

Gerri Ladene | May 27, 2008 6:55 AM

I wouldn't even know what it must be like to have parents that are caring and understanding enough to accept their child as who they are and not what they want them to be. Knowing what it's like to not be accepted as ones mental gender which does not match that of your biological appearance is something I know well and the lack of compassion for this by parents toward their offspring can be very damaging toward any Trans youth. Yet there are those who seem to think that they know what it takes to fix you, LOL. There is only one cure for the Trans and that is to live their life in the gender the way their mind believes to be correct anything less is a destruction of the individual in so many ways. We are all aware of the negative effect of trying to modify a persons behavior against their will, first you have to break that will in order to modify it, Zucker's method of deprivation, then you have someone who cannot fully function socially but only appears to be what the modifiers consider normal. Thus they create a person who deceives themselves and all around them! An animal can be beaten till its behavior changes but at first chance it will run away to escape the cruelty. Suicide anyone?

"Zythyra, since you guest posted about your personal experiences, I'd like to use you as the example. You changed your mind about transitioning as an adult; could you have lived with the decision if you'd gone all the way as a pre-teen?"

Great questions Bil!

I don't remember my first gender variant memory, but I knew I was different from way back. And other kids seemed to know it too, I was always the resident scapegoat "sissy" and got picked on. I think I was around 7 or 8 the first time I dressed up in secret. I also remember playing house and with dolls with a neighbor, and that was around 1st grade. I was often "miss'ed" by strangers, then they'd get flustered and apologize, I always wanted to tell them there was no need to correct themselves, that I really wasn't a boy. I didn't dare say it though. I grew up in a small town during the 60s, Stonewall hadn't yet happened, and there was no internet.

Now, as to whether I would have stopped transition had I had the opportunity to do this as a kid... I believe it quite possible that I might have gone further, although it's hard to know for sure from today's perspective. When I stopped transition process as an adult, there were other factors besides my realization that I wasn't either gender. I also didn't have health insurance (still don't) and the endocrinologist wouldn't accept me as a patient because of that.

I will say though, that I believe it'd be OK for a kid to live as their desired gender, and if they change their mind and decide not to proceed further, that's fine too. Kids sometimes say they're going to be such and such when they grow up, and all of sudden, they're on a different career track. I saw that first hand with my partner's teenager.

There are adults who have gone through HRT, SRS, and come to the conclusion that they are not male, not female. Even at my point now, there is always a possibility that I will resume the process. I can think of similar scenarios, plenty of gay and lesbian people have had a heterosexual phase, and sometimes the reverse too, long term lesbians and gays fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. Live is full of phases.

Now, here is where my idealism kicks in. I want a world that truly embraces non binary gender variance. A society in which it's OK for anyone to express their gender anywhere on the continuum, however it seems right for them. This wouldn't eliminate transsexuality, there are those people for whom the dysphoria is so great that they must transition completely. But in my vision of a perfect world, I do think there might be a few more of us androgynous, genderqueer and in between people wandering around.

I was three years old in 1951 when I told my parents that I was a girl. They began consulting reparative type therapists immediately. I was verbally abused for every feminine act or expression. Toys were screened, friends and play monitored. When these repressions did not work, I had my bones broken, once I was crucified to the floor with real nails through my hands. When this too failed to change my obviously delusional body view, I endured more than 50 sessions of electroconvulsive treatment.
I began presenting as a boy at age ten because I was afraid of being completely erased. I had only a dozen memories at the time. I hid stress relief crossdressing so my conversion was viewed as a success.
As a teen, I built a multiple personality as protection for my still feminine self, and none of my individual masks were kind or gentle, and one was a sociopath. In my twenties I invented weapons for the Air Force, then went AWOL because my position did not leave me any time to crossdress in secret. I discovered how to manufacture clean LSD and became the major supplier for North America. I went to jail and later married.
Just barely 54, I began taking hormones and completed gender affirmation surgery two years later in Thailand. Now I have 60 years of real feminine life ahead of me.
Even though I went through some intense reparative, controversial and abusive therapies, I never once felt like a male. I learned to hide who I was and how to channel my anger outward in approved male ways. In love and married for almost thirty years, I never felt masculine.
I am convinced that any successes shown by reparative therapy are not valid. The subjects hide their presenting symptoms out of fear. The individuals treated are harmed and made worse for the experience.

Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender?...I'm interested in how old you were when you really started gender bending; were you a child or an adult?
Two separate questions there.
Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender?

Up until age 5, I was a child. No real concept of gender.

At 6, I went to school, and noticed something was wrong. I was dressed as a boy, I looked like a boy, but I didn't think like "other boys". I still liked toy guns, and Meccano rather than dolls, but I was different.

At 7, I knew I wasn't a boy, but didn't know what I was. I thought boys were puerile, and girls too silly and sissy. A classic Tomboy in retrospect.

At 8, I got to play hopscotch with other girls, and I felt at home. They thought like I did, they cried like I did. I still didn't see myself as more than an honourary girl though. Even if my favourite toy car was Lady Penelope's pink Rolls-Royce.

At 9, more by a process of elimination than anything else, I realised I was female. Boys could just as well have been an alien species. Girls were just like me, in feelings and values.

At 10, I was in a boys boarding school then, and I was able to make up boardgames of astounding complexity when it rained. I had my own secret garden in the nearby woods, with flowerbeds I'd planted. I could sit and read amidst the flowers, and was terribly happy. It was then I picked the name Zoe, and planned what I was going to do with my life. I wanted children, a husband, the white picket fence etc, but also to be a Rocket Scientist and to travel the world, things that Wives and Mothers Just Did Not Do in the 60's.

Even though it had been obvious since age 7 that I’d never be “svelte” or “petite”, that I’d be the girl “with the wonderful personality”. I didn’t cry about that – much. And not where anyone could see me. I was more worried about the practical problems I'd be having when I started having a female puberty. And vaguely concerned that boys didn't interest me at all. I was no naive I thought that was part of the package of being a girl. Was I a defective one?

It came as a terrible shock when I learnt that boys and girls are born looking different, and that my body was boy.

I didn’t take it well.

Basically, I failed my SAN roll, and convinced myself I had to be a boy, no matter how I felt inside. That meant forgetting a lot, suppressing memories, but it was either acquire a minor psychosis, or sink into despair, depression, and death.

A part of me still knew, but that part was in a box in a safe in the hold of a sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean on a planet circling a distant star.

I tried to be the best Man any woman could be. I did that for 47 years. It helped to be Asexual, mildly lesbian if anything. Sex was for having children, a form of cuddling and pleasing someone you loved, albeit a bit tiring after the first hour. Not something instinctive or natural.

how old you were when you really started gender bending

I didn't. Or I always did. It turned out I was Intersexed, with "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman". How severe? Well, I never had a working female reproductive system (nor a fully functional male one), but with some technical help became a biological father in 2001. That severe.

In May 2005, my male appearance started changing, and by late July, I could no longer pass as male. Nor did I want to, that box I'd put my feelings in exploded at the first sign that I wasn't male after all. By mid August 2005, I was fulltime, name changed, drivers licence changed, bank details changed... December 2005 I saw a gender specialist shrink, and in February 2006 had retrospective permission for the HRT my endo had put me on to stabilise my body, and permission for surgery too. Things were a bit of a mess down there by then, and the surgeon had to be creative in November 2006. I'm happy with the result, and so is my OB/GYN.

I had just about gotten over the realisation I'd had a lesbian love life all my life, when that started changing, and boys started looking really interesting and kinda cute. That happens sometimes. Never thought it would happen to me though. I'm still getting used to it. I'd always been anorgasmic - defective male peripherals didn't work too well with female device drivers. Enough to please, but not be pleased. Now things are normal. As in OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I understand what all the fuss was about. Wow. WOW!. I never suspected... Too bad the love of my life, the woman I'm married and partnered to is the wrong sex - and I'm the wrong sex for her. It's too ironic, and too tragic, that we are married but not attracted to one another, while others who are attracted to one another can't marry. That's wrong.

Up until the time my body started changing, my story follows the "classic transsexual narrative" so closely it's almost a cliche. And there was I thinking I at least was unique. HA! If anything, I was less feminine than most. Many know at age 3. And I first dressed in female attire only 3 weeks before "going fulltime".

So call me TS with IS complications, or IS with a TS history, just don't call me late for dinner.

It concerns me that you have characterized Dr. Zucker's advice as "ten pounds of monkey crap in a five pound bag." These are very young children who do not need to be rushed into adopting an identity which will make their lives difficult.

As some of the histories recounted here demonstrate, there is already plenty of evidence that attempting to suppress trans identities in children does nothing but create depressed, lonely and often suicidal children and, later, adults. Why does Zucker thing that he can buck decades, if not centuries, of experience that what he is trying will not work? Does he think that just because his approach is more systematic and controlling, he will be more successful than all those parents over all those years? I don't think so.

As Serena said, Zucker seems to be motivated by his belief that being transgender is a horrible fate for anyone. It's true that growing up and experiencing puberty as a boy or girl when you know that you are really the opposite gender is a painful experience that also creates substantial physical changes that can only be partially overcome by later hormone therapy and surgery. Those changes, in turn, make the experience of being transgender, at least for those of us who transition, much more difficult. But despite those difficulties, transitioning to living full time as Abby has brought me more joy and peace than I could have ever believed was possible for anyone to experience. I can only imagine how different my life would have been, how much less depressed and socially isolated I would have been, if I had been able to experience puberty and live the rest of my life as a woman. The horrible future that Zucker predicts for trans children is much less likely to occur, even without hormone blocking therapy or other medical treatments, if the children are simply allowed to grow happy and whole as the gender they know themselves to be. If you then add hormone blockers to prevent the changes that puberty as the wrong gender cause, and, when the child is ready, hormone therapy to create a puberty in the correct gender, followed by appropriate surgery, nearly every one of the things that Zucker fears can be significantly reduced, if not eliminated.

There is nothing negative about being transgender. The difficulty comes from those who have difficulty accepting us for who we are, those who believe that only male and female, only men and women, can or should exist in this world.

One small correction: Serena, it is the subsequent cross hormone therapy, NOT the hormone blockers, that leads to sterility in the trans kids. Everything I have read has said that hormone blockers have no permanent effects and can be reversed at any time simply by stopping that treatment. What it does is simply give the child time to mature before making the decision to begin hormone therapy, which WILL have permanent effects, including sterility, or to proceed with puberty in her/his biological sex.

Thanks for such a compassionate and heartfelt discussion of these issues, Serena.

It concerns me that you have characterized Dr. Zucker's advice as "ten pounds of monkey crap in a five pound bag." These are very young children who do not need to be rushed into adopting an identity which will make their lives difficult.
Holly, this is exactly why I oppose Dr. Zucker's advice/treatment. He's not just rushing but forcing, coercing, and manipulating, young children into an identity that will make their lives difficult -- an identification with their assigned sex -- and literally punishing them if they do not go along with it.

You see, there is no such thing as a neutral identity. It's only because of deeply ingrained cis-sexism that people assume that not being trans is normal and healthy. It is normal and healthy for cisgender people, but for trans people it can be incredibly painful and even life threatening. The issue shouldn't be about what gender a child identifies with, but making sure that their identity, if not supported, is at least not beaten out of them.

The reality is that forcing a "boy" to play with trucks is no less hurtful than forcing a boy to play with dolls. And forcing a child to go through a naturally occurring puberty against their will is no less life-changing and damaging than forcing a child to transition against their will. The key issue is force. If a child really is cisgender, then there would be no need to force and punish them into being cisgender.

Thanks to everyone for a very thoughtful discussion, especially to those who have shared their personal experiences.

Abby, thanks for the clarification about hormone blockers and HRT. I guess I missed that part of the story. That being said, I think your point only bolsters the argument in favor of hormone blockers, because it allows the youth to have some time to make up their minds about doing anything more permanent.

Robert, are you calling me a babe? Cuz I appreciate the compliment! ;^)

Sarah, I totally agree with you that we have a responsibility to our youth. Any time an LGBTQ youth commits suicide, we have failed them. Any time they are abusing drugs/alcohol, cutting, or having unsafe sex in order to feel validated, we have failed them.

Like I said in my post, there are so many kids in this world who need to be loved. When I was working in Long Beach, I discovered that 70%-80% of the kids in foster care were LGBTQ. On a national level, 40%-60% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, but in Long Beach that number is double. (I would imagine that the situation in San Francisco is similar, since both cities have a reputation for being LGBTQ friendly, which prompts kids to runaway to these cities).

It really breaks my heart that so many of our youth are suffering. We all know the statistics. In my opinion, the most important thing any LGBTQ adult can do for the community is to serve as a positive, loving role model for our youth. If you are in an emotional and financial position to bring a child into your life, I think you owe it to these kids to become a foster parent.

I'm really happy that Violet and Jona have loving, supportive parents who affirm them for who they are. I'm serious when I say that I hope Bradley's parents recognize Zucker's treatment for the sham it is and eventually give him the love and support zie deserves.

Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender? Of course, it's not a switch flipping on or off (depending on your viewpoint), but I'm interested in how old you were when you really started gender bending; were you a child or an adult?

I was 28. Didn't crossdress as a kid. Knew I was "different" but attributed it more to being quiet, brainy and socially awkward than anything gender-related.

IMO some people know early on and some don't. It's like being gay - some people know when they're 5, some when they're a teenager, some don't figure it out until they're 50.

A question I've heard many times on the subject is,"What if it's a phase?". My answer to that is that phases (pretty much by definition) ...end. As stated, kids are notoriously fickle and they tend to pick up and drop interests almost by whim, often quite rapidly, "...until the next thing came along".

Transition is an arduous and long path indeed, one that requires the strongest committment to continue on. I see the primany job of therapists/psychs to be to weed out those for whom transition is a phase and those who see transition as a solution to problems they may have. Requirements and obstacles must be overcome, and at every change along the way (the vast majority of changes are social, not medical, in nature) the transperson is asked if they are sure they want to continue. If they are completely *sure* that this is right for them.

The entire point of hormone blockers is to further delay, for years, when HRT will be started. To give the child additional time to experience their new life and be completely sure that this is what they want for themselves before starting HRT and the permanent changes it will bring.

I find it very hard to believe that anyone who doesn't have a strong need to change their lives to match their minds/psyche/personality/born instincts, someone for whom living as the other sex is a phase, would go through years and years of the therapy, jumping hurdle after hurdle, contantly being questioned and observed to actually get up to the point that permanent changes are actually happening, not to mention going through the likely stigma of being identified as trans.

Many accuse the parents and therapists of these children of encouraging the child to transition, while I see quite the opposite. In one documentary I watched, at one point the parents said (paraphrasing from memory) "If she came to us and said 'I don't think being a girl is right for me, I want to go back to being a boy', we'd be ecstatic".

There's also those who seem to think that if a child takes a single step along the path to transition (such as allowing them access to cross-gendered activities, toys, clothing, etc.) that they will inevitably be compelled to go all the way to an eventual change of sex. Or at the very least end up homo. ("...forever will it control your fate!" /jk =)). Attitudes like that remind me of those who think that having material on homosexuality in sex-ed class will encourage kids to become gay.

It's true that having a non-trans child go through the entire process to it's end would be a horrible thing to happen to that child (just as horrible as for a trans child being forced to grow to adulthood with their gender and sex still mismatched), that's why the process is so long and difficult. Why the child must, through it all, repeatedly affirm strongly that this is what they want. To give them every opportunity to change their minds.

Should access to these treatments be denied to all because there is the possibility that, despite all efforts to the contrary, a child might be able to lie and bluff their way through system for years and years?

Just as an FYI - I appreciate the stories. It's fascinating to read so many commonalities to coming out at a time when several in both the trans GLB camp arguing that we shouldn't be one community. It reinforces that we are - at least to me.

Regular commenter Polar guest posted on my question today as well. If you shared your story, I'd encourage you to post them there as well. The more individual stories we get in the comments, the more others will read it, I think.

"Okay, I have to admit; I worry about the trans kids. Kids can be notoriously fickle. What happens if it is a phase for some child? My own daughter has had a million things she'd die over - until the next thing came along. I'm not trying to say that all trans kids are just experimenting; I know some kids just know right away. You can tell, I can tell and so can the kid."

I think it is important to think about the assumptions which underlie the concern about children going through a phase in terms of gender identification. The idea that it could be a phase implicitly supports the notion that sex and gender are the same thing. Its not a phase for a a child with a penis to identify as a boy; we never question that identification because we assume that it is natural. In my opinion it is not. The way in which we conceptualize both gender and sex is socially, culturally and historically constructed. If sex did equal gender then our culture would not put so much work in to assuring that those with female bodies grow up to be women and those with male bodies grow up to be men (it would just naturally happen). If sex was always already gender then doctors wouldn't need to coerce children into acting as the "correct" gender.

When discussing the difference between sex, gender, sexuality and desire in the classroom setting, one or more students often bring up that so many boys like to play with trucks and ask how do we explain such a "phenomena." My response is not to explain but rather to ask them when the biology for liking trucks developed. Did it exist before the avant of the automobile or develop with Ford? This may seem an overly simplistic example but its worth thinking about.

Also when we speak about phases we also take on the role of gatekeeper, that is we assume that we can decide whether someone's identity is authentic and thus whether they should be allowed to express it. Would we worry that our gay children are just going through a phase? I hope not. So why do we doubt the claims and desires of trans or gender variant children?

Mouse, aptly said. If gender variance is, in fact, a pahse, then hormone blockers would buy time for the kid before making a permanent decision. There's no impact to the argument that kids go through pahses (unless you're saying trans is bad. But I've already pointed out that isn't an impact.)

Shannon, good point about sex and gender being different. I like the car analogy. So smart! :^)

battybattybats battybattybats | May 27, 2008 9:54 PM

"Basically, I failed my SAN roll"

OMGOO (Oh my great old one)
A Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game referance!
Awesome! *Hugs mini plush Cthulhu*

One more thing about the "phase" argument: Anyone who seriously listens to the children in these stories can see that this isn't a phase for them. Violet was completely out of sorts with her life until her parents allowed her to live as the correct gender. Where do you think those tantrums were coming from? And poor little Bradley has completely lost hir sense of self now that zie isn't allowed to play with hir toys or dress as a girl. If this was just a phase, I don't think that these kids would be so emotionally invested in their gender presentation.

battybattybats battybattybats | May 28, 2008 9:17 AM

My last post was probably too frivilous and apologies to you Zoe if you find it insensitive.

I had an alternating situation. I recall a few distressing occassions between the ages of 3 and 4 where situations of rigid gender rules, generally regarding toys, had me extremely disstressed. I remember times in early childhood crying myself to sleep hoping that when I woke the next morning I'd be a girl and yet othertimes i was ok being a boy.

When during puberty I had some breast development I didn't know whether to rejoice or despair, I did a bit of both, when the doctor said it was quite normal and would go away in time (and it did) again I wanted to alternately rejoice and despair, and did.

Despite my attempts to convince myself otherwise just being a feminine guy hasn't been enough, yet transitioning doesn't seem right for me either. I still feel that I fit in between. For me it wasn't a phase, rather an ever-present thing with a cyclicly varying intensity.

BBB - No apology necessary! Insensitive? How could it possibly be interpreted that way? You got the reference, that's all!

A sense of humour is a necessary survival skill for us, after all.

What isn't funny is your experiences as a child, and I wish I had a time machine to go back and give you a hug. I hope that you find your place of comfort, be it as fulltime female, or cyclically changing between. I hadn't come across such cyclic changes before, my neuroscience hypothesis predicted people like you must exist, but I thought it was a flaw in the theory.

The situation is likely to be unstable though, and you will tend to become more like a standard TS woman over time. That's what the hypothesis predicts, anyway, for people "close to the line". Of course it could be complete bunkum. The important thing is to be yourself, not what anyone, least of all me, tells you you should be.

Best wishes, Zoe

Battybattybats | May 29, 2008 8:25 AM

Thanks for your wished hug, much apreciated.

"The situation is likely to be unstable though, and you will tend to become more like a standard TS woman over time."

Interesting, and certainly it has become a bigger part of my life over time, though it's hard to determine how much is increasing 'symptoms' or perhaps self-acceptance or the increasing pressure of long-term repression given an insufficient outlet.

When it comes to Zucker etc, isn't there an ethical requirement for him to provide information on alternative treatment options to parents for them to make the decision on how to progress?

Even though I am transgendered, I was shocked when I heard that a clinic in Boston was providing sex changes to kids as young as seven.
I wrote my thoughts about the pros and cons of offering a sex change so early here:

I believe there are better ways to avoid suicide than providing a sex change to children.


Vanessa, none of the information available about the clinic states that they perform sex change operations on 7 year old children. The media uses the term "sex change" cause it grabs attention and gets people riled up. What the clinic does offer to young children is counseling and hormone blockers. Counseling is very helpful for avoiding things like suicide. Hormone Blockers buy children some time so that they can figure out what they want.

I have five kids. At least one of them is queer. None of them seem at all transgendered though one of my sons is a bit androgynous but then again so am I. My approach with this issue would be the same as it was as I watched my little boy growing up and in a direction was most likely gay or bi. It wasn't a problem, when we had our father son talk it covered all bases. His identity was respected. The only point of tension came when he asked me to explain it to his mother who had no clue.
I guess that it comes down to parenting styles . Some parents are going to associate happiness with who that child becomes while others are going to associate it with how that child fits in. Those are very different paradigms. Then which expert is consulted will be of great import. Each case is just going to be different due to so many variables.
IMO, hormone suppression therapy is acceptable if it is what the child wants.