Transgender Identity and Childhood
In the beginning of this month Debra Soh, published an article in the Wall Street Journal tltled: The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood. She points out that psychologists have figured out how to treat adults with gender dysphoria, but what about a 5-year-old child?
'What should parents do if their little boy professes an intense desire to be a girl? Or if their daughter comes home from kindergarten and says she wants to be a boy? In recent years the dominant thinking has changed dramatically regarding children’s gender dysphoria. Previously, parents might hope that it would be a passing phase, as it usually is. But now they are under pressure from gender-identity politics, which asserts that children as young as 5 should be supported in wanting to live as the opposite sex. Any attempts to challenge this approach are deemed intolerant and oppressive.'
How to best deal with prepubescent children who identify with the opposite sex has become so politicized, that, Soh points out, professionals working with these populations are extremely reluctant to get involved as they have seen what happens when they deviate from the going cultural and political view.
Soh mentions the recent experience of Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist in Toronto. In December 2015 the city’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health announced that it would close its Gender Identity Clinic, which Dr. Zucker had led for 35 years. The news came after months of public allegations that Dr. Zucker, an international expert on gender variance in children, had been practicing 'conversion therapy', which aims to change patients’ sexual orientation. However, he had not been trying to dissuade anyone from being transgender. Instead his therapy facilitated exploration of gender identity. Gender-atypical males could consider being boys who simply liked female-typical things. One doesn’t necessarily need to be a girl to enjoy nail polish or bedtime stories about fairy princesses! Pointing that out to a gender-dysphoric child isn’t the same as practicing conversion therapy. By the way, Dr. Zucker had been following the most up-to-date standards of care published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health—a document he had co-written.
The need to give time to 'explore' is crucial here. In the current climate it seems that when a child expresses gender dysphoria, it needs to be immediately 'fixed.' It is important to take time. This need to slow down and explore is also justified by scientific studies.
In a study of 44 gender-dysphoric boys, conducted by Zucker 80% grow up to be not transgender, but bisexual, gay or lesbian adults. Thus, helping prepubescent children feel comfortable in their birth sex makes more sense than starting a lifetime of hormonal treatments and surgeries that will in all likelihood turn out to be unnecessary and unwanted.
Also when children do transition, some regret it. 'In a 2011 study of 25 adolescents who had been gender dysphoric as children, two girls who had undergone social transitioning to boys—by taking on male-typical appearances—regretted it and struggled to detransition. One wanted to begin wearing earrings, but said she couldn’t because she “looked like a boy.” The other, hoping for a fresh start with high school, hid childhood photos at home that depicted her time living as a boy. Both feared teasing from their peers.'
This is why Dr. Zucker put the emphasis on exploring gender with childrenr. Then if a child’s dysphoria persisted into adolescence—gender identity becomes more fixed with age, and the start of puberty often determines whether it will desist—Dr. Zucker would recommend transitioning, including puberty-blocking hormonal therapy.
Soh points out that Dr. Zucker was recently awarded $500,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct an MRI study on the effects of medical transitioning, on adolescents’ neurodevelopment. A grant of this size speaks to both his credibility as a scientist and the importance of this research. The halting of this study in the wake of the closure of Dr. Zucker’s clinic means the critical answers he sought will remain unknown.
'The most current science has been trumped purely because it is at odds with the dominant political view concerning transgender development.' Soh points out that although we don’t allow children to vote or get tattoos, yet in the name of progressive thinking we are allowing them to choose serious biomedical interventions with permanent and irreversible results.
The silencing of those who oppose this sends the message to parents that early transitioning is the only valid and ethical approach for a gender-dysphoric child. This message—pushing children to transition at increasingly younger ages so that they will fit neatly into one of two gender categories—is false and unscientific. It is more progressive to offer them the time and the space they need to figure out who they are and what is ultimately best for them.
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