Parents dealing with Gender Dysphoria in young children
This NPR piece ‘Two Families Grapple with Sons’ Gender Preferences
Psychologists Take Radically Different Approaches in Therapy‘ by Alix Spiegel is from a couple of years ago, but its still relevant. “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….“ (its worth reading the whole thing!) The article follows two children from ages two to six.
In the case of 2/1/2 year old ‘Bradley’ the family tries to convince him to be a boy by taking away feminine toys and directing his play resulting in Bradley’s withdrawal. It is another demonstration of the impossibility of authentically changing someone into someone their not, and the inadvisability of blindly following one doctor’s suggestions considering the enormity of the issue and potential consequences. (see a previous post on this issue here).
In the case of ‘Jona’, the parents reluctantly went along with the child’s direction of wanting to be accepted as a girl, and happened to find a psychotherapist that encouraged the approach, with the result of a happy, healthy and even popular child.
The article quotes Dr. Ken Zucker, the Canadian psychologist and (controversial) gender expert who treated ‘Bradley’ as saying: “Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? … I don’t think we would,”
What’s wrong with that question? I think it’s important to note that these kids had long-term, persistent and strong identification as girls since they were old enough to communicate preferences. The example that Zucker brings up would be something a child learned later on in response to prejudice. That would be something about their environment that they don’t appreciate, not something about themselves. Also, continuing with Zucker’s question, that situation would never happen in an environment where there were only black people. Transgender people are found in all environments and societies, even homogeneous ones.
The article brings up another concern for me, that of what I call the ‘hidden transgender’. Both children in the article were strong enough to try and push for their authentic identity with their families. (One was successful, and one not) Not all children can do this and some learn early on that they must conform and ‘pretend’ to be their natal gender (the gender they were born with). I’ve seen a good many of these individuals later in life when they can no longer tolerate living in their birth gender, and by the time they come in for therapy they have lived a life of pretending and suffering the emotional consequences. The ‘hidden transgender’ doesn’t really come to the attention of NPR, parents or doctors, yet they suffer in silence for years.
Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.
Absoluteley. A lot of kids fall under the radar, as I did. Sometimes it’s because the parents don’t really care and don’t seek “help” because they are open enough to accept the child for who they are. I actually know a couple of people like that and it makes me very happy. In my case, and in the case of too many, the kid just tries hard to conform, as you say. And yes, it is very hard and painful. I got used to that existence and, once I snapped out of it and discovered myself, I finally realised how much energy (mental, emotional, physical) I had wasted all my life just trying to fit into a mold and being afraid of discovery.
I have been asked about the race question as well. There are so many holes in this argument that one could talk for hours on it, and much to their dismay I did. This argument is simply ones way of justifying the forcing of people into conformity.
Thank you for posting this. The NPR program clearly demonstrates the damage that Kenneth Zucker and other therapists who follow his treatment model inflict on transgender children, youth and their families.
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They neglect a third approach: get rid of the stupid gender stereotypes. Insist that the child is a boy, but that he may dress as Dorothy, play with “girl” toys, etc…but that doesn’t make him a girl. Just a boy that likes girl things, and that’s okay! Most boys like *some* “girl” things…and many boys dislike some “boy” things. As long as the child knows that the definition of a boy is “a child with a penis” and the definition of a girl is “a child with a vagina,” and that other than that, anything that’s appropriate for a girl is also appropriate for a boy, and vice versa, my guess is you’ll have a lot more happy, healthy children: not just the ones who identify as transgender in our genderist society, but also the ones who are cisgender but run into issues with gender stereotyping throughout their lives. Nobody fits perfectly into a gender stereotype. That’s why gender stereotypes are bs and need to be properly disposed of. And that includes segregating children by gender except when actually dealing with physical differences (e.g. health class dealing with what to expect during puberty, and phys ed if you want to teach boys’ vs. girls’ sports that are different for different genders, such as gymnastics).
The world has changed so much since 2008 and every once in a while I wonder what happened to that little boy forced to be something less than his authentic self in his own home. I pray that he doing well today.