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.