Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘gender dysphoria’

Book Review: Raising Ryland

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting A Transgender Child with No Strings Attached

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting A Transgender Child with No Strings Attached

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting A Transgender Child with No Strings Attached. (2015, Harper Collins)

Raising Ryland  is about a California family and their struggle and acceptance of their preschooler’s female to male gender transition. Written by the child’s Mother – Hillary Whittington – the book is at its best in chronicling the Parent’s struggle with shame that accompanies their having a gender variant child. Interestingly, this child presents an earlier parallel struggle as hearing impaired (completely deaf – with hearing restored by Cochlear implants). The parents first come to that realization in the book and deal with their shock, sadness, acceptance and treatment. The following struggle with Ryland’s Gender Dysphoria is fraught with much more anxiety and shame.

At first Hillary thinks “I have a tomboy for a daughter”. She goes through a phase of conflating gender non-conforming behavior with the idea that her (then) daughter might be gay. The father is concerned about explaining Ryland’s male dress to people around town. When true gender variance is acknowledged at last – the game “is on” as they say. And here Hillary is brave and honest with her foibles confusion and occasional successes. We cheer and groan along with her as she negotiates birthday parties, Kindergarten teachers, bigoted parents and LGBT award ceremonies. In one incident later in the book Ryland is presenting male at a softball game and has to pee. The coach – not knowing that Ryland is Transgender suggests he just use the bushes, but Hillary scurries him away to the back of their station wagon for an ad-hoc solution… Such are the challenges of protecting privacy vs, disclosure and decisions around when and how to disclose for both the parents and the child.

This book can certainly be helpful for other parents or adults with a gender variant child in their lives to know that others are struggling and have overcome similar feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and shame and have lived to see their child happy and flourishing as never before.

There are, however, a few problems with the book.

When Ryland needs surgery for hearing implants and the surgery date is months away the Mother–in-law calls the hospital to remind them of her many donations. A sooner surgery date is found – perhaps at the expense of a less fortunate child. The book is populated with many such examples early on of the in-law’s ability to solve problems with their wealth. For some the persistent and apparently unconscious class privilege might be off-putting.

But it is just this milieu of suburban Christian white middle class hetero-normativity, of never having been discriminated against or thought of as less-than for any reason whatsoever and suddenly finding yourself considered as “not normal” or “going against God” that will resonate with some readers and give them hope for their own family’s future. I have often found in my own therapy practice that the stigma around being Trans is harder on those who have never experienced stigma before.

It should be noted also that Ryland is an exceptional little boy in that he was able to express and persist in expressing his true gender identity in spite of his parents’ initial disapproval. Most children will take the parental hint and repress the gender non-conforming part of themselves until they are no longer able to do so. Some of these I see at ages 40, 50 or 60 in my practice.

On someone ‘influencing’ a child’s gender identity

I’d like to offer a few thoughts on an issue of concern to many parents of  children that may be gender variant – that the child’s gender identity has been influenced by: a friend, a group of friends, cosplay, anime, the internet or some other person or group.
The basic question is can one’s gender identity (i.e. that inner feeling of maleness or femaleness or something in between) be at all influenced by an outside person or institution? My feeling and experience suggest that – no it’s just not possible.

cos2
Why then is this such a common concern of a parent who has been newly come out to?
I think one of two things are happening (or a combination of both) and those are:
1. Your child has encountered a new person who is exhibiting some level of “outness” as gender variant, and has, naturally enough, begun to ask themselves if they are similar in some way – and have found that they are.
and/or
2. Your child has gravitated towards a group of friends/city/college/group that is accepting of gender variance because they know internally (and perhaps unconsciously) that they have some gender dysphoria and they need a supportive environment in which to deal with it.
Now let’s look at two possibilities: 1. The child is truly gender variant or transgender and 2. The child is not truly gender variant or transgender.
In the first case of a truly gender variant child – I think this move toward an accepting group is a much needed step in the total journey of self-acceptance and social and physical change.
In the second case where the child is not truly gender variant – I think this can be understood as another of the many phases of self-exploration that young people go through trying to figure out who they are. And if no physical changes are taken in this case – then really what’s the harm in it? If the child is truly not gender variant then they will more than likely put it aside and move on to other things in due time.
Whenever there is doubt a general rule of thumb is to hold off on any physical interventions.

A Response to New York Times ‘Ethicist’ Chuck Klosterman

In the February 3rd New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (‘The Ethicist’) addresses the following Question from a reader:

I’ve been living the life of a married man for 20 years. I have a successful career and three children. All this time, however, I have battled gender dysphoria and the deep sadness that comes from living a lie. From the earliest age, I’ve been unhappy being male. I believed I would find happiness only once I was true to myself. I recently had my self-diagnosis confirmed, and I’m initiating a transition to living as the real me. There is a cost involved: pain to my family and stress on my career. Ethically, is it right to be “true to myself” even if that authenticity ends my otherwise happy marriage and damages the emotional stability of my three children? If I had to maintain the lie, the emotional cost would be tremendous; a transition would share the pain with all who love me but might result in happiness. What’s the ethically correct thing to do? NAME WITHHELD, MASSACHUSETTS

The following is my response (which I also sent the the New York Times).

In Response to Chuck Klosterman’s February 3rd ‘Transition Point’.

Ethical Issues Gender TransitionChuck Klosterman (The New York Times ‘Ethicist’) response to a (natal) Massachusetts man’s question on gender transition wraps itself around the idea of measuring happiness.  He talks about the potential happiness of the transitioning man vs. the loss of happiness of his wife and kids.  He notes that there already “is happiness in your life”, and that the transition “might do damage” to the children who “lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to comprehend what’s really happening”.

What is really happening?  As a therapist who has specialized in Transgenderism for the past 18 years I know that people of this age come to see me when they can no longer live with their Gender Dysphoria.  It’s not about happiness; it’s about no longer being able to continue as they have in the past.  Gender Dysphoria is an intense, psychologically painful and anxiety laden state which can intensify over time to the point of being intolerable.  Gender is our first and most intimate identity, and to have that be wrong in some way is deeply disturbing.  I have had many people say some form of:  “there is no choice, it’s either this or I kill myself”.  Furthermore, transitioning is a process of becoming who one authentically is.  I think that’s a pretty good lesson for kids.

The ‘problems’ inherent in all this is that there is significant stigma and discrimination around being transgender in our society.  The only way to combat this is for brave people to acknowledge and be who they are and try and maintains good relationships with those around them.   I think if we envision a person in other (and now less) stigmatized groups in Mr. Klosterman’s article, the issue becomes clearer.  For example – an African American man in, say 1940 wanting to marry a white woman, or a gay person of the same era wanting to be an “out” school teacher… all things that the individual’s family would have not been too happy about.  Transgenderism is at the point in its own unique history of discrimination evolution where these groups were 30 years ago.   Is it easy to have a family member who is a member of a stigmatized group?  No.  Is the answer to have that person disavow their membership and suffer in silence in order to not embarrass anyone?  I don’t think so.

Mr. Klosterman’s “advice” is a good example of a person attempting to grapple with the issue of Gender Dysphoria while possessing only surface knowledge of the subject.   When public figures, doctors, psychiatrists and others do this – they do harm.   This is decidedly ‘un-ethical’.  Mr. Klosterman  – please do your homework and write a better response.

Ami B. Kaplan, LCSW

New York City Psychotherapist

Member of the ‘Policy and Procedures’ and ‘Child and Adolescent’ Committees of WPATH – the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

www.amikaplan.net, www.tgmentalhealth.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers

%d bloggers like this: