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Transgender Kids: Boys Will Be Girls

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If your child longed to be the opposite sex, would you let him or her "switch teams"?


Congratulations: It's a girl! Well, at least that's what you thought you had. For parents of transgender children, not everything is what it seems. Some children are wracked with what's called a "gender-identity disorder" and are profoundly depressed and can even become suicidal if they are not allowed to express themselves as the opposite sex.

Tina Simms had a difficult decision to make: Should she allow her son, Brandon, to live his life as girl? After all, Brandon had expressed a desire to be a "she" instead of a "he" almost as soon as he could talk.

In typical transgender fashion, when Brandon was a little boy, he rejected all things "male." He only wanted to play with dolls and preferred dressing up in his mom's clothes. Once, holding his penis between his legs and obscuring it from view, he gleefully told his stunned mother, "Look, Mom, I'm a girl!"

After years of therapy and family counseling, Brandon, now 9, has made a complete transformation. He is now called Bridget. He only dresses in feminine clothing, has his ears pierced and is by all accounts the happiest he's ever been -- and his parents fully support his decision. Eventually, as he nears puberty, he will begin receiving puberty-blocking hormones.

And he might not even have to wait until his teen years to start treatment. Pediatric specialist Dr. Norman Spack opened a clinic last year in Boston for transgender kids as young as 7. While some critics argue that it is morally wrong to put a child through that process at such an early age,Ritch Savin-Williams, professor of human development at Cornell University, disagrees. "The quicker you are able to intervene hormonally, the easier [the] transition from a boy to a girl in terms of physical appearance," he tells momlogic. "By not even allowing the masculine effects of puberty to begin, you can prevent years of misery for the child."

Only time will tell if Brandon will eventually make the leap to a total sex-change surgery. (Most American doctors will not perform a sex reassignment until the age of consent, which is 18.)

So how can parents tell if their child might be struggling with a gender-identity disorder? Just because a boy plays with a doll, does it mean he's transgender?

"This is not just a boy wanting to dress up like a girl for Halloween," says Savin-Williams. "It's about persistence. It's when a child is so miserable that the only thing you can to do to lift the child's spirits is to let them become the opposite sex. And it's also a matter of time: If a child is consistently communicating their gender preference -- for over a year -- to family, it might be time to seek counseling."

But again, Savin-Williams advises against putting off facilitating a child's transformation. "It doesn't make mental-health sense for a child to be miserable," he says. "And it's not like the problem is going to just go away."

next: Back-to-School Moments Never Go As We Envisioned
188 comments so far | Post a comment now
K8 August 19, 2010, 8:40 AM

Gender exists between the EARS, not between the LEGS.

my 2 cents August 19, 2010, 9:43 AM

Gender exists between the LEGS, not between the EARS! If you’re not sure about that, just take a look down your pants.

helen August 19, 2010, 1:15 PM

If a boy wants to dress like a girl or says that he IS a girl, he should be allowed to dress however he wants to. For Pete’s sake he’s a child. He has not yet absorbed the stupid and arbitrary idea that boys should be one way and girls should be another way. If the boy has gender identity disorder, forcing him to be a’real boy,’ forcing him be ‘macho,’ will not only confuse him, but will also cause him to have horrible self-image and self-esteem issues. If your boy wants to ‘be’ a girl or if he just wants to dress like a girl, let him. After all, girls have been wearing pants, tee shirts, shirts and other ‘boy’ clothes for decades. If you really want to completely screw up this kind of boy for the rest of his life, FORCE him to be a real, ‘play in the dirt,’ ‘chew on barbwire’ ‘spit and cuss’ macho dude, just to please you. I’m sure he’ll thank you after he ‘s done with years of therapy. The haters are always ready to criticize and condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with their judgmental and hypocritical view.

anna August 19, 2010, 1:23 PM

You forgot to include teaching a boy with gender identity issues, or any boy, that a ‘real’ boy beats his sister and other girls and a ‘real’ man beats his wife. There are too many ‘men’ out there that think that’s what it takes to be a REAL man and will teach their boys that.

chris August 19, 2010, 2:35 PM

Wow Anna, why the man bashing??? I swear if seems as if women are trying to elimate the man race from our society! I know a lot of “real” men who don’t beat their women. My father, my brother and my husband are among 3 of them. Just because some women make really bad choices in their relationships doesn’t mean that all men are the same.

fay August 19, 2010, 11:07 PM

@ my 2 cents: SEX exists between the legs. GENDER exists between the ears. (Yes, there’s a difference!) For most people, our biological sex is the same as our gender identity. For some, it’s not. Check your cisgender (opposite of transgender) privilege, live and let live.

Linda August 22, 2010, 8:04 AM

That is a great way to put it Fay. I actually know someone who is transgender, and he doesn’t think at all like a woman! Men and women have different thought processes, as we all know. Being born with a vagina does not make him a woman. He is all man. And you can always change whats between the legs, as he did. You can not change whats between the ears.

Nikita August 25, 2010, 2:03 PM

I have 2 transgender people in my family and thankgoodness that I was raised in the famiyl that I was. These comments are disgusting. Being a LESBIAN, its not hard to understand at least some of what those that are transgendered go through. There is nothing wrong with letting a child dress HOWEVER they want to. It might be a faze…OR they cold be a member of the LGBT Family (do keep in mind, I am what you would call a “lipstick lesbian” and so is my wife. We wear make-up/high heels/perfume/ect). That is MY 2 cents…

Berenice October 12, 2010, 3:09 PM

Gosh I really wouldn’t know what to do. I am not homophobic or something like that but I am really concerned about this. I just couldn’t know what to do…


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