Trans children – trapped in a body, mind or society?

The Atlantic magazine has an excellent article about the heated issues raised by children who want to be the opposite sex. It’s an excellent piece that captures both the dilemmas of parents and mental health professionals sparked by potentially transgendered children.

I sometimes jokingly suggest that clinical child psychology would be better described as clinical parent psychology, owing to the fact that it almost always involves working as much with the parents’ anxieties as the child’s.

This is particularly important when it comes to behaviours which are not considered, in themselves, to be physically or mentally damaging, but which are socially unacceptable or stigmatised, because the pressure often takes the form of others wishing the child would conform to social norms.

The Atlantic article gives some vivid examples of some of the pressures, as the child, mother, father, professionals, peers and campaigning groups each have different opinions on how to manage a young child that dresses and acts like a child of the opposite sex.

As we discussed in a post about an NPR programme that covered the same territory, one of the big controversies is whether to try and treat the child to identify with their birth sex, or whether to help them cope with the stresses of adjusting to life as a transgendered child.

This is complicated by the fact that follow-up studies have shown that not all children who have cross-gender desires when young maintain them through puberty. However, hormone treatment exists which can delay puberty so it makes it easier for a child to pass as the opposite sex if this is thought the best course of action.

The Atlantic piece is a remarkably well-researched piece that covers a great deal of the mental health debate about the practice and ethics of treating what are known as ‘gender dysphoric’ children, but also gives us a revealing insight into some of the family and social dynamics that affect the individuals.

A compelling and thought-provoking insight into this contested area.

Link to Atlantic article ‘A Boy’s Life’.
Link to previous Mind Hacks piece on ‘gender identity disorder’.

One Comment

  1. nbuttercup
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    The Atlantic article is terrible!
    While it states that gender identity is fixed and immutable — “we are all pre-wired for many things previously thought to be in the realm of upbringing, choice, or subjective experience: happiness, religious awakening, cheating, a love of chocolate,” (uh huh, neuroscience has got all of that figured out) — it simultaneously treats gender identity as the equivalent to your kid demanding an iPhone, “rais[ing] troubling questions about whether the limits of child indulgence (!!) have stretched too far.”
    Don’t indulge your child by letting them wear those pink shoes. Then the neurons will have won.
    Also, everyone knows that Louann Brizendine is a hack. http://158.130.17.5/%7Emyl/languagelog/archives/003419.html
    This article fails to engage any of the issues seriously at all. Or maybe it just doesn’t get them.


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