Gender dysphoria in children: Catherine looks into the current realities.
This is the hardest of my pieces to write as it concerns some of the most vulnerable people in our society: children and teenagers. Our children look to us to learn about the world around them, and also to protect them from harm. As they grow up and become more independent (and less tolerant of their parents) protection becomes harder – but they still need us.
Non-conforming young children: is it always gender dysphoria?
Children who fail to conform with the expectations of their gender have always been present, it can be very distressing for both the child and their family. In recent years however the language has changed – with the implication given that children can “choose” their sex.
Therapists’ approach is now far more about “confirming” a child’s gender identity (Gender Affirmation) than challenging the notion that you don’t need to be a girl to play with dolls, nor a boy to be active.
Clip from Louis Theroux’s Transgender Kids. Five-year-old Sebastian/Camille asked his mum: “I am a girl, I want to be a girl, how do I become one?” The only honest answer is “That isn’t possible”. Disappointing to a child, but is it right to lie?
I will say here that with difficult cases of gender dysphoria I don’t know what the approach might be. The hard truth is that you cannot change your sex – you can become an approximation of the opposite sex, and develop some of the secondary sexual characteristics (e.g. breasts or facial hair) – and certainly “social” transitioning is entirely possible, especially pre-puberty when children have not developed facial and body changes associated with adult humans.
Isn’t it better not to lie to children though? Isn’t it better to try to get children to accept the body they are born into, rather than potentially face a lifetime as a patient?
And here is where we really hit the nub of the problem – most children with symptoms of dysphoria in early childhood grow out of it. “Desistance” rates are controversial (as with any statistic it depends on your original assumptions) – but they look to be about 80%.
Most “gender non-conforming” children turn out to be happy gay adults.
I speak to many women who are relieved that they aren’t being raised today. Some hated being a girl – especially the social role foisted upon girls and women. Many insisted they were boys, renamed themselves with “boyish” names, wore clothes more typical of the opposite sex, played with boys, played more physical games – and this was because as girls they felt they could not do these things. There is nothing more regressive than saying if a boy likes pink and princesses they must be a girl. Why can’t a boy like those things? Why are they compulsory to girls? Think about it, and then you may realise that what you are asking children to do is based on old-fashioned sexism.
This brings us to the treatment of children with gender dysphoria in puberty. In order to give children “more time” and to prevent irreversible changes, some children are prescribed puberty blockers, such as Lupron. These are described as harmless and completely reversible. No medical intervention is without risk, but as Lupron is used “Off-label” (i.e. not for it’s original purpose) we could argue that this is a massive uncontrolled medical experiment on children. And Lupron is not without side effects itself – e.g. reduced bone density.
Humans go through puberty for a reason
Not only do our bodies mature, but also our brains. Many children desist with gender dysphoria at the onset of puberty, but they cannot do this if their bodies don’t start going through it.
Though Lupron is said to give them more time, in reality nearly all children given it move on to cross-sex hormones once they are considered ready, and those really do have irreversible effects. There is a show about a transgender teenager called “I am Jazz” and two issues from that have hit home recently – Jazz has never experienced sexual arousal or orgasm, and has a tiny penis which does not contain sufficient material for which to construct a “neo-vagina”. I find that unbelievably sad. Apart from anything else Jazz has been sterilized.
Preview clip from “I am Jazz” 2017. Aged 16, Jazz Jennings learned that puberty blockers have inhibited genital development such that there isn’t enough ‘material’ (penis) to form into a facsimilie vagina. Poor Jazz seemed bewildered. TLC media
There are many issues tied up with this, including homophobia which I will talk about next. One of the other main ones is “social contagion” and the Tumblr generation. I will cover these in another post.