The stories of children -- sometimes even toddlers -- proclaiming that they are transgender seem to be on the rise. Over the weekend, The Washington Post featured a profile about a young girl named Kathryn who, at the age of two, began telling her parents that she was a boy. The child was inevitably diagnosed with gender identity disorder.
"Transitioning" during the childhood and teen years is a relatively new phenomenon in America. While it has not been uncommon for adults to change genders, it is extremely controversial to encourage -- and to allow -- children to act upon these feelings. The Post has more:
In the United States, children have been openly transitioning genders for probably less than a decade, said Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who is a leader in the field of gender orientation. There is very little to go on, scientifically, to support that approach, and the very idea of labeling young children as transgender is shocking to many people.
But to others, it makes perfect sense.
“In children, gender solidifies at about 3 to 6,” explained Patrick Kelly, a psychiatrist with the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. [...]
The American Psychiatric Association has an official diagnosis for this: gender identity disorder in children.
Those who have it, according to the association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, experience “a persistent and intense distress about assigned sex, together with a desire to be (or insistence that one is) of the other sex. There is a persistent preoccupation with the dress and activities of the opposite sex and repudiation of the individual’s own sex.”
For Tyler, playing with normal toys that appeal to girls wasn't really an option. As time went on, the child began to request trucks, swords and other related items. Additionally, she wanted short hair and petitioned to wear pants instead of dresses. Initially, her parents battled with the young child and attempted to explain her true gender.
When Kathryn's mother, Jean, tried to sit down with her daughter to explain her anatomy, the child, then three, rejected the notion and reportedly asked her mother, "When did you change me?" So Jean began soaking up information about transgendered issues, as her battle to get Kathryn to wear girl's clothing and to accept her female nature seemed fruitless.
But before telling her husband, Stephen, her suspicions about their daughter, Jean wanted to be 100 percent sure that what the couple was facing was a child with gender issues. Inevitably, she became convinced that this was, indeed, the reality. After spending a great deal of time researching the subject, the inquisitive mother finally approached Stephen and voiced her concerns.
Initially, her husband rejected her claims that it might be beneficial to allow Kathryn to call herself a boy. But after hearing his young daughter explain how unhappy she was dressing and acting like a female, he agreed to take her to a psychologist.
The doctor, to Stephen's horror, diagnosed the child with gender dysphoria and recommended that Kathryn live her life out as a boy. While her father struggled with the notion, the child was apparently elated. For the purposes of the article -- and the protect the identity of the family -- the child, who now lives as a boy, is called Tyler (the name his parents would have given him had he originally been born a male).
While his parents claim that they will allow him to return to Kathryn if he ever chooses to do so, for now, Tyler is extremely content in his male role. In fact, the five-year-old is so insistent that he's a boy that he flatly rejects the notion that he's transgendered.
“I’m not transgender,” he explains when he hears his mother use the word. “I. Am. A. Boy.”
Jean and Stephen aren't alone in dealing with these issues. As the Post notes, ignoring these symptoms when they arise is apparently common and, some experts say, dangerous. Some children are so impacted by these issues that they end up depressed, suicidal or emotionally disenchanted.
But while some experts recommend allowing children to live out whichever gender they claim to be more in-tune with, others, like Kenneth Zucker, a child psychologist in Toronto, Canada, believe that it's better not to categorize children. Rather than giving them a label when gender identity disorder arises, he recommends taking a neutral approach.
While research is still sparse, some experts maintain that the majority of children who face these issues actually return to their original gender; they essentially outgrow the problem. The Post continues:
In the U.S., it’s impossible to know how many children have gender identity problems because the condition usually goes unacknowledged by parents and pediatricians, said Edgardo Menvielle, who counsels transgender kids at Children’s National Medical Center in the District. About a dozen children from the area belong to his support group, and hundreds of families around the country are part of his online support network.
In the decade that Menvielle has been counseling such children, he estimates that about 80 percent end up switching back to what their biology tells them. The other 20 percent remain transgender into adulthood.
To read more about Tyler and other individuals who face similar challenges, click here.