Let the Child Lead the Way


Today’s post was inspired by the daughter of a friend, and is a pivot off of yesterday’s post about Blaire White’s assertion that children should not be allowed to transition until they are older.  It isn’t the first time I’ve heard that belief, but it was the first time I’ve heard a transgender woman say that kids should be made to wait until they are adults.  Now, her claims were that it was due to the medical procedures and hormones that they would need to transition, but I think she is incredibly uninformed on what a “social” transition is, so I am going to try and explain it in a way that will help other parents new to this, along with family and friends who are working to come to grips with what it means to have a socially transitioned child in the family.

For a child to socially transition, all this means is that they begin living as the gender they identify with.  No medical procedures are needed and no drugs required.  If your son says that he is a girl, and is adamant about living that way then you let them dress and behave as the gender your child identifies with.  If they want a new name, you call them by it, and you use the pronouns associated with the gender they identify as…that’s it.  If they decide they want to go back later, they can.  At this stage nothing is irreversible.

Earlier this year an academically, peer-reviewed study was conducted and reported on in Pediatrics (Link to Article HERE).  It was one of the first scientific studies of it’s kind, and it looked at levels of anxiety and stress in socially transitioned transgender children as compared to their cis-gendered counterparts.  We have known for sometime that transgender teens and adults have traditionally suffered from higher levels of anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts.  We also know this has been true for younger children expressing higher degrees of dysphoria who are not allowed to socially transition.  Researchers wanted to see how what effect a social transition has on pre-pubescent children.  The results overwhelmingly showed that socially transitioned transgender children exhibit similar levels of stress and anxiety as their cis-gendered counterparts when families accept and support their social transitions.  When we don’t let them socially transition then bad things can happen, and sometimes bad things can happen before we can even act.

The testimonial I am about to share is from a friend of mine, Kathy, about her daughter, Rowan, who turns 13 today.  I know Kathy will share this with Rowan, and so I want to wish Rowan a Happy Birthday!  Thank you for being the strong, beautiful, young lady that you are.  I know your mom is proud of you.

Kathy writes:

“I am the mother of five amazing children, four biological, and one by love not blood.  I have, not one, but two gender nonconforming kids. My oldest child came out about five months ago as trans-masculine at the age of 20.  My daughter, Rowan, who is transgender, will turn 13 tomorrow. She made a complete social transition over six years ago, and at the time was just shy of turning seven.  I could write a novel about all the obvious signs that were her way of telling us that she was transgender.  The signs went back to as soon as she could communicate independently.  One night, when she was six years old, I walked in on her in the bathroom.  In her distress, she had taken cuticle clippers to her genitals, in and attempt to remove her penis. Having done some real damage, I rushed her to the emergency room.  After a small amount of repair, and a LOT of blood, the doctor told her that she was lucky. The doctor shared with us, that if she had cut herself just a little bit over to the side that she could have hit a major artery, and that she could have accidentally bled to death.  In her despair, she responded, “It doesn’t matter, I am not really alive now anyway.”  She went on to tell the doctor that being a boy was as bad as being gone.  She was six,  only six years old at the time.  Hearing these words, the doctor called for a psychological consultant, and I began to immediately look for help. She saw numerous doctors and therapists, and all of them agreed that she was “one of the clearest cases of gender dysphoria in a child” that they had ever seen.  To give her peace of mind, and alleviate her despair, we let her socially transition immediately.  Today, Rowan, is your typical teenage girl (Kathy wrote preteen, but I know that day matters, and I’m sure Rowan would point out she is a teenager now.). She likes shopping, horses, hanging out with her friends, and swooning over whatever pop star has caught her fancy at the moment. The despair and hopelessness that filled her before is gone. I know, with all that I am, that my child would not be alive today, had she not transitioned. Instead of a tormented son, we have a funny, brilliant, creative, and happy daughter. I think she is pretty darn perfect the way she is, penis and all.” 

In Rowan’s case, transition brought peace of mind for herself, and her mother.  This wasn’t a fad.  Rowan knew she wasn’t in the right body, and she was screaming out for help.  Rowan’s case of dysphoria was severe.  My own child, Fabulous, doesn’t suffer from physical dysphoria most of the time, except to say he doesn’t like his penis because it reminds him he wasn’t born a girl.  Most cases of dysphoria are somewhere in between Rowan and Fabulous, and dysphoria can be both physical and/or mental, but if we can make the anxiety, stress, and feelings of being alone go away by allowing a social transition, then who are we hurting?  As parents we are free to live our own truths.  Shouldn’t are children be allowed to do the same?

For blockers and hormones, “The Endocrine Society’s guidelines suggest starting puberty blockers for transgender children when they hit a stage of development known as Tanner stage 2 — usually around 10 or 11 years old for a girl and 11 or 12 years old for a boy. The same guidelines suggest giving cross sex hormones — estrogen for transgender girls and testosterone for transgender boys — at age 16. However, doctors caution that estrogen and testosterone, the hormones that are blocked by these medications, also play a role in a child’s neurological development and bone growth.” (From PBS.org/Frontline)

As for sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), surgeons in the United States will not perform such surgery until the age of 18.  This is in part due to the age of consent, and because it is recommended that children wait as long as possible to finish their physical development.  These recommendations are also true for top surgeries and breast augmentations.  Below is a table that can serve as a reference for those parents looking for answers, or to give those answers to family and friends who might be curious.

Event/Procedure Recommended Age Effects
Social Transition Can occur at any time No permanent effects.  Child can always go back to living as assigned gender.
Puberty Blockers Around Age 11 Prevents hormonal development, can be stopped and development will continue as assigned gender.  May affect neurological development.
Hormone Therapy Around Age 16 Development as identified gender, will cause sterility in patients.
Sexual Reassignment Surgery Age 18 in the United States Traditionally known as bottom surgery.  Genitalia is transformed to appear and function as the genitalia of identified gender.  Cannot be reversed.
Top Surgery Recommended Age 18, some doctors will perform younger. For transitioning males this is the removal of breast tissue to alter the chest to appear masculine.

For transitioning females this is breast augmentation where implants and/or breast shaping may occur to alter the breasts to appear more feminine.  To a degree, these procedures could be reversed.

As you can see, for a pre-pubescent child there are no medical choices that need to be made right away, other than finding  a therapist, which I wholly recommend.  As parents we have time to figure it out, and to get a team of professionals in place to help us make the best decisions possible.  Listen to your child, and let them lead the way.  Trust them to know who they are, and always let them know you love and support them for who they are.

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