Your questions answered.

If only the whole world could attend the Gender Odyssey conference.  It would make my daughter’s life so much easier, not to mention mine.  And it would make the rest of the world happier and smarter and kinder, too – I’m sure of it.

In August, I attended this annual conference for the third time, along with about a thousand other lucky souls – including a couple hundred families with kids like mine.  While our kids played in the free day camp, us parents gathered in conference rooms to swap stories, laugh, cry, rage, and learn.  If only everyone could be there and see what I’ve seen, hear the stories I’ve heard.  You’d be so inspired by the devotion of the parents, the smiles on the faces of the wee ones who are making their first friendships with other trans kids, the courage of the ass-kicking transgender teens (they speak on a panel, answering the questions and allaying the fears of moms and dads like me: “Look, they are teens and they’re trans and they’re OK!”)

If you were there, your heart would break at least half-a-dozen times in just three days:

“The doctor wouldn’t let my daughter get treated in time, so her voice dropped before we could get her on the meds.  Now she won’t talk because she thinks she sounds like a man.  I have to order for her at restaurants.”

“When my ex-husband found out my child was trans, he disowned her.”

“I found my five-year-old son in the bathroom with scissors, about to cut it off.”

And then your heart would be stitched up again with hope:

“After she transitioned, I saw her smile for the first time in a year. I have my child back.”

Some of the speakers and volunteers at the conference should be sainted.  Some of them are well-known in the transgender world, but most of them are just slogging away anonymously in the trenches, quietly trying to help just one more kid. I wish I could thank them adequately.  I hope they know how important they are, and that the bright future I see for my child is in part thanks to them.

go-2One of the better-known speakers is Dr. Johanna Olson. She’s kind of a rock star at the conference and she packs the room whenever she speaks.  She’s hilarious and fearless and brilliant and when she talks, every parent in the room hangs on her every word. (TED Talk people: You should call her. She’ll go totally viral.)

Dr. Olson is the medical director of the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she sees nearly 500 transgender and gender-nonconforming youth between the ages of three and 25.   Think about that.  Five hundred. That’s a big number.  That means that when she talks about trans kids, she knows what the hell she’s talking about.  Unlike pretty much everyone else who spouts off about kids like mine (like this guy and this woman and don’t even get me started about these guys), Dr. Olson actually has REAL-WORLD information (and lots of it) to back up what she’s saying.  And that’s why I’m going to share with you just a little bit of what she said to a roomful of terrified parents packed into a conference hall this summer.  All of us really needed to hear what she said, but so does the rest of the world.  So do you. (Plus I drew some pictures to make it more fun!)

Dr. Olson’s entertaining talk addressed some of the big questions faced by any parent of a transgender child.  And they’re probably the same questions that you’re wondering about, too, if you’re reading my blog:

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Dr. Jo:  “Everyone asks me this question.”

All the parents in the room nod. Everyone asks us this question, too.

go-12Dr. Jo:  “People say to me, ‘How can someone know their gender at this age?’ The thing is, I’ve heard people say that about three-year-olds, and I’ve heard people say that about 21-year-olds!  You know how, like, when your cisgender [nontransgender] kid was gonna try out for prom queen, and you were like, ‘I don’t know if you should, honey, cuz we don’t know if you’re a girl yet.’ It turns out that conversation never happens.”

This gets a good laugh.  Then she delivers the science:

“We actually have data on this. Research going back to the 1970s showed that gender constancy is intact by three to five years old.”

Bam!

Turns out my seven-year-old, just like every other seven-year-old on this planet, IS old enough to know her gender.

The mom next to me is scribbling furiously in a notebook. She smiles at me and hisses, “Oooh, my in-laws are gonna hear about this!”

Dr. Jo goes on to say that it’s also very common for kids to tell their parents they are transgender in their teen years.   Ironically, she says, these kids are seen as “less credible” than the kids who told their parents when they were younger. Huh?

Dr. Jo: “We tell our kids that they couldn’t possibly know their gender at three. They’re too young!  But if they wait until they’re a teenager to tell us, we say, ‘Why did you wait so long to tell me that you’re transgender? We didn’t you tell me when you were three?!”

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       (This conversation never happens if your kid isn’t transgender.)

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“This is the other question everybody asks,” Dr. Jo says.  “Why do you have to slap a gender on your kid? Why can’t you just keep things neutral?” To answer this, she tells a story.

go-16Several years ago, when she was eight-months pregnant, Dr. Jo got a call from a big-time TV producer.  He wanted to feature her in a story for a well-known prime-time news magazine. The guy came to the hospital where she works with trans youth and followed her around with a camera crew all day.  And one of the first questions he asked her was: “What are you having?”

And she replied, ‘A baby.’

Over the next 8 hours of filming, the producer asked her this same question 12 more times: What are you having? What are you having again?

And every single time he asked, she said, “A baby.”

go-10By the end of the day, Dr. Jo said, couldn’t take it anymore.  He asked her one last time: “What are you having?”

And she said, “Puppies!  I’m having puppies!”

That shut him up.

Dr Jo: “It got me thinking about how uncomfortable we are if we can’t gender people even before they are born. This makes it really difficult, if not impossible, to give your child a totally gender-neutral experience, unless you live in remote area of the woods where there are no billboards, no TV, and no interaction with any other human being. And then you can raise a gender-neutral child. It’s practically impossible otherwise.”

She’s right, of course.  I tried so hard to give my kiddo a gender-neutral start, to delay the day when she would have to pick a team and start acting the part. But since we don’t live off the grid in a hollow tree stump, gender tracked us down and began indoctrinating my child as soon as her eyes were strong enough to focus on the ads on the side of the city bus.  By the time she was two years old, she understood that there were two clearly delineated camps, and she was going to have to pick one:

go-15OK, next question:

go-13

Man, did I lose a lot of sleep over this one.

go-18What if my kid changes her mind and wants to change back to being a boy?  And what if having lived as a girl for a year (or more?!) totally screws up my kid for the rest of his LIFE??

Dr. Jo: “There has actually never been one case – not one case published – where a kid has socially transitioned* and then decided that they were going to roll with their birth gender, and was harmed by it. No one’s ever even clinically talked about that, because it just doesn’t happen. Some kids have said, ‘Yeah, it was kind of awkward to tell my parents that I’d changed my mind,’ but they never say, ‘My life was ruined and I couldn’t go to college.'”

Around the room, shoulders relax.  Sighs of relief can be heard in every row. The mom next to me scribbles some more.  The in-laws are so wrong!
 
 * Social transition = Changes that are entirely reversible and require no medical intervention, such as name and pronoun changes, wearing different clothing, and identifying in social settings as a different gender.  As Dr. Jo puts it, “It’s logistics, not medicine.” Like all young trans kids, this is the only transition that my child has undergone.

 

 

And, lastly, the $64,000 question:

go-19

Is the little boy who won’t take off his sister’s Elsa costume just experimenting with color and fashion? Is the little girl who wants a buzz cut like Daddy just a “tomboy?” Or are they trans?

Lots of little boys love princesses, of course, and lots of little girls love sports and no-nonsense haircuts.  But that doesn’t mean they are transgender.  Statistics tell us that most of them probably aren’t.  So how do we know which ones ARE?go-5

Dr. Jo: “Unfortunately, there’s no blood test for transgender.”

But she explains that there are clues. She refers to these clues as “Predictors of Persistence.”  The kids who are likely to “persist” in identifying as transgender often (though not always) look like this:

Dr. Jo: “They say they ARE another gender, as opposed to saying ‘I wish I were another gender.’”

Dr. Jo: “They’re really distressed by their gender. These are kids who are trying to cut their body parts off with nail clippers, dental floss, scissors. These are kids who take baths with leggings on. There’s a lot of self-harm and suicidality, because walking around and not being authentic feels really, really bad for them.”

Dr. Jo: “Underwear and bathing suits are a big difference between kids who just want to dress like another gender and kids who tell us they really ARE another gender. It’s really common for transgender kids to ask for underwear that matches the gender they identify with.”

Dr. Jo: “When you ask them how they see themselves in the future, as a grown-up, it’s not the gender they were assigned at birth.”

Dr. Jo: “In pretend fantasy play, like when they’re playing house, or creating an avatar for a computer game, these kids will take on the gender they identify with.”

Dr. Jo emphasized that these are just clues, and that there are no hard-and-fast rules for identifying a transgender child. The best thing we can do, she said, is simply to listen to them. “Nobody knows your own gender better than you do, and that goes for children, too.

Dr. Jo: “I ask them, ‘What gender are you when you dream?”

 

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93 thoughts on “Your questions answered.

  1. Wow- Just Wow. Let me first say I am not here to judge or put anyone down. I am simply here to ask the question which begs to be asked. When will we stop justifying, and encouraging dysfunctional lifestyles? I have been through this with practicing homosexuals, and calmly discussed the issues. After they knew I was not there to judge them, they listened. I guess they thought since I was a Christian, I was ready to bible thump them…instead, I just brought some verified data for them to review. The data was revealing and very surprising to almost all of the people. It was a detailed list of the rates of domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide, and break ups in couples living a homosexual lifestyle. They crushed traditional marriages in every category. Some were even embarrassed. One figure that really hit home was the fact that the average homosexual man admitted to at least 500 ( hundred) sex partners in their lifetime. Think on that for a minute.
    My point is, todays world has abandoned God’s design, ignored His orders on how to live and as glib as can be seems to think they can justify these sinful lifestyles. There are reasons God made man and woman for each other. It even mentions in the Bible that men who lay with other men will find their due punishment within themselves. I will leave that one for you to work out. So that said, why not start with animals? Is it wrong if I find my goat attractive? Don’t I have the right to do as I please? Don’t judge me.
    Now, this was no sermon. This is a fact based issue that nobody wants to face. I know some of you will say ” How can kids help it if they are TG?” –
    Lets keep it real here folks, do the research. Just as 80% of child molestors were molested themselves, but not all of those go on to molest, there are ties to issues growing up that directly affect a child’s pattern of behavior. Most of the kids I have worked with who struggle with sexual identity issues, had a serious past history of perverted abuse and very severe emotional abuse. You don’t take these kids and try to make society accept what they learned as normal. You take these kids and teach them what the right ways are, and love them all the way. By the way, suicides are most common amongst those who step outside the traditional relationship. There is no good thing about convincing a child that they are TG. You seem to have a great heart for kids. Why not give them a real shot at life, and teach them the truth?
    Tj Petri BSW
    http://www.dontlabelmykid.com

    • “Lets keep it real here folks, do the research”

      Citations please? And I mean empirical, scientific studies published in peer-reviewed, well-respected scientific journals that have not been redacted or altered and that have been published some time in the last 20 years.

      I am open minded and willing to research your point-of-view, however, I can’t find any real information that supports what you’re saying.

      Thanks.

      • Because it contradicts itself constantly. A quote here and a quote there does not make believe anything a bible thumper says. They only quote the passages that they like.

    • {Wow- Just Wow. Let me first say I am not here to judge or put anyone down. }
      Yes, clearly you are. If you were “here” to learn, you’d be learning, not making assumptions and slinging insults

      {I am simply here to ask the question which begs to be asked. When will we stop justifying, and encouraging dysfunctional lifestyles?}
      A lifestyle is dysfunctional when it doesn’t work. Transgender people tend to have functional lifestyles after transition, and dysfunctional lifestyles if they are living with the opposition of their actual gender and their lifestyle’s social gender.

      {I have been through this with practicing homosexuals, and calmly discussed the issues. After they knew I was not there to judge them, they listened.}
      Maybe you are more compelling in person. Maybe they just have good manners and a high tolerance for nonsense.

      {I guess they thought since I was a Christian, I was ready to bible thump them…instead, I just brought some verified data for them to review.}
      You are clearly not ready to ‘bible thump’ anyone. Your ideas have very little relationship with any biblical content whatsoever.

      {The data was revealing and very surprising to almost all of the people. It was a detailed list of the rates of domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide, and break ups in couples living a homosexual lifestyle. They crushed traditional marriages in every category.}
      Statistics are unreliable regarding history relationships that are only beginning to be accepted as mainstream. Before they were mainstream, one expects the data to be confused and misleading. No one expects it to accurately represent the reality of the whole population… That’s if you are even accurately representing real statistics.

      { Some were even embarrassed.}
      Shame is the weapon of cowards. Why are you trying to hurt people?

      {One figure that really hit home was the fact that the average homosexual man admitted to at least 500 ( hundred) sex partners in their lifetime. Think on that for a minute.}
      This is clearly a lie, not an average. If you want any rational human being to give it a moment’s thought, let’s see the supposed source data of this alleged average.

      {My point is, todays world has abandoned God’s design, ignored His orders on how to live and as glib as can be seems to think they can justify these sinful lifestyles.}
      The world abandoned God’s design in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. No one’s lifestyle can be justified: not one.

      {There are reasons God made man and woman for each other.}
      I don’t think so, but of course, you are free to think so. Your opinion is individual, not biblical.

      {It even mentions in the Bible that men who lay with other men will find their due punishment within themselves.}
      No it doesn’t. I checked. Your lies are part of your sinful lifestyle. Repentance is an important part of righteousness in Christ.

      {I will leave that one for you to work out. So that said, why not start with animals? Is it wrong if I find my goat attractive? Don’t I have the right to do as I please? Don’t judge me.}
      This is irrelevant nonsense. Nether the blogger nor her daughter is a man, nor are they attracted to animals. The child is not sexually active, and the mother hasn’t given any indication of her own sexuality whatsoever.

      {Now, this was no sermon.}
      Certainly not.

      {This is a fact based issue that nobody wants to face.}
      No, it’s lies and nonsense.

      {I know some of you will say ” How can kids help it if they are TG?”}
      No. Most of us will say, “Why should anyone care whether or not some children are trans and others are cis? That’s just the way humanity is.”

      {Lets keep it real here folks, do the research. Just as 80% of child molestors were molested themselves, but not all of those go on to molest, there are ties to issues growing up that directly affect a child’s pattern of behavior.}
      This blog is not about molestation. Why would it be? Who just brings up child molesters in the context of a mother’s blog about her daughter?

      {Most of the kids I have worked with who struggle with sexual identity issues, had a serious past history of perverted abuse and very severe emotional abuse.}
      As a social worker, I suspect you worked with many children with seriously abusive pasts. People abuse children for many reasons, and all of them are foul. However, it’s not surprising that transgender children might be particularly subject to abuse of that nature. It makes many adults uncomfortable. Abusive adults express their ‘discomfort’ through abuse.

      {You don’t take these kids and try to make society accept what they learned as normal.}
      Of course you do. Kids deserve to feel safe and normal. Why would we want all of society to affirm the abuse and continue the theme of their horrible childhoods in a milder form for the rest of their lives? Why wouldn’t you want them to be comforted and comfortable? Haven’t they suffered enough?

      {You take these kids and teach them what the right ways are, and love them all the way.}
      The right ways are kindness, freedom and respect. Those can be taught with love. You cannot ‘love’ a child and reject their gender at the same time. Love includes respect and freedom.

      {By the way, suicides are most common amongst those who step outside the traditional relationship.}
      The ‘traditional relationship’ of children is the parent-child relationship. This one is filled with respect, love and support. I don’t think the worries about suicidal consequences from social abuse of LGBTQ people are at hand for her right now. Hopefully by the time she grows up, bigotry will have grown smaller, society will be less cruel, and she will not experience an increased risk of suicide. What are you doing to help that happen?

      {There is no good thing about convincing a child that they are TG.}
      No one convinces children that they are TG. Some of them are TG, and some of them are cis. All that parents are doing is listening to a child who tells them which one they are.

      {You seem to have a great heart for kids. Why not give them a real shot at life, and teach them the truth?}
      That’s what this mom is doing. Which should make you wonder what *you* are doing.

      {MCS}
      Are you a practicing social worker? Are you currently hiding these views from your supervisory body? I suggest you make sure they have a complete picture of they way you ‘work with’ abuse victims who have ‘sexual identity issues’ — if they approve, well enough. In case they might not, they deserve to have an honest picture of the people they choose to credential and employ. Be careful. You can not, live ‘both bitter and sweet’ — deceiving people is against Christian ethics.

      Sincerely,
      Me.
      Bible College Prof. MCS.

      • Personally, I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. Kudos to you for standing up for your children (who else is going to do it, right?). It’s one thing to be a Christian, it’s a completely other thing to make others feel less than just to justify and rationalize what they don’t understand or fear.

        ~Marcy~

      • Wow- thanks for that! I haven’t had a good rant like that in a while-
        After reading your response to my post, I right away thought of a friend of mine who is an attorney. He once told me that you can usually measure the amount of guilt in a person by the amount of defense they put up when an issue is broached.
        Honestly your response does NOT do a very good job of hiding the fact that you yourself clearly have been hurt somewhere along the lines, related to these issues. You have much too strong a stance to be an objective advisor. In a nutshell, I cannot and will not justify a lifestyle that goes directly against God’s design. When I was 10, I thought adults were always giving me rules just because they could. As I matured, I understood that they were trying to save me heartache. You should know better then to allow others too think that there is another way then God’s design. There is not.
        but as I look at this it occurs to me that I don’t need to tell you that. You know it. The hurt you yourself has is allowing for you to justify non-biblical ways. Here is the verse you couldn’t find in scripture btw- regarding homosexual behavior.
        “””In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

        New Living Translation
        And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

        English Standard Version
        and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”””Romans -1:27
        I would like to hear back from you and more about what you do.
        tj

    • You can’t make public policy decisions based on “God”. Objectively, belief in a supernatural creator who created the entire universe and then obsesses over how people dress, which pronouns they use, and who they sleep with is nothing but a ridiculous fairy tale. Sorry to be so harsh, but your post is basically hatred couched in religious terms to deflect criticism.

  2. I’m most definitely male, by birth and inclination. However, I don’t and would never think of turning away from a sunset just because there’s pink in it. (For the record, nature does pink a lot better than we do.) I also play female characters in (gasp!) online games, but not because I’m a pervert or wish I was female. No, I play as a woman- sometimes- because that’s just how the character is this.

    Thank you all for (hopefully) reading this.

  3. When I was three or four, I made a comment in front of my mother about how I wish I could wear shirts that showed my midriff, like the girls I knew. I thought it was bit unfair that I couldn’t. I was expressing a thought as a child.

    I’m not gay, I’m not transgender. I’m a straight white male. I was then, and I am now. Which of course discredits me in everyone’s mind.

    My mom looked at me a funny way when I said what I said. I remember her look. But you know what? So the fuck what. She was a woman, and a straight one. I was a boy, and a toddler. Toddlers say things. They are trying to figure things out. Questions don’t make one transgender, whatever that means.

    Teenagers are confused by nature. Puberty is confusing. Babies are born with a sex. For the love of all things, don’t make it more confusing for them by pushing your transgender agenda on them. Where are the transrace teens and toddlers? The ones who were born black but given white skin? Or the ones who were born tall but given short legs? Where are the support groups and surgeons for those kids?

    • Walt that was well written. I have been a social worker with troubled teens and families for 20 years, and believe me, I have seen it all. However when it was all said and done, there was ample evidence that confusion in sexuality mostly came from past abuse, molestation, and a myriad of other identity problems. My own brother was born and lived straight as an arrow until high school. The school priest befriended him and 4 years later I found out the pedophile/priest had been grooming him all along, and after my bro put a bullet in head, he left me stacks of letters from this pervert priest that were romantic. My brother was ashamed. He died. The jackass pedophile priest got promoted and moved out of state to run a boys catholic church camp- How about that. But, that’s how the Catholic’s roll.
      tj
      http://www.dontlabelmykid.com

  4. Interesting read. I’m young and don’t have any children but I struggle with the whole concept of transgender children. I do believe though that society should be more gender neutral…..

  5. This is very important. I think our society is so immune to it, they don’t realize how idiotic it is for us to be so extremely obsessed with gender and gender stereotypes. How about we just raise decent human beings?

  6. What a fantastic blog! Sharing to Facebook in the hopes of answering some questions of friends and family regarding my 15yo trans teen. Thank you for posting this!!

  7. Great read! I was always very curious on this topic. Thanks for giving me a good perspective and a change of mind in the right direction!

  8. LOVE THIS. I really appreciate the part about what happens if a kid changes their mind. That is one of my moms big concerns about me. What if I change my mind? Now I can tell her scientifically the world will NOT end. 🙂

  9. One answer, and one answer only, to this question. “KIDS HAVE BRAINS”
    Now go do something constructive with your life that doesn’t involve things that do not personally affect you.

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