Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Rossi Goes From Pandering to B... | The Morning News »

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

“He really struggles with the color pink. He’s like an addict.”

posted by on May 7 at 18:00 PM

You must go listen to (or read) this absolutely heartbreaking piece by Alix Spiegel at NPR. It’s about two little boys who identify as girls—two transgendered children. One child’s family, under the care of a psychologist in Oakland, California, is allowing their child to live as a girl. The other child’s family, under the “care” of a psychologist in Toronto, is torturing their child to death—there’s really no other word for it.

By the time Bradley started therapy he was almost 6 years old, and Carol had a house full of Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets. She now had to remove them [at the urging of Bradley’s doctor]. To cushion the blow, she didn’t take the toys away all at once; she told Bradley that he could choose one or two toys a day.

“In the beginning, he didn’t really care, because he’d picked stuff he didn’t play with,” Carol says. “But then it really got down to the last few.”

As his pile of toys dwindled, Carol realized Bradley was hoarding. She would find female action figures stashed between couch pillows. Rainbow unicorns were hidden in the back of Bradley’s closet. Bradley seemed at a loss, she said. They gave him male toys, but he chose not to play at all.

This little boy—no shit—has become sullen and withdrawn and doesn’t trust his parents.

Carol says [the therapy] was particularly hard at the beginning. “He was much more emotional. … He could be very clingy. He didn’t want to go to school anymore,” she says. “Just the smallest thing could, you know, send him into a major crying fit. And … he seemed to feel really heavy and really emotional.”

Bradley has been in therapy now for eight months, and Carol says still, on the rare occasions when she cannot avoid having him exposed to girl toys, like when they visit family, it doesn’t go well.

“It’s really hard for him. He’ll disappear and close a door, and we’ll find him playing with dolls and Polly Pockets and … the stuff that he’s drawn to,” she says.

In particular, there is one typically girl thing — now banned — that her son absolutely cannot resist.

“He really struggles with the color pink. He really struggles with the color pink.”

The other little boy is happier.

Ehrensaft did eventually encourage Joel and Pam to allow Jonah to live as a little girl. By the time he was 5, Jonah had made it very clear to his parents that he wanted to wear girl clothes full time — that he wanted to be known as a girl. He wanted them to call him their daughter. And though Ehrensaft does not always encourage children who express gender flexibility to “transition” to living as a member of the opposite sex, in the case of Jonah, she thought it was appropriate.

Last year, when he started kindergarten, Jonah went as a girl. He wore dresses, was addressed as “she” by his classmates and teacher. He even changed his name, from Jonah to Jona, without the “h.” It was a complete transformation.

Joel and Pam were initially anxious, but Joel says their worry soon faded.

“They have these little conferences, and, you know, we were asking, like, ‘How’s Jonah doing? Does [he] have problems with other kids?’ and the teacher was like, ‘God, I gotta tell you, you know, Jonah is one of the most popular kids. Kids love [him], they want to play with [him], [he’s] fun, and it’s because [he’s] so comfortable with [himself] that [he] makes other people comfortable,” Joel recalls.

It was shortly after that that Joel and Pam started referring to their son Jonah as “she.”

The piece is utterly, absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s here. Go listen to it.

RSS icon Comments


Wow, that's really fucked up. Don't have to look any further than David Reimer to see why trying to reverse a kid's nature is a disaster in the making, and one you can never take back.

Posted by Essembee | May 7, 2008 6:13 PM

As a father of two pre-schoolers - especially a 3yr old daughter who is a bit of a Tom I have to somewhat disagree. She would say things like "I'm a boy like daddy & Ryan" (her brother). We have finally convinced her that she is indeed a girl (and she's OK with that now) - I would never restrict what kinds of toys she likes etc. but she would have to face reality.

What bathroom is this dress wearing six year old using? I don't see how this ends well. Children need limits - if I gave in to every whim my daughter now she would be on a 100% chocolate diet. Someone has to be the adult here.

Posted by DavidC | May 7, 2008 6:19 PM

I listened that piece on the ride home, and oh, it was so very sad. The therapy the Toronto psychologist proposed sounds truly awful and horribly misguided.

And yet, while I'm not an expert, I have to say I'm a little conflicted about taking it for granted early on and letting a kid identify as the opposite gender that early on. Kids do seem to be flexible about gender, and might grow out of such feelings; locking them into it in any way, particularly given the social issues with being transgendered, seems like something not to be taken too lightly.

Posted by tsm | May 7, 2008 6:23 PM

I have one neighbor where the youngest boy went from being an absolute fanatic about wearing make-up and pining over "The Wizard of Oz" to being a fairly stereotypical boy in the course of about six months. His parents were ready for anything, but he turned out to be fairly mundane.

Then I have another neighbor where both parents are fairly confused sexually (they both get drunk and start hitting on members of the same sex, but never acknowledge it when sober) and have kind of forced their daughter into being a "tomboy": cut her hair short, don't let her wear dresses, and made her (private) school let her use the boy's room. But they do let her play with dolls, and she loves pink as well.

It's all too confusing for me.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | May 7, 2008 6:26 PM

David C: When I was two I insisted that I was a girl. And my parents laughed it off, and I outgrew it pretty quick. But their reaction isn't the reason that I'm not transgendered today. I'm not transgendered, and I outgrew those declarations, because... I'm not transgendered. (What was up? Well, I think I was gay even then, but without a way to articulate the feelings of difference I was already experiencing.)

Go listen to the piece. The doctor that advocates allowing transgendered children to express themselves doesn't advocate running out and buying up dresses for any and all children that express gender identity issues.

While [Jona's psychologist] agrees that it's important to be very, very careful about applying a transgender label to a young child, it is at least possible.

It's possible. Some children, like some adults, are trans. And transgender children should be allowed to live as the gender that they naturally are, even if it conflict with the body they were born into, because they are happier and better adjusted. The world will have to learn to make room for them, just as the world has had to make room for gay and lesbian youth and adults.

Again, go read or listen to that story. Jona's parents resisted the inevitable for a long time. They didn't hustle Jona into dresses after he spent an afternoon fantasizing about being a girl, David C. There's a difference between indulging whims and allowing your child to be the person that your child is, and refraining from torturing your child to death—or making it clear to your child that her parents disapprove of the person she is—because potty breaks are going to be complicated one day. Family should be on your side, not on the side of toilets.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 7, 2008 6:40 PM

Ehrensaft's approach is practical and compassionate: "If we allow people to unfold and give them the freedom to be who they really are, we engender health. And if we try and constrict it, or bend the twig, we engender poor mental health." Were we all to follow that advice when it comes to gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Posted by Polka Party | May 7, 2008 6:41 PM

Dan, thank you for posting this.

It saddens me that there are licensed "therapists" practicing these kinds of "reparative therapy."

Parents should allow their children to develop naturally.

Oh, and DavidC? Gender identity isn't exactly akin to candy.

Just my two cents.

Posted by Gary Seven | May 7, 2008 6:45 PM

I heard that story -- stayed in the car to listen to it -- and it was as heartbreaking as you say. I wish more people from our parents' generation would hear it, so perhaps they'd understand what their transgendered kids (one of my friends) go through.

Posted by seattleeco | May 7, 2008 6:55 PM

I used to LOVE wearing my mother's ice skating skirt and watching her put on her jewelry and playing with her large collection of silk scarves. Sigh. But that's b/c they were fabulous!

I never ever wanted to be a girl.

My step-sister's son likes to dance and sing, and his father gets angry with him. That little boy, my friends, will have issues.

I don't think for a moment that there aren't little boys and girls out there who feel different in a way I never did. I'm glad there are therapists out there who recognize that.

Posted by Michigan Matt (soon to be Balt-o-matt) | May 7, 2008 7:00 PM

I'm sure the parents of little Bradley will be relieved when their son kills himself in fifteen years, or becomes a heroin addict. They can at least be secure in the notion that always knew what toilet he was supposed to use and what would happen to him if he didn't.

he chose not to play at all.

It's much better that way. Get him acclimated to despair now. He's going to have to learn how to be dead inside sooner or later; it might as well be now.

Posted by Fnarf | May 7, 2008 7:01 PM

You can take my rainbow unicorn - form my cold dead hands. Oh wait, shit, they are cold, omg, I'm, no... it's people...

Posted by Charlton Heston | May 7, 2008 7:05 PM

@5 - right, Dan. I just found myself wondering whether kids like Jona, raised in environments where they're actually completely accepted as the opposite sex by their parents and peers, might ever feel any outer compulsion to maintain that identity even if they later don't feel it anymore.

I don't know - maybe that's a non-issue.

Posted by tsm | May 7, 2008 7:07 PM

I listened to this story on my ride home and almost cried.

The part that made me angry was that the boy who played with a doll and hurt no one is expected to change, but the ten year olds who beat him up are considered normal.

I'm also insulted as a woman that somehow a toy that i or my daughters might touch is contaminated. What is the crime in playing with a 'girl' toy?

And what is so threatening about someone else's gender identity? I care about my own and my spouse's, and after that it's irrelevant.

(And Dan, I love the line about being on the side of family, not toilets! Well said.)

Posted by korinthia Klein | May 7, 2008 7:07 PM

Hey Dan,
maybe I'm an ass, but I don't get the trans thing. I am completely accepting of gays, but it took a gay brother to help eliminate my ignorance (I think I would end up where I am now, but it may have taken longer to understand the issue. It's sad but true in our culture. It's obvious now, but not before my "duh" moment). I have no problem treating people who identify as transgender as I would anyone else, just as I would treat a woman with fake breasts normally (I'll get to that), but I suppose I am quietly judging. Also, I think I would try to talk my kid out of it. Toys, choice of actions, sure, but dresses and using female pronouns? Why does this matter? HE is male. if he wants to do things girls like doing, so what? He can, but he doesn't need to be addressed as female, because he is not. Especially when it comes to reassignment surgery, I view it as bad as plastic surgery. Be happy with what you've got, and live life how you want. Needing surgery or something seems like body dysmorphia to me. I have no problem with how a person chooses or has to live, but changing who they are naturally seems a bit strange to me. Am I missing a "duh" moment? Is it only strange because I don't know any transgendered folks? Maybe you should dedicate a column to that or reference another place for people like me to go. I am open to being wrong on this, but transgendering (word?) seems a bit, well, "wrong" to me, and I'm wondering if my view is legit or if I need to seek out some transgendered individuals or books to explain the other view. Am I an asshole?

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 7, 2008 7:10 PM

I'm having a really hard time seeing why an affinity for the color pink, and the desire to play with female action figures, automatically means that a child is transgendered.

When I was a little boy, I didn't want to play sports. If my parents used that as prima facie evidence that I was gay or transgendered, there would have been no limit on how much they could have fucked my life.

Posted by A Non Imus | May 7, 2008 7:23 PM

@ dan, 5
"Some children, like some adults, are trans."

I totally agree with you in principle, but to be more specific, I think it's more correct and nuanced to say that children don't have any one gender set in stone, any more than any other part of their being is set. Until you get past puberty, I don't know if you can really put more than a temporary label on ANYthing a kid is.

The best thing is just to allow the kid to spend their creativity and effort figuring out who exactly they are - budding sociopaths excepted, maybe - and spend less time telling them who they are (whether it's a psych, the parents, or a sex columnist) :)

Posted by dbell | May 7, 2008 7:35 PM

@14 an excellent book on growing up transgender is She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It really illustrates how damaging it can be to deny your true identity.

Posted by jess | May 7, 2008 7:39 PM

I heard this today, and I had the same reaction. I'm a gay man with two sons about that age, and I honestly don't know exactly how I'd react if one of them was convinced he was really a girl. But, if presented with a therapist who wanted me to take away all his toys, not let him play with any girls, forbid him from pretending to be female characters, and generally make him feel as though every impulse he has is a bad one, I have to believe that I would reject it for the obviously cruel treatment that it is.

Obviously kids are still malleable at this age, and of course transitioning at such a young age should never be done lightly; I don't think that Dr. Ehrensaft can be faulted on this point. And while I would agree that life might be easier in some ways for these kids to learn to live as the gender they were born, if they really are transgendered then it's hard to see how any good could possibly come from Dr. Zucker's approach. Indeed, it seems like a terrible violation of parental trust begin policing every thought, friend, toy, color and action that a child might have for signs of opposite sex behavior.

Posted by Stephen | May 7, 2008 7:42 PM

How did you know I didn't listen to the piece yet? In all honesty I will but I have to wait for the kids to go to bed first.

Thanks to Mr. L. P. who expressed what was my 'knee jerk' reaction to what you had first posted. I'm big about 'natural' as in 'Be Yourself' and "learn to live what you were born with". I think it's important to be a loving & supportive parent but that doesn't preclude you from setting down rules of behaviour. If a kid is happy with themselves they shouldn't NEED to be called 'she' or wear a pink dress all the time.

I totally accept that being gay is perfectly normal human behaviour. But a boy will never be a 'real girl' - you can do all the surgury you want but you are never going to have a period, give birth etc. Wearing a dress & growing breasts with pills does not make one a woman. It just screams to me of deeper issues and makes me wonder what happened with their parents.

Posted by DavidC | May 7, 2008 7:48 PM

Thanks for posting this link, Dan, and calling bullshit on that "therapist" Zucker - he is coming from that exact same mindset that says it's ok to mutilate the genitals of intersex children, and the same mindset as the "therapist" who fucking coerced David Reimer's parents to lie to him for his entire childhood.

What really made me angry is this quote of Zucker's: “Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? ... I don't think we would.”

Hello!?! Race is not gender is not sexual orientation! This guy obviously sees gender as male vs. female (ie, black and white) instead of a healthy continuum. I'm kind of pissed that NPR let this guy say that without a rebuttal from someone else. But of course that would be expecting too much from NPR.

Parents, let your kids be who they are, please! I was raised as a girl, but for a long time I loved to shave my face with/like my dad. My parents even bought me my own little shaving kit. I only played with boys until age 9. I had both "boys" and "girls" toys. I preferred pants and hated skirts. And I think I came out OK.

I am not trans, however. I am fine being female, because my parents accepted (on at least some level) that I didn't always have to wear skirts or dresses to be a girl. I think this is partly due to the positive gains women/girls made under feminism, so it saddens me that boys/men have never really gotten the same chance to to step outside their gender box.

Finally, just because someone identifies as trans (which as an identity should not be forced on anyone, just as a straight identity should not be forced on anyone) doesn't mean they are automatically going to get surgery. Gender is a range, there are many options, people including children should be allowed to express who they are. Sometimes that means surgery, but often (I may be wrong) it doesn't.

This book isn't too bad for non-trans people looking for a place to start: The riddle of gender : science, activism, and transgender rights by Deborah Rudacille. Available at your local library.

Posted by meeshala | May 7, 2008 7:55 PM

yeesh, can you tell I was raised in the great granola NW?

@ 14,
the difference between a mental disease (body dysmorphia) and being transgendered is all about what you do about it.

As I understand it, body dysmorphia is a chronic condition - you don't like your body because some chemicals are off in your brain, not because there's anything wrong with your body. Thus changing your body has nothing to do with the disorder, and can lead to all sorts of self-destructive behavior.

On the other hand, a transgendered person changes their body (by clothing, surgery or other) and there finds the answer to their issue (wrong birth gender).

I think it's difficult for someone on the outside to tell the difference between a disorder and an identity which outwardly have similar conclusions, i.e. a desire to change the way one appears to themselves or others. Especially because you can't do a simple blood test to distinguish between the two.

Interesting discussion material tho.

Posted by dbell | May 7, 2008 7:55 PM

To Mr. Language Person,

I'm going to wade into these waters that I typically avoid, because you seem quite authentic in your questions.

I am transgendered. I have lived and breathed in my appropriate gender since transitioning back in 2000. I've had a multitude of surgeries and way too many therapists sessions to get me to the point of looking in the mirror and holding discussions with other folks without wanting to claw myself out of my body. I have a good job, have a partner, and go throughout my week with nearly no one throwing me any second glances. Consider the above my credentials.

As to why you don't get it - It's simple. You, or anyone close to you, has never had to deal with it. It's not even an abstraction to you at this point, the concept of gender dysphoria is simply not in your realm of experience. Thus, when confronted by those who do deal with it, the vocabulary of your life experience is ill-equipped to understand. It's akin to someone trying to grasp Schrödinger's cat when they have never dealt with quantum mechanics.

My partner and I both heard the piece while we were in the car, and we had to turn it off. Too often we've heard the same assumptions described the in piece - people (usually therapists) telling individuals that they know what gender is and how it's defined. In the case of the Toronto therapist, the definition of "female" apparently includes dolls and the color pink, and "male" is the absence of these signifiers, an idea that would be laughable if it wasn't making the child clearly miserable.

This lack of experience does not make you an asshole. But it does mean that you will have a steep learning curve if a loved one of yours ever does have to deal with gender dysphoria. If you really want to learn about it, feel free to ask those who have pondered the question of gender and the problems created when brain does not equal body. However, f you don't want to learn, and feel secure in your current judgements, don't expect to be invited to any of our parties.

Posted by Kate | May 7, 2008 7:57 PM

That's right, screwed up parents cause kids to grow up transgendered, just like all those autistic kids with cold parents. We haven't really come all that far, have we?

Posted by notsofar | May 7, 2008 7:58 PM

@14 I think the point is that these boys aren't actually male. You could view their maleness as a physical problem, rather than mental one, which is how most of the population sees it. As a society we tend to place emphasis on physical appearance - namely if you're born with male characteristics, you must be a man. When really, these boys aren't at all confused about which gender they are in their minds. The plastic surgery comparison is a bit offensive because, for example, I haven't known since I was two years old that I absolutely HAD to have huge breasts, that it was an inherent part of me. This usually stems from societal pressures, etc, Whereas, it's pretty obvious from the piece that the boys showcase behaviour which indicates that they are definitively female.
I agree that you shouldn't rush to label your children at such a young age, but it's also quite clear that forcing them to repress a significant(to say the least) aspect of who they are, is simply cruel.

Posted by Kristina | May 7, 2008 7:59 PM

um @ 20
race is a continuum too.

sorry, I have to go see a professional about my snark levels.

Posted by dbell | May 7, 2008 8:02 PM

@14: Another resource for a tiny bit of insight into folks who are transgendered is the documentary "Southern Comfort" produced by Kate Davis. It's also available at your local library. It's a wonderful film.

Posted by nosebot | May 7, 2008 8:04 PM

dbell @21

On the other hand, a transgendered person changes their body (by clothing, surgery or other) and there finds the answer to their issue (wrong birth gender).

Kinda, sorta, but not surprisingly a little more complex than that. It's not simply about the interaction with one's self (or what do I see and feel when I look in the mirror), but there's a social dynamic at play as well (how are other people interacting with me).

The best evidence of this is when they discuss Jona's interaction at school. She's being treated as a female/girl by her peers, and is seemingly flourishing.

Posted by Kate | May 7, 2008 8:05 PM

This all reminds me of the French movie (oh those French) called Ma Vie E'rose (did I get that right?). About the little boy that REALLY wanted to be a girl and the shit hit the fan big time when he acted on that feeling. Only his grandmother had the brains to ride the little boy's wave and you know the little boy turned out fine because the common sense of the grandmother prevailed, eventually. Of course it was a movie, but to get all bent out of shape and suggest "limits" have to be set seems to not have the common sense and wisdom age brings.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | May 7, 2008 8:12 PM

Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in, because I saw this issue in both the Slog comments and that idiot Zucker's interview: gender is NOT the same as sex. There is a difference between expressing your gender identity and wanting to change your sex. In the first place, gender isn't binary, it's a continuum, and you can not identify with the gender commonly associated with your sex (like a female not identifying as a woman) and still not feel the need to physically change your sex. I didn't read anything in the stories about these kids (granted, I didn't listen to the radio piece, I just read the article online) about making a permanent physical transition at such a young age. No hormones, no surgery. So if a kid wants to play with "girl toys" or "boy toys" or wear dresses or color everything pink, why not let them? It may be an expression of gender identity, or it may be just how they're feeling that month.

Posted by Lesley | May 7, 2008 8:13 PM

everybody is so busy (understandably) being horrified by zucker that they are forgetting the bright side: 35 years ago, there would have been no ehrensaft alternative. every "expert" consulted would have been a zucker. progress. yay!

Posted by ellarosa | May 7, 2008 8:13 PM

I listened to the piece and was transfixed by it and sat in my car the whole 30 minutes the piece was on. It was very powerful to listen to

Posted by Cindy | May 7, 2008 8:14 PM

Look, people. The boy isn't asking to go in and have his willie chopped off. He wants to play with dolls. He wants to identify as a girl for a while. That doesn't mean that he going to be transgendered when he grows up. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Why don't you deal with that when it comes up -- or maybe let HIM deal with it? Then?

Nobody has to make a final, permanent, irrevocable decision when they're six.

In the meantime, though, torturing him by taking away his toys and, most importantly, implanting in his mind the idea that WHO HE IS IS WRONG, is a really, really bad idea.

Nobody cares if you're squicked out by gender reassignment surgery. Nobody cares. This isn't ABOUT gender reassignment surgery. It's about a little boy who is being turned against himself.

And, really, even if you think the surgery is "as bad as plastic surgery", the correct response is -- as always -- "then don't have it". Adults who think it's right for them have the right to have it EVEN IF THEY'RE WRONG. Even if they're "making a terrible mistake". It's none of your damn business. And, you know, there is a large number of people for whom it absolutely WAS the right decision, and if they squick you out, it's your damn loss, not theirs. I don't have a problem with it, and I embrace my transgendered friends every bit as much as my gay and straight ones.

But that's nothing to do with this tragic little boy. Maybe it will be someday. You don't know, I don't know, Dr. Mengele there doesn't know, HE doesn't know. He's a little kid. Let him play with his toys.

Posted by Fnarf | May 7, 2008 8:41 PM

@20, for the love of god stop getting mad at NPR for not being a bunch of knee jerk liberal loud mouths who would question everything that doesnt sit right for you.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 7, 2008 8:46 PM

fnarf, why cant we approach more issues with this kind of viewpoint? like architecture and building development in Seattle.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 7, 2008 8:48 PM

I thought the NPR piece was fantastic. I do not pretend to understand everyone and their ideas of gender and sex, but it doesnt seem to me that either one of the boys is hurting anyone. He is just defying the norms around him that his parents and psychologists are stuck with. Plastic surgery at that point goes too far, but come on, pink, dresses, being referred to as she? Not that big of a deal, in my opinion. I think of an analogy where a trans is walking down the street being themselves in their own "continuum", and someone walking past him/her is offended, even disgusted. Who has the social problem there? Also, they are just little boys. Ten years from now they could be anywhere.

@13 - I couldn't agree more. Those boys are the ones with the gender identity issues in my opinion. I think boys have much more rigid gender guidelines. But who is hurting who, and forcing whom to think a little differently? People get outside their comfort zones and they get edgy.

@ 28 - I thought of that film too. It was great. All the parents had the problem, and the little boy was fine. And look at all the bullshit they had to go through to gain acceptance! Fiction, but good Fiction. The end of the movie backs up Dan's point about being the parents, and standing behind their children. What could be more important?

Also, I thought #14 had some valid points, but who is anyone to judge anyone? blah. The worst thing I could think of doing would be to show unacceptance. It seems like a denial of love to me. Sorry to spew some unorganized bullshit there. Its late in MN and the booze is flowing. We have come a long ways, but look at ENDA. Its gonna be an uphill battle. Lets all stay on the same side here, we got a lot of bigots to squash!

Posted by ZWBush | May 7, 2008 9:10 PM

I'm all for letting little boys identify as girls if they want to, and play with girl toys and wear dresses and partake of the color pink... but doesn't it seem to anyone that Ehrensaft and the parents are pretty quick to apply the label transgendered to this kid?

It reminds me of the dad who called into Dan's most recent podcast, who was all gung-ho about his 12-year-old coming out as gay--- to the point of trying to enlist his kid in LGBT groups and wanting to gossip about which boys were cute. I believe Dan's advice was, "back off".

If it turns out that this is a phase, then this kid is going to be stuck with the label after the phase expires. What's the cost of that?

When I was in kindergarten, I remember coming home from school every day and saying, "I'm depressed!" in an Eeyore voice. I wasn't; I was just pretending to be Garfield, and I didn't even know what depression was. Thank god my parents didn't take me to this shrink or I might have wound up on Prozac.

Posted by meh | May 7, 2008 9:30 PM

please tell me there will be a follow-up article when they run part II.
Also, The Stranger should run a sidebar, or a feature on this issue. Surely in Seattle there are parents dealing with the same issue, and this sounds like an issue worth taking a deeper look at.

Posted by falcon1 | May 7, 2008 9:36 PM

Thank you for picking this up. It was one of the most deeply affecting stories I've heard on NPR in a long time--yes, more so than all the ones about war and bloodshed and violence and disease and starvation and artistic triumph. Why? Because it dealt with the very CORE of identity and not with the veneer of society or environment.

Posted by rob | May 7, 2008 9:45 PM

I doubt any of this EVER had of be that big of deal. In my experience it's always the parents that make huge deals over normal things and run off to psychologists that cause a huge reaction in the child.
My parents sent me to a Psychiatrist when I was seven and he gave them the best advice. He told them I was just a normal kid and maybe they should make an appointment so he could help accept their imaginative child.
M daughter has always been a a bit macha.
I have just let her be and she grew up into an awesome person.
She's not a prissy fem but who cares?
If the parents had just let the boy play with dolls and wear pink I bet this would have never been a huge deal.
If older kids were torturing him, Daddy should have gone out and sicked a Pit Bull on them.

Posted by mj | May 7, 2008 9:51 PM

Fnarf rocks. Well said.

Posted by Henrietta | May 7, 2008 9:52 PM

I wonder if girls have an easier time growing up because people don't freak out over girls who aren't girly, but it's as if boys have a certain lines they can't cross. I was sometimes mistaken for a boy due to short hair and gender neutral clothes, but I didn't feel that made me any less of a girl, rather that adults seemed to have an annoying tendency to assume things about people based on really superficial cues.

Posted by poltroon | May 7, 2008 10:03 PM

I wanted to scream at the parents. It's just some fucking toys, you idiots! Who cares whether he likes Barbie dolls or G.I. Joe dolls? How can you possibly think you are helping by making him utterly miserable over some goddamned toys? Pink is just a color. BFD!

Sadly, Fnarf is completely correct. This poor kid is destined to be a suicide or major drug addict in another decade or so.


Posted by Reverse Polarity | May 7, 2008 10:04 PM

I wanted to listen to the NPR thing, but just couldn't. The bit that Dan quoted about Bradley made me too sad.

As the father of a 10 year old girl and a 7 year old boy, the idea of taking away a kid's favorite toys is just *fucking* disgusting. I had to take away my kids stuffed animals last fall when they picked up lice at school (grrrrr...) and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Especially with my 7 year old.

Posted by Big Sven | May 7, 2008 10:20 PM

@41, you have no idea how traumatic it can be to be expected to live up to male stereotypes. I was not particularly femme as a boy, and did my share of "boy" stuff, but I did some girlie stuff too -- played with my sister's dolls, read every Nancy Drew, tried on girl's clothes, etc. And I paid for it. I spend a large portion of my adolescence terrified out of my skin that I might be a fag, and steeling myself for that terrible day when I'd have to be "initiated" or whatever the hell those people do to each other. Needless to say, I wasn't, and I didn't. Turns out that my insatiable curiousity for my dad's Playboys even at age six was a better indicator!

Homophobia works both ways. We talk about how society and law oppress gays, but the ways that gays oppress themselves is worse; and the way STRAIGHT men oppress themselves is worse. The key principle is always, always BEING AFRAID OF WHO YOU ARE.

I also was sent to a psychologist at an early age, and while it's true I was spectacularly maladjusted, all I ever learned from him was a very particular kind of fear, one I can summon up instantly even now, and my face flushes. All I ever learned from him was how to concentrate on feeling defective.

So, yeah, boys get this. It's a key part of being a man: fear of what lies within. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you're afraid of it.

So when I hear about some little kid being tortured this way, it hits home. I know what's happening to him, and I don't like it.

On the other hand, if he does survive the suicide attempts and drug abuse, etc., he might make a darn good Slog commentator in about forty years.

Posted by Fnarf | May 7, 2008 10:23 PM

When I was a kid I wanted to be a dolphin.

Posted by opus23 | May 7, 2008 10:23 PM

For once, I agree with Fnarf. It greatly amuses me how many people here are bending over backwards with convoluted explanations of gender-reassignment-this and sexual-dysmorphia-that, and fundamentally ignoring the BIG FUCKING PROBLEM that a preference for pink doesn't make you a girl.

Posted by A Non Imus | May 7, 2008 10:23 PM

Finally got to listen to the whole thing.

Before we label Zucker a villian here we should note one important thing - they have spent time with the child & parents - we only have 20 minutes of audio to go on.

The first thing I noticed is that we didn't hear from Bradley's father. I think that speaks volumes about that kids situation. His mother seems to know better but perhaps she is co-dependant and can't assert any kind of authority in that household. Zuckers 'therapy' seems cruel but perhaps he knows his parents will not accept who he is as a person and is trying to reduce the conflict at home. Also he may also be trying to build up the child's self esteem in his private sessions and letting him know he can 'be who he is' without the superfluous accoutrements. Alternatively much of this could be an attention play as the "I'm a Girl" act may be the only thing that gets a reaction from his parents.

The other kid in California does sound a little freakier. I think its great that he has the combined support of both his parents but there are times when kids get spoiled by all that doting. To be devils advocate here what is it about a six year old that defines gender. Kids are pretty androgynous at that point. What 'makes' someone a boy or a girl and how would a six year old define that?

Posted by DavidC | May 7, 2008 10:40 PM

@47: "freakier"? Ugh.

I wish I could provide a more constructive response, but I'm too tired.

Posted by Lesley | May 7, 2008 11:26 PM

@47: If the parents can't "accept who he is as a person," then they need to grow the fuck up and stop being bad parents. That's no excuse for torturing their child.

It's a bit surprising that you chose those words, as parents "not accepting who their children are as people" is why genital mutilation is still medically acceptable for intersex children. It has no positive health benefits, plenty of negative health benefits, but it makes the child more acceptable to the parents, so why not lop some bits off?

I just hope your daughter is normal enough that you can "accept who she is as a person," since apparently child abuse is acceptable to you to make her "acceptable."


Having responded to his stupidity, on to the stupid in the article itself:
First, what's with NPR [sic]'ing the female pronouns into male ones?

Others have noted Zucker making a stupid comparison; let me second that. Also, he's concerned that treating his patient like a person will produce more transgender people, which clearly indicates that he believes that being transgendered is something to be avoided. Fuck him, fuck him up his stupid ass.

What the hell is wrong with Carol? Two 10 year olds beat up her son, and her reaction is, "Damn, those bullies are right, my kid is unacceptable. Better put him in therapy." ... bullying is not OK, and the fact that Bradley's mother threw her lot in with said bullies indicates that she's a horrible person who's clearly unfit for parenting.

I have serious doubts about the humanness of anyone who can read this story and NOT see the abusive relationship that Bradley is in.

Posted by AnonymousCoward | May 7, 2008 11:47 PM

I said I was playing the devil's advocate here. One think I liked about ECB's contributions to Slog is that she went against the 'group think' and helped foster some great discussion.

There is no need to 'worry' about my own daughter. She is quite loved and me & my wife will do whatever it takes to make her life as happy as can be. My point was to illustrate that she didn't understand gender roles the way an adult would.

I accept my ignorance when it comes to issues so complex like 'gender identity'. In this way Slog gives me some exposure to a very different subset of American culture. The questions I pose are honest ones, please don't kill me about the semantics for the words I use - no offence is ever intended.

Posted by DavidC | May 8, 2008 12:15 AM

@50: It's not your "semantics" that got me so riled up; it's that you apparently think that making a child "acceptable" to that child's parents is more important than the long-term health of said child. It's also that you insulted a little kid because she doesn't conform to your view of how the world should work. "Freakier?" Really?

Posted by AnonymousCoward | May 8, 2008 12:43 AM

Those Toronto parents are godawful. Why the hell would they assume that the bullies are correct in enforcing those types of standards for their child?

I think we have to be clear on the fact that Jona really is an extreme case. Most kids are not going to be as vehement about being stuck in the wrong gender as she is. But yeah, what everybody else said - gender does not equal the desire for a physical sex change. And also, his parents and his social sphere will probably be just as accepting if she decides she's OK being a boy again.

What I can't get my head around is the parents taking their kid's toys away and forbidding him to have his favorite color. Those things are only gender-specific if you have a fucking ridiculous concept of gender. As a little girl I constantly shopped in the boys section of department stores because I wanted dinosaurs and trucks on my clothes, those were my favorite toys too. My little brother and I constantly played with dolls together, and he loved the color purple.

Today we're both straight as an arrow, I dress completely femme, he practices martial arts and wants to be a firefighter.

All without the influence of a doctor who wanted to torture us out of childhood fun!!

Posted by k | May 8, 2008 4:14 AM

As far as I am concerned, they are abusing that child and should be jailed.
My daughter went through a similar phase when she was young and another one when she was in high school. She said she wanted to be a boy and I said, cool. I love trucks and dirt so let's go get some stuff to mess up the sand box with. For 6 months she was a "boy", even her dad was cool about it (LtCol, USMCR) and had a blast playing catch with her in the back yard, something she didn't do as a "girl". It didn't last but she still has those GI Joes (she's 19 now).
She went through it again at age 16 and cut off her 3 feet of hair (donated to make wigs for cancer kids) and put all her girl clothes in the donation bin. I pulled them out just in case. About 6 months later, she was back to growing out her hair and wearing skirts again. She's also gone through the goth (no piercings or tats), the preppy thing, the jock thing, and a few other less recognizable "fads".
She ended up fine, attends IU, majors in criminal justice, and is graduating a semester early.
I let her be who she wanted to be so she wouldn't end up as screwed up as I was/am.
It never hurts to let someone find their way with guidance, it always hurts to force the issue.

Posted by Gindy | May 8, 2008 4:52 AM

to Kate @22 et al.
Thank you for the resources. I don't deny my ignorance growing up in small town-closed minded U.S., or the steep learning curve. I will certainly try out some of those books. I guess my issue is what has been brought up here before. In today's age of supposed equality, what does it mean to be "female" if you were born with male parts? If you want to play with dolls, wear pink and be in better touch with your emotions, who are you? Stereotypes don't need to define. I guess I fit many male stereotypes, and so never had to worry if I did not, but don't really know what it would mean to "feel male" with the "wrong parts." I know this is disorganized and jumbled, but this is a complete unknown to me. I'll read some better materials on this and we'll see.

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 8, 2008 4:56 AM

@22 again. Oh, and I do NOT feel secure one way or the other in these views. That's my whole point. It's an unknown to me, but I still have these views. I would be more than happy to accept that I'm worng, but I need a path or some logic that would take more than a comment board to explain it to me. The reason I struggle with this is I would like to have a better grasp on it in case I do have to deal with it... and I know you probably deal with idiots plenty. Thank you for your patience with our ignorance.

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 8, 2008 5:03 AM

@41 - I think girls do have it easier until junior high. That's when pretty much all the girls start becoming more "girly" and they notice when you choose not to.

I've never been a particularly girly girl. I still only wear makeup on special occasions, I don't bother much with my hair, and I'd rather wear jeans and a T-shirt and go to a ballgame than dress up, put on heels, and go shopping. And that was never an issue with anyone until junior high, when I was pretty much ostracized by the other girls in my class (I went to a small, Catholic school, which made it worse).

But I was lucky enough to have supportive parents, and I was lucky enough to go to public school for high school. Now, 20 years later, I'm a happy, straight woman who still isn't a girly girl.

One of my classmates wasn't as lucky, however. She was a jock, excelled in baskeball and softball, loved all sports, and had an...athletic figure. She managed OK in junior high, but when she got to high school, she had tremendous problems, compounded by the fact that she was realizing she was a lesbian. She was teased mercilessly, bullied, and attempted suicide her junior year of high school.

Now, after many years of therapy, she is a relatively well-adjusted lesbian in a committed relationship.

My point in all of this is letting kids be who they are - not indulging them, but recognizing that every kid is different and granting them their personhood - is a whole lot better for the kid in the long run.

Posted by Sheryl | May 8, 2008 5:45 AM

I'm surprised no one's pointed out what bullshit it is to try and repress gender identity because "living as the opposite gender is very difficult." It is, and being gay in rural New Mexico was no picnic either, and my femme, black boyfriend had it really rough in Roswell, but that wasn't a reason to hide; it was evidence that we were surrounded by assholes. The kid in SFO is lucky to be living somewhere she'll be able to grow up as herself, but even if she grew up in BFE, I'd still be ecstatic that her parents were letting her be herself.

Posted by Gitai | May 8, 2008 7:10 AM

For the record I do not condone what the parents in Toronto have done. I was trying to understand their POV. Don't assume this kid is headed for trouble - at the very least his preants really care about him and that's more important that 8 months of a misguided therapy.

The California kid is extreme. Like I stated earlier wearing the 'costume' doesn't make one a girl. Howeever I don't know enough about either case to make broad judgements. I eagerly await part 2.

Posted by DavidC | May 8, 2008 8:13 AM

What Jona's parents are doing, DavidC at 19, IS "allowing her to be herself". This article does not describe two children going through "fazes". It describes to children desperately trying to express themselves for YEARS, not months or days. How could any parent deny their child the ability to play with toys that make them happy or wear the clothes they like?

I loved playing with GI Joes and playing catch as a kid-- but I also loved drawing ladies with big hats and wearing dresses. Blue is my favorite color-- but that doesn't make me transgender. I applaud the parents that are allowing their little girl to live the way she identifies and now within the limits of her physical gender. She's going to have a lot less psychological issues to deal with down the road than the poor little boy who is being taught that the toys he likes to play with and even his favorite color are "wrong".

Posted by SDizzle | May 8, 2008 8:21 AM

@54 Mr. LP

"If you want to play with dolls, wear pink and be in better touch with your emotions, who are you?"

That's the thing...gender isn't the result of cultural signifiers like the color pink and playing with dolls. However the expression of gender is dependent upon those signifiers...this is where many people, especially therapists like the one in Toronto, get wrapped around the axle. The problem in taking gender expression as an equivalence to gender is that you end up with people stating that if one likes flowers, dolls, and make up, then they must be female or "effeminate".

In my case, I am the child of a lesbian feminist who ran a local NOW chapter back east. I grew up in an environment where girls were encouraged (and did) participate in sports. Education was highlighted. So without the 'traditional' signifiers, where did my transgenderism come from?

Eventually I realized that the last question was moot. The point was I had to answer "where did I fall in the gender spectrum and how do I communicate that in a society that primarily sees gender as a binary?" I came to my own answer and it's working out okay.

This is the same question the parents in the piece have to answer. The folks in SFO are getting top notch help, the folks in Toronto , less so. Again, the problem is that the therapist in Toronto is forcing their definition of gender upon a child (and by default, their family), when all evidence provided by the child and family is that the therapists definition is quite wrong.

It's good you don't feel secure in your beliefs, and I do hope you find good books on the subject. Pomosexual, by by Carol Queen, Lawrence Schimel. The book is heavy handed, and mostly in the abstract, but it's a great place to be challenged and create a list of questions that are more appropriate to gender discussions than how fond we are of the color pink.

Posted by Kate | May 8, 2008 8:55 AM

Kate has it right. Our gender expression -- that is, how we act -- doesn't necessarily have any connection to the gender we understand ourselves to be. It's true that a kid can express him or herself in varying ways that don't always match his or her outward sex. That's part of being a kid.

But the issue of our internal gender -- what we understand ourselves to be, male or female -- is not as flexible as our outward acts. People who aren't trans don't notice this (or not as easily) because their body and mind are congruent. Trans people, however, are VERY aware of their internal gender, and often from a very early age. It can be apparent to some kids from age 3 or 4 that their gender doesn't match what their bodies and their parents are telling them. And THIS understanding of one's gender -- the internal gender, not just the outward expressions of gender -- is fixed as strongly as any non-trans person's gender.

The problem is, for adult transpeople as well as kids, to figure out if your internal feelings *really* mean that you are trans and if so, what to do about it. It's serious stuff! And even adults have a hard time expressing what they feel or why they feel it. I can't begin to explain what I feel - the best thing I can say is that I feel SO much more at ease in my skin, and in the world, since I transitioned. I can verify that I am trans and a woman because it works for me. Obviously, that explanation was not available to me when I began.

The professionals and society are still figuring out how best to help kids who show signs of being trans. IMHO Ehrensaft and Jona's parents are doing things exactly right for a kid of that age, given what Jona has done to express her internal gender. None of it is irreversible. All of it will give Jona and her parents time and evidence to help them decide what to do when she reaches puberty. (Which is of course a minefield right now.) I don't suggest that this sort of reaction is appropriate for any kid who expresses trans leanings, but it should always be on the table. I am encouraged that kids nowadays have so much more support and understanding than they did when I was growing up.

By the way, Zucker and his group in Toronto have a terrible reputation among trans people, because of bullshit like this.

Posted by Sachi Wilson | May 8, 2008 10:02 AM

Somewhere between taking your kid's pink crayons away and encouraging your kid to gender-identify as a member of the opposite sex are probably a hundred other, less extreme, variations. Of course, the extremes make for more compelling radio, and the piece was very compelling; I listened to the entire piece, rapt. But I would like to hear a piece about parents who encourage their young boys to identify in different places along a gender continuum instead of locking them in to one place or the other, at least until adolescence.

Posted by jbal | May 8, 2008 10:34 AM

Part of the problem in situation like this/reading articles like this, is that we don't HAVE a good definition of what gender is.

Is it defined by who you have sex with? No. What you like to do? no. Your degree of lisp? Your favorite color? Your preference in sexy clothes? No. Your profession? Your parenthood status?

We have no idea what gender is, other than some nebulous concept of internal feeling. Attempts to quantify it or define it are decried as stereotyping. But don't some people have to be examples of stereotypical behavior for it to BE stereotypical? What makes little girls girls and little boys boys?

When I was a kid, I wore boys clothes, collected frogs, my favorite animals were the grey wolf, the cheetah and the frog, my mom swore dirt flung itself off the ground to attach to me, and my fingernails were persistently ragged and dirty. I flat out refused to wear pink. I would pitch a fit if it came near me. I would not wear pastels. My parents and grandparents were pretty understanding about my toys, I gotta say. They didn't even bother giving me dolls, I got legos and animal figures and frogs and more frogs and lots of books and outside time.

We came to an uneasy truce about my clothes, in that I would wear a dress on Sunday mornings to church and I didn't have to any other time. I begged for three years to be allowed to chop all my hair off and be known as Chris instead of Christi. That was not done, but it wasn't No, you are a girl that would be bad, but simply, No, we're not cutting your hair.

I found out later from my mom it was that I was taken for a boy so often anyway she was afraid cutting my waist length hair would increase that. "Duh," I say in my head. I was, actually, mistaken for a boy a bit when I was younger, and was always thrilled.

Turns, out, I am just a garden variety straight woman.

But if you listed my "symptoms" when I was 5 or 7 or 9, you would have the same list of symptoms that the article gave us for 'Bradley.' Would you have the same cries of "Transgender Kid!"

Maybe yes, and you would have been wrong, Maybe no, and that would simply tell you about what degree of flexibility our society has for women's vs men's roles. It is 'OK' for women to act as men, because of the privilege thing, but seen as stepping down for a man to act as a woman.

But these aren't men or women; they are little kids.

I think that Jona's parents seem to be doing the right thing, as far as the article elucidates. Bradley's, not so much, but just because they are torturing him with taking his toys away and such. If my parents had taken away my legos and given me barbies, I wouldn't have played either. I would have cried if I had to wear skirts all the time.

But just because Bradley likes "girly" things, doesn't necessarily make him transgendered, you know? It IS heartbreaking to read the article about how his redneck parents are like "it's like he's addicted to pink!" like he has a disease. But I do think we need to be cautious about affixing labels to "trans" kids.

Maybe part 2 will be about bio girls.

Posted by clausti | May 8, 2008 10:35 AM

On a mostly related note, did anybody see the show on PBS last night about the East German Olympic Program's doping? Damn, that was fucked up!

Posted by gillsans | May 8, 2008 11:01 AM

@16 "The best thing is just to allow the kid to spend their creativity and effort figuring out who exactly they are ".

word. i have yet to become a parent however i've always fostered the belief (ever since i was a wee one myself) that this is how i was going to raise my children. it's not our job as parents or future parents to make decisions for our children. of course at such a young age, we are obligated to provide and care for their well-being.

unfortunately, relationships between parents and children everywhere are completely destroyed by expectations and standards, in all realms of the spectrum of conflict. when we expect a person to behave a certain way and rely on them doing so, their lies a very high possibility of disappointment as we cannot in any way control any person but ourselves. this includes our children. when we set expectations for a person and if they fail to meet these expectations, as they are most likely experiencing the trials and tribulations that are life, we often build a resentment towards this person.

whether we are conscious of this resentment or not, it affects our relationship with this person negatively..

it can all be simply avoided by accepting that they are going to do and experience everything they need to in order to learn life's lessons for them. we can try and protect them, we can try and force them to do things our way. we can let them do things their way. we cannot change them and the best thing anyone can do is to positively reinforce their growth as a person via compassion, understanding, and acceptance.

Posted by Madelinear | May 8, 2008 11:22 AM

oh and i forget to add. read paul constant's aritcle in this weeks paper fools.

Posted by Madelinear | May 8, 2008 11:29 AM

My cousin is transgendered. He was a very girly girl when he was growning up (dresses, pink, dolls). You would never know that she would grow up to be he. There was nothing wrong in how his parents raised him, he came to terms with his identity in high school, and has been going through surguries and chemical adjustments since he was 17.

I will admit the only hard part for me to grasp was the pronoun change. He instead she, him not her. But that was only because I have known my cousin since he was born. He is very happy, well adjusted, with a wonderful partner, who also transgendered.

So yeah, once again proving that how you are as a child does not always prove how you will be later in life (duh, but apparently a hard concept to grasp for some).

I think people need to get over the need to classify everything. My cousin was a girl, and is now a boy. His partner was a girl and is now a boy. But they don't have boy parts! When do you start calling them boys? What does that make them sexually? Lesbian? Gay? Straight?

Who the fuck cares. They love and support eachother, that is what matters. They are happy and healthy, that is what matters. And their family has loved and supported their decisions as well, that is what matters.

The people that think parents are being "indulgent" to let their kids express any kind of transgenderism are ignorant. This isn't like allowing to watch TV, this is about letting children have the freedom to be comfortable, accepted, and loved. Every child deserves that.

Posted by Original Monique | May 8, 2008 11:34 AM

We delve deep into the reasons behind WHY these children choose an "opposite" gender, but have we considered that gender doesn't truly exist? Much like race? Their expression of how they feel inside, may not match their bodies, but some transgendered people do not follow through with a full sex-reassignment surgery because they feel comfortable with what some in society may say is a grey area. Gender, like race, like most things in this world are not black and white. How about we teach our children this? Through example, through how we view our world and communicate it to them. Otherwise, ignorance will continue to rule and polarize the human family.

Posted by billy | May 8, 2008 12:21 PM

On Zucker: Any child therapist worth their salt knows that young children communicate and process primarily through play. To take away Bradley's toys and police his artwork is akin to muting him. The kid has no voice anymore, and no way to work out his emotional pain and confusion. Zucker's approach feels like child abuse to me.

Posted by Christina | May 8, 2008 12:51 PM

um. in short, i think that what defines "gender" is only how a person chooses to present themselves to the world and how they would like to be received, how they relate to people and want to be related to. And I totally agree that it is a gamut, not a black/white thing. Like most things in life.

And absolutely I'm in the boat with the folks on about how lots of us girls were total boys when we were kids. Some of us stayed boys through high school and on into college. You could be a girl and be a boy, its okay. I guess its not as okay to be a boy and be a girl. And lots of men like women who are boyish. Lots of women like men who are girlie. A Gamut, people, not an either/or thing. I think men who wear pink are HOT. I also have a very cute (adult) straight guy friend whose two obsessions are heavy machine tools and cutesy stuffed animals. I think that makes him neat, not freakish.

Posted by nicole | May 8, 2008 1:05 PM

I think It's interesting to note how concerned we are with what these kids play with. How about knowing that these kids like to play (after all, that is the typical "kid" thing to do) and accepting that they are doing very age appropriate things? We seem overly concerned with creating order around what we think are static and polar sexes or genders. What will lead these kids towards successful adulthood is having adults who love them for who they are, give them guidance and limits for behavior.

We as adults or parents or doctors or anyone know how they experience their gender. Most of us have not been through having to deal with feelings that our body doesn't represent our gender. We assume that currently exists is how the world should be, although we rarely hear about the real lives of people who are trans. We hear about exotic surgeries, prostitution, and sexual lives....and as such, in our attempt to understand these kids' experiences sexualize the kids, being overly worried about how they go potty, where they go potty, and who they might find attractive.

We assume gender, sex, and sexuality need to be normalized "for these kid's best interests", yet we fail to deal with our own fear of not knowing or the fear of having to question our own gender, sex, and sexuality.

We worry about what will happen if kids "transition" early. We feel the need to gender babies at birth (even to the point of surgically "fixing" their genitals to "normalize" them). We give them pink or blue blankets, so that we, as adults can make sense of them in our limited ways. This gendering is so pervasive that we do not even have language to use to talk about people who don't fit our conventional, dichotomous understandings of gender.

Kids try on identities. This is good. If another one seems to fit better, perhaps it is time to adopt that identity.

This is a complex thing, not nearly as simple as...has a penis, so must simply learn to be an appropriate boy. Doing things such as what's being done to the first kid is bound to permanently hurt the kid.

Remember, kids who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are over twice as likely to committ suicide as teens. Around 40% of the kids on the streets as teens are GLBT. Being GLBT is not the cause of this - it's how they are treated because they are GLBT or how they believe they are worthless because of what others say about GLBT people that makes this stuff happen.

Posted by Matt | May 8, 2008 1:41 PM

I was struck by the diagnosis of 'gender identity disorder.' Seems to me it should be 'adults who can't accept children's gender identity disorder.' Nothing wrong with the kids, just (as usual) the adults.

Posted by karen | May 8, 2008 4:23 PM

fyi, part two of the story is available now:

Parents Consider Treatment to Delay Son's Puberty

Posted by spalding | May 8, 2008 4:38 PM

"If a kid is happy with themselves they shouldn't NEED to be called 'she' or wear a pink dress all the time."

Say what now?

I think that that is an incorrect statement, predicated on an adult's bias of what a child should be like. It is akin to me saying, "I don't like football, so, if a guy is truly happy with himself, he shouldn't need to play or watch football, since I am happy and don't watch or play football." Children need structure and they need to feel as if their thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter, for them to grow up to be able to express those things in a healthy manner. If you tell a child that everything they like is wrong, then they think they are wrong, unworthy, and undeserving of love.

Posted by Thomas | May 8, 2008 5:47 PM

"One day, Bradley came home from an outing at the local playground with his baby sitter. He was covered in blood. A gash on his forehead ran deep into his hairline. "What had happened was that two 10-year-old boys had thrown him off some playground equipment across the pavement because he'd been playing with a Barbie doll...'"

Would that I'd been the baby sitter. I would have kicked the 10-year-olds' asses, and, had either of their parents been there, theirs, too. And I don't mean in the actual physical ass-kicking sense, but any adult worth their salt can scare the crap out of a couple of 10-year-old boys -- particularly when inspired by righteous anger.

I'm a full-time mom of a small boy and have been getting a crash course on the various dynamics of a playground. I come down on the side of adults present setting some standards of fair play and discipline (regardless of whose kids) -- with force if the situation warrants and with tact and diplomacy if it's not that urgent. A gash across the forehead is urgent. Shame on the adults there who let this go down without some reprisals against the older boys. As has been said multiple times by a variety of individuals on this post -- "kids need limits." Not ganging up on and physically assaulting a smaller child is a limit that I would hope most parents could/should establish and support, regardless of ones own personal thoughts and feelings about gender issues.

As for toys, the only ones I bar from our household are the annoying battery-operated ones that I personally feel are creating a generation of ADHD kids (my opinion, no clinical proof). My son is currently into the very boyish thing of backhoes, so my guess is that he, like the majority of people out there, will mostly identify with the anatomy he was given. As such I probably will not find myself in a similar position as the parents in the story. But I've got to say my heart bleeds for Bradley and his family. The "therapy" seems to be making them all miserable. The mom sounded hopeful that she was doing the right thing, but miserable for how it was making her son feel. And it sounds like Bradley has been learning all of the "right answers" to give to certain questions, and getting very little satisfaction out of life in general. It would have been much better had his mom gone to the parents of the kids in question and demanded an apology and payment for the medical attention her son no doubt required. Aside from showing her son that she unconditionally loved him, it would have been the right thing to do according to a general sense of fair play. And isn't that what we'd really like for our kids to learn? It did the 10-year-olds no good to get away with what they'd done. And Bradley got the message that their actions were justified. Not a good lesson for all concerned.

Posted by EFS | May 8, 2008 11:10 PM

A number of years ago, when I was presenting at a sex research conference, I met Richard Green. The Toronto therapist reminded me of him---Green wrote a book entitled, “The Sissy Boy Syndrome.”

Green took the attitude some of the earlier posters did—that biological boys needed to “fit into” societal roles, because it would be “easier” for them (or perhaps as some posters have pointed out—it’s really “easier” for the dominant culture) in the “long run.”

At that time, there was also a concern that children who engaged in “non-traditional gender expression” (i.e., bio boys with dolls, bio girls with trucks) might turn out to be –gasp—gay or lesbian. Actually, some research indicates about 15% of such kids grow up to self identify as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual, but that means 85% don’t, which seems to reflect some of the personal experiences related of earlier posters (“I did something like that, but I turned out to be a straight man/woman.”)

Green solicited parents to bring him “sissy boys” and he basically trained them to “butch it up.” My favorite case history—a kindergarten age bio boy who enjoyed his “dress up corner” time, carrying around a purse. After Green’s intervention, the kid was taught to carry around a brief case.

When interviewed by another researcher, the child confided “I carry the brief case—but I pretend it’s a purse.”

In research, there’s a distinction made between “primary” and “secondary” issues of transgender concerns. The children in the NPR piece (which I also listened to when it first played) do indeed seem to be at a certain “extreme” of a continuum, but that’s the whole point of the issue of “primary” designation…it’s to identify and acknowledge these are unlikely to be part of the 85% of the population who’ll grow up and be garden variety straight men.

And as long as I’m posting…in this field, Americans always come back to toilet issues…in another instance, I had a friend at the Human Sexuality Program at the University of Minnesota who was called in to work with a Cambodian child. The kid was around 9 years of age.

Many westerners are unaware of gender difference in Asian names (for example, a Norwegian American school teacher in St. Paul looks at her enrollment list of new students she’s assigned and doesn’t know whether “Botum” is a “boy’s name or girl’s name.” (Out of curiosity, how many of you out in Slogland would know?)

The Cambodian child had been recognized as male by his teachers, peers, and principal during his educational experience. But he was playing softball, and the school district required all softball team members to have a physical examination, where it was determined the child was not biologically male.

This is an excellent example of “cross-cultural incompetence.” The principal made the child publically apologize to the other students for “pretending” to be a boy for all those years and “fooling” everyone. Let’s just say that didn’t go over very well. My friend was called in to do an age-appropriate interaction with the student body. He told them, “there are some kids who are girls, and some who are boys, and some who are girl-boys, and some who are boy-girls. And your friend is a boy-girl.” The school, by the way, had a boy’s restroom, a girl’s restroom, and a unisex one. Guess which one the kid had been using the whole time? Minneapolis is also one of the first cities to mandate unisex public restrooms. Pretty simple solution, toilet-wise.

Oh—I should mention there’s no happy ending with this one. The Cambodian parents were so humiliated (interestingly, not apparently because of their child) that they moved out of the city and into a different school district.

Posted by Ty | May 9, 2008 1:35 AM

I'm not transgender, but I was a tomboy. I preferred playing with boys, had a short boy’s haircut, wore jeans and t-shirts all the time, and hated pink. The only dolls I played with were Star Wars and Transformers. I never self-identified as male, but I took it as a compliment when people mistook me for being a boy. My parents never had an issue with my behavior, nor did my friends. I grew up to be a feminine woman, but most of my friends are men, and I still have interests that many would consider “male” such as playing Grand Theft Auto and other video games. Guess what? People think that it's really cool. Society has always been more accepting of women whose interests cross gender lines than men who do. Wouldn't it be great if boys could play with dolls and wear pretty pink dresses without being called sissies? The children in this story are clearly transgender and should be able to live as girls if they want to. It's obvious that Jona is so much happier now she can be herself.

Posted by ay1ene | May 9, 2008 11:30 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).