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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Postponing Puberty

posted by on May 8 at 17:57 PM

There were two-hour tantrums. Tornadoes of tears and screaming that left the family exhausted. Any comment could set Armand off, and, once triggered, there was no controlling him….

The family consulted mental health professionals…. Still, while the doctors were unable to find the right label, their son seemed to understand what was going on. Danielle says that during quiet moments, like the ride from school, her child would confess what was causing so much trouble.

“A lot of times she’d come out and say, ‘I’m a girl.’ No, at first it was, ‘I want to be a girl,’ then it’s like ‘No. I am a girl.’ And she’d ask if me if I [thought] she was crazy and I’d say, ‘No, honey, you know, it’s OK.’ And in the front, you know, I’m driving going … ‘Oh my gosh, what is this?’” Danielle says.

Robert and Danielle agreed. The first official day of Violet’s new life was Aug. 19, 2007. It was the first day of a family vacation. Armand—now Violet—was 10. And Robert says her emotional transformation that day was nothing short of astonishing.

“It was the happiest kid I’d ever seen. Just lit up. Just … brilliant and funny and these things that we caught glimpses of that weren’t always there,” he says.

The doctor explained that their son would, in all likelihood, grow up to be transgender — someone who lives as a member of the opposite sex.

Robert and Danielle say that at this point the diagnosis was more of a relief than a shock. They decided almost immediately to stop trying to force their son to live as a boy. And then looked, with some anxiety, to the future. Armand was close to 11 years old.

“We knew that puberty was around the corner and we needed to start looking into … what do we do,” Robert says. “How do we help this child, you know, develop in a way that is consistent with who she is.”

Violet is now taking hormone blockers—which prevent the onset of puberty and the development of masculine secondary sex characteristics, which can traumatize a transgender child. Part two of Alix Spiegel’s important, moving series on transgender children is here.

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I think Alix Spiegel is the author of a This American Life story on her father and the American Psychiatric Association.

Posted by six shooter | May 8, 2008 6:20 PM

Oh wow, that was one of my favorite This American Life stories. Whenever I set out to make new converts (not to homosexuality, but to TAL), I suggest that episode.

Posted by el | May 8, 2008 6:27 PM

Something about parents/doctors deciding to impede the natural functioning of the human body of a child, no matter how well intentioned that decision might be, leaves me a bit squeamish...

I mean, doesn't this come dangerously close to "A boy wanting to play with dolls and dress up like a girl is a problem that needs to be fixed by medicine?"

Obviously, doing the best thing on behalf of the child is what should be done. But, being able to absolutely and accurately identify in a child whether that child is transgendered, gay or simply "atypical to heterosexual stereotypes/expectations at a young age" suddenly becomes a much more pressing concern, doesn't it?

I thought sticking to a simply parental ideal of "we will love our children unconditionally" was enough...and what this brings up is the issue of "what's the right thing to do and when's the right time to do order to love our children unconditionally."

It must be absolutely terrifying to be a parent.

Posted by pgreyy | May 8, 2008 6:42 PM

This piece was completely riveting...I was glued to the radio for the entire segment and on the verge of tears at several points. Alix has done a great job.

Posted by gnossos | May 8, 2008 6:52 PM

Boring. Post more photos of hot, sexy trannies.

Posted by The Virgin Mary Was a Slut | May 8, 2008 6:54 PM

Wow. I find it interesting that Violet was telling them the answer all along and all those adults just weren't listening.
I remember I loved playing with stuffed animals and house with the girls, but I never wanted to be a girl, I just didn't like playing with stupid boys. My parents did sit me down around the age of 7 and tell me I couldn't play with stuffed animals though. :-(

Posted by Mr.Designer | May 8, 2008 6:58 PM

I listened to part one at and was moved to tears. I left just after it ended to go to rehearsal, and right when I turned the key in the ignition, part two came on. Kudos to Spiegel on excellent, unbiased, sensative reporting. Just being a child is hard enough -- who didn't feel as if they didn't belong, weren't the person they wanted to be -- but the deep desire these children feel to be themselves, and the fact that too few parents and therapists recognize it, is heartbreaking.

Posted by singingcynic | May 8, 2008 6:59 PM

I just about lost it at the part where the dad sat down with the 'semi-circle of aunts' at his father's funeral and re-introduced the 'head aunt' to his new daughter. She responded with how proud she was of him in his handling of such a tough situation, without a hint of preaching or chastising. She led the entire family in accepting this little girl and the family as they were with respect and compassion.

I'm reminded of how easy it is to write of blocks of people based on our assumptions. The older generation will never accept or understand, etc. Oftentimes, when given the chance, people are really wonderful.

Posted by c | May 8, 2008 7:43 PM

pgreyy, transsexuality is a MEDICAL ISSUE. How else would you deal with besides medical means?

Seriously, a kid -- an adult -- a human -- who has to deal with gender dysphoria does NOT have a psychiatric issue. It can't be treated by the usual psychiatric or psychological means. The ONLY way to treat ii is to allow that kid (or adult) to be herself or himself, and to give that kid (or adult) hormones and surgery.

Even those of us who are trans can't explain why we are trans. we just are. But the treatments work. They are medically necessary, they are effective, and they are welcomed by the people who need them. NO ONE should ever forbid them for a person who can benefit by those treatments.

Posted by Sachi Wilson | May 8, 2008 8:26 PM

I think that both of these stories look too uncritically at the idea of gender. It seems these kids are hitting a social problem, not a psychological one. Why do we so rigidly assign roles? Why are there all these arbitrary non-biological propensities being put forth as evidence the 'he' is a 'she'? Did I miss the "I like Pink gene" found on the second x chromosome? Maybe if we let go of these stupid yard sticks of gender we'd all be happier. We could all play with all the toys, and pick the ones we liked better. I've never lived as a "girl" even though I have all the girl parts, I don't wear dresses, I like science and sports, I have a keen disdain for babies and menstruation, but I don't need a penis to be myself. Why still be so neurotic about gender? Lets just do away with it, except when selecting for organs we might want to encounter sexually.

Stop reinforcing social stereotypes, end up with all together happier healthier people with a wide range of interests, fashion choices and identities.

Posted by Courtnay | May 8, 2008 8:31 PM

I'm a horribly shallow person. My first thought was that if Violet remains Violet, she'll be glad her voice never changed to deep and masculine...

(I've only ever known one trannie - and she despaired about her voice.)

What are Violet's parents hoping to accomplish? That the child will mature enough to decide on a sex change before they let puberty happen?

Posted by Ayden/VA | May 8, 2008 8:51 PM

@11 you should listen to the podcast.

Posted by el | May 8, 2008 9:20 PM

Did anyone pick up on the fact that this kid still has some 'issues' - the self loathing in the shower - nit-picking imperfections - made me think of anorexia.

This kid has a loving & supportive family - you can't blame 'society' as the root cause in all this. Everyone is 'happy' now because the 'extreme' behaviour has relapsed. I'm not convinced that this blocking therapy will be 'enough' for this child, nor the next one ...

I know I will get flamed for this but is it at all possible that something like this could be a 'mental' issue. Using drugs & surgury to 'fix' a gender identity issue just seems to be a pandoras box leading to 'fixing' that gay 'problem' some kids have with similar measures.

I mean if gender identity issues are so nebulous that adults can't get get their heads around them isn't this a bit much for a 10yr old?

Posted by DCrowe | May 8, 2008 11:05 PM

#13--That's kind of what I was getting at with my earlier post...

I was not intending to, nor certainly am I in any position to, make any sort of argument here--my reaction to this incredible report was simply visceral...heartfelt...

...and an expression of "why things bite back"-centric concern.

If #9 is correct (and I've got no reason to think that #9 isn't) and "transsexuality is a MEDICAL issue"...then it can be diagnosed, treated and fixed.

Can be...should be...would have to be.

And to do that, you need to make accurate scientific determinations towards what makes someone transgendered, versus what makes someone gay or what makes someone simply atypically interested.

And you have to accurately do this before puberty.

And, if you choose to go forward with the course of action specified in this report--you may buy your child a few extra years to "figure things out"...but, at the same time, the result of those actions mean you're forcing that child to remain non-pubescent throughout junior high and high school--which I'd have to imagine would be incredibly isolating, terrifying and distancing.

Which are all symptoms that this course of action are trying to prevent, right?

There's nothing medically wrong with my gay friends...and I wouldn't want them "treated". I certainly wouldn't have absolutely trusted them being put through tests when they were atypically behaving children to determine "what's wrong with them and how to fix them."

At the same time, I feel for Violet...I can sense from this report how this may be the best course of action for her. I would never take this option away from her parents and her doctors who have come to the conclusion that this process is the way to go.

...and, seriously, how awesome are ALL of the people in Violet's life? Amazing.

My response is that of someone who is not an opponent, but someone who is confused, conflicted and concerned about the bigger picture and some of the potentially unexpected consequences here...

...because not all people are as awesome as the people in Violet's life.

Posted by pgreyy | May 9, 2008 4:21 AM

Two things:
First, to pgreyy and others who worry that the postponement of puberty is "too extreme" in this case Violet was suicidal due to her family repressing her femininity. She was desperate to be a girl. To the point of pointing a knife at herself and talking about giving up on the world and her life. That's why it is not "too extreme" to treat her problem. Not at all. I was surprised that they didn't mention this in the print write up of the podcast. In addition, the hormone postponement is not permanant at this time. It's win-win.

Violet is now a happy normal healthy girl, what she always wanted to be. 13: Of course she has normal body-issue problems, like all pre-teen and teen girls have.

Second, can that reporter fucking STOP saying "he/his" when talking about Violet? seriously. The family calls her "she" and so should the reporter.

Posted by Dee in SF | May 9, 2008 8:21 AM

One of the things that this has reminded me of is the piece about a boy who accidentally had his genitals removed and was made to live as a girl.

He couldn't do it, and transitioned back to being male. There is a part of the brain that is differently sized between men and women, and that part is evident from birth. Gender identity is hard-wired at some level. There is some variation in size across the spectrum, but a definite difference between male and female, as I understand it.

I can't find the reference - it was part of a documentary season on UK TV about gender.

One thing that came out was that at post-mortem, trans-folk had the brain shape of the gender they identified with.

Posted by miriam | May 9, 2008 10:19 AM

@10 I agree that the strict gender roles of our society are playing a part here--Notice that these stories are all about (biological) boys? When a girl wants to wear pants and play baseball, no one minds, but a boy who wants to wear dresses is sent to a psychiatrist because it's a "problem".

On the other hand, I do think that there are real biological differences between boys and girls in the way that brains are hardwired--not that there's a "I like pink" gene, but that we are hard-wired to imitate what we see others of our gender doing. So in our society, a little girl (bio or not) sees that girls like pink and starts to like pink automatically. In another society, they might see that girls dress a certain way and automatically want to dress that way, too. So there's a biological basis for what gender you feel you are inside, but socialization in the culture you're born into determines how gender is expressed.

Posted by julia | May 9, 2008 11:02 AM

@16: You're thinking about the tragic story of David Reimer. It's a fascinating story, and pretty clearly presages all these debates.

John Colapinto (who also wrote a book about the case) wrote an article summing things up after David killed himself. It's probably the best place to start: -- it's quite sad.

Posted by Rev. Cherrycoke | May 9, 2008 11:34 AM

@18, thanks for the link. I didn't know that David Reimer had committed suicide. I read Colapinto's feature in Rolling Stone years ago and it's haunted me ever since.

Posted by julia | May 9, 2008 11:50 AM

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