Sunday, December 03, 2006

With the Wrong People in Charge: It Can Be a Brave New Gender World

Just a brief Sunday post to alert any readers who may not have seen the article in the New York Times, from friday, December 1st, on gender identity issues in children. The article is timely and does a good job showing how gut-wrenching it would be to protect a child, who though born a female wants to be a male or vice versa, from brutal treatment. Some parents have resources to get the their children to more tolerant schools and areas of the countries. Others are not so lucky and so the child is damned either way: if he wants to dress like a boy, he could be subjected to all manner of ridicule and strict enforcement of gender norms by "authorities," if he doesn't feel free to identify as a girl, he is in danger of deep depression, self-mutilation, and suicidal feelings.

Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.

Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.

Another practice, emerging to protect "gender-variant" children from becoming depressed and suicidal is to use "blockers."

One of the most controversial issues concerns the use of “blockers,” hormones used to delay the onset of puberty in cases where it could be psychologically devastating (for instance, a girl who identifies as a boy might slice her wrists when she gets her period). Some doctors disapprove of blockers, arguing that only at puberty does an individual fully appreciate their gender identity.

In the old days, you would send a child like this straight to the psychoanalyst's couch. The source of the problem would have been psychosexual--a product of arrested development in the Oedipus complex or regression to our primordial bisexual state. Now, everything is hormones, which means that if not now, soon, we can alter behavior by giving the right dose of chemicals. While the issue today is whether or not to artificially keep childern in a pre-puberty state until he/she is ready for the bodily changes of puberty, tomorrow we can imagine holy roller approaches to deviant sexualities: a combination of the Bible and hormone therapy. Perhaps Dr. Keroack will be on the forefront of this crusade.