Trans children

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Trans children

Marti Abernathey looks at the panic, confusion and negative treatment of transgender children.


Cole was in Louis Theroux’s BBC 2 documentary 'Transgender Kids'. (Freddie Claire, BBC Photo Library.)

‘At age three my child, who I saw as a boy, started to prefer girly things,’ Catherine says about her 16-year-old Becca.

‘We hoped this would only be for a short time. We hoped we could change it. We asked for help and people told us we could “encourage boy play” and “discourage girl play”.’

Catherine followed that advice but at age six Billy wanted to kill himself.

‘We were shocked that our child was so unhappy. Experts told us Billy was depressed and very worried. But they never talked about being a boy or being a girl.’

Now she thinks: ‘We treated Billy very badly when he was young. Trying to force him to be a boy was like very negative therapy.’

He tried to kill himself and cut himself. Then they found out what it was.

When Billy was 15, her parents allowed her to change to Becca.

‘Since then, slowly, we have been rebuilding the links in our family and Becca’s own feelings. Finally now we have accepted our child as she is.’

Children like Becca have ‘gender dysphoria’ Here is a definition of it by the American Psychiatric Association:

‘To say a person has gender dysphoria, there must be a big difference between the gender someone feels they are, and the gender other people feels they should be. This must continue for at least six months. With children, they must talk about wanting to be the other gender. Gender dysphoria can bring a lot of problems with social groups and in jobs and other areas.’

In the media

There are now a lot more trans children in the media. But there is still a lot of confusion, and misunderstanding. People often think of transgender and wanting to be a different gender as the same thing.

Kelley Winters wrote Gender Madness in American Psychiatry. She said: ‘Lots of children are not sure which gender to be. Most of them are not worried about their bodies or how they were born. Only a small number of these children are gender dysphoric. They always insist that they do not want their body to be how it is and they are not happy with the gender they were born with.’

Sometimes people write about trans children before puberty having surgery or taking hormones to change gender. But this is not appropriate. Professor Dan Karasic (at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, a world-leading institute for transgender research) says: ‘Doctors do not do medical treatment on children before puberty.’

He adds: ‘If children still want to be another gender in puberty, a doctor might give them blockers. This gives them time to make sure of this identity. And they can change it. Dutch studies have shown that you get well-adjusted trans adults if you use blockers in puberty, then hormones later in adolescence and then surgery for people that are transgender.’

So treatment for young people with gender dysphoria is this:

• children before puberty – therapy to accept who they are

• children in puberty – hormone blockers to make puberty come later

• young adults – hormone therapy to change sex.

Some people say that if parents and therapists take this seriously or try to help trans children, they could be experimenting on them.

Brendan O’Neill wrote this in the 'The Spectator' this year in ‘Trans activists are experimenting on children. Could there be anything more cruel?’

O’Neill was writing about sensitive BBC documentary by Louis Theroux on trans kids in the US.

O’Neill says that the film, ‘showed us Camille, a five-year-old child who loves pink and Lady Gaga and thinks he is a girl. His psychologists and his parents believe him ....’

He went on: ‘If we treat children who say odd things about gender as “transgender”, we are not being responsible adults. It is the job of adults to correct a child’s confusions, to guide kids where life is difficult… But now, adults are afraid of making basic judgements eg. that a child with a penis is a boy and a child with a vagina is a girl. We listen to the child instead.’

Happy, bright, laughing...

Some people criticize therapy and say that parents are making their child trans. Camille, mother of a seven-year-old transgender daughter, thinks this is ‘strange’.

‘No parent would choose this for their child. Your child will have problems every day on many levels. It’s not as easy as changing their name and wearing a skirt or Star Wars pyjamas!’

Camille knows that life for her daughter might be difficult. ‘Puberty blockers, taking hormones, infertility, who she can trust, who she can love, depression, suicide, violence, negative treatment, fear, surgery. Who would choose this for their child? This just shows that people do not understand ...’

Evidence shows that children who suffer from criticism or shame about not being one gender will probably have more depression and anxiety.

And after gender dysphoria has been resolved, the transgender child is as happy as other children of their age (from a recent study in Pediatrics, the journal of the Academy of American Pediatrics).

Dawn is the mother of a 16-year-old trans girl. She agrees: ‘At first we did nothing. We thought it would not last long.’

But her daughter was having problems. The girl had therapy with a professional who knew a little about it, and things began to get better. Then she saw another therapist who specializes in transgender clients, and this really helped her understand who she was.

Dawn adds: ‘My child was sad, depressed and shy. And now she is a happy, bright and laughing woman.’

There are three possible options for parents of gender nonconforming children:

• help them change gender

• gender therapy

• do nothing.

Many people now think gender changing or therapy to make them accept their birth gender is not ethical. But some well-known people support it eg. Kenneth Zucker and Susan Bradley, who wrote Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents in 1995.

Leelah Alcorn, a US trans teen, killed herself after transgender reparative therapy patient in December 2014. Since then, many people have said trans reparative therapy should stop.

Valerie Jarrett (senior adviser to President Barack Obama) said: ‘There is a lot of scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially on young people, can cause a lot of harm. We want to protect the young people of America, so we want to ban conversion therapy for minors.’

The best chance of success and health for a trans child is gender therapy. If we make the child feel shame or do nothing, this can be damaging or life-threatening.

We want happy, well-adjusted adults, so we should follow what the children (and the science) tell us.

Marti Abernathey is a US trans activist. She writes and edits blogs for

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).