Is Gender Identity Disorder a real problem in children, or a ‘disorder’ trumped up by sexist experts intent on maintaining the status quo? Regardless of the answer to that question, how should we treat kids who are different from their peers when it comes to being a boy or a girl?
Gender Identity Disorder is the clinical name for feeling like the gender you are inside does not match your biological sex. People who are transgender are given the diagnosis prior to starting hormone therapies or pursuing surgery to change their sex. Many people feel it should be done away with, because transgenderism is not an illness to be cured. Others feel it’s a necessary tool to get access to necessary medical treatments.
In a guest post on BoingBoing last week, Andrea James took aim at a group of ‘experts’ in the field of childhood gender identity disorder. Looking at a group of doctors in Toronto whose methods for treating the disorder include aggressively limiting the child’s gender expression to mainstream stereotypes.
Parents are instructed to go through all the child’s possessions and remove anything inappropriate. This includes, if your kid is a boy, obvious things like dresses but also the pink and purple crayons from a box of Crayolas. Don’t even get me started on whether an unholy affection for pink is a fundamental biological trait of being female (hot tip: it’s not. pink was a ‘boy’s color’ until a few generations ago).
The questionable methods of treatment are only half the story here, though. Another important question seems to be: why are little kids being diagnosed with “gender identity disorder” at all? Isn’t early childhood exactly when you should be trying on different identities as a way to learn about the world?
A little over a year ago, the Atlantic Monthly ran a long complex piece about the many approaches to gender identity disorder in children. That Atlantic article talked about kids as young as 3 who were being diagnosed with GID and “treated” either by being renamed and dressed as “the opposite gender” and given very gendered toys that way, or by being forced to play out a sexist adult fantasy of what children of the kid’s biological sex do.
If I rushed my kids’ to the therapists office every time one of them grew an imaginary penis, we’d have to live in the waiting room.
As many as 90% of children with extremely atypical gender identity grow up to be comfortable with the sex they were born into. Many effeminate boys do turn out to be gay, but not girls trapped in boys bodies. On the other hand, for those who do have a lifelong desire to live as the opposite sex from the one they were born into, early medical treatment around the onset of puberty can be a blessing.
How do you think the mental health community should handle these kids? What would you do (or have you done) as a parent with a kid who wants to change genders?