It seems these days, that whenever we hear about LGBT issues, we are hearing more and more about transgender kids and gender identity. I know many parents are confused by this concept and what it might mean for their teen. If your child has been questioning their gender, or told you they believe they are trans, you’ve probably been reading about gender therapy. Most gender therapists will tell you that sometimes a child’s “gender identity” doesn’t match their biological sex. Gender identity, in this model, is defined loosely as “feelings” the child has, and often, gender identity is confirmed by exploring the child’s toy preferences, clothing choices, and sexuality. Many therapists claim that when a child’s behavior doesn’t fit neatly into gender stereotypes, if they claim they would rather live as the opposite sex, or experience negative feelings about their genitals, the child is transgender. Thirty years ago, clothing and toy preferences, haircuts, and sexuality would have likely been explored as indicators that your child may be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but in today’s gender therapy model, these are strong indicators that your child has been born in the “wrong body”. Additionally, gender therapists may also list statistics about the psychological dangers a child will face if we don’t immediately affirm their identity and help them with medical transition.
Like many worried adults, I too, used to think that we should accept, unequivocally, what a child believes about their own body. After all, if they are suffering, we want to alleviate that, right? However, as I continued to research the facts, talk to more trans adults and GLB people, and think critically about my role as a therapist, I started to see things differently, especially when it comes to children.
I’ve identified several main reasons for taking a very different approach to gender identity in teens:
1. Roughly 60–90% of kids who identify as trans no longer want to transition once they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks! I fully support age-appropriate exploration of sexuality for lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens.
2. Perceiving an incongruence between sex and desired sex doesn’t necessarily mean transition is the best option. By definition, any brain that exists inside a female’s body is a female brain. It’s biologically impossible to change one’s sex, even with surgery or hormone treatments. Therefore, teaching kids that they can change their sex and solve their problems is misleading and false. This solution is the best option in a small percentage of the cases of teens today who claim a transgender identity.
3. There seems to be a strong link between social media use and a phenomenon called “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. This means that kids often binge on websites that promote transgender ideology and subsequently become gender dysphoric in a very short period of time, with no previous gender-related symptoms. Many of the ideas presented on trans-affirming websites can quickly develop into unhealthy thinking-patterns and cognitive traps. Affirming these kids without any further exploration is hasty, unethical, and dangerous.
4. There is a growing population of detransitioners. These are people who at one point identified as trans, made some modifications to their body or lifestyle, then decided to revert back to living as their biological sex. The stories I’ve heard from this brave group tell me, as a therapist, that mental health practitioners owe young people thorough and careful exploration of gender. Many of the medical changes that detransitioners have gone through are dangerous, painful, irreversible, and have sterilized them permanently. Many are deeply regretful and have been harmed by their transition.
5. Some gender therapists emphasize the statistics that trans-identifying youth are at higher risk of self-harm, drug use, and suicidality, and advocate for parents to accept and affirm their child’s trans identity without any further exploration. Did you know that kids who have experienced sexual abuse, kids on the autism spectrum, and gay and lesbian kids are also at risk of those same issues? Did you know that those groups of kids often display gender non-conforming behavior and preferences? As a therapist, I believe it’s my ethical duty to explore ALL the factors before affirming identities or advocating medical transition.
6. I believe all kids deserve a compassionate and judgement-free opportunity to deeply and thoroughly explore their struggles before putting them puberty blockers and hormones. Children should be assisted in working through their issues and become inspired about whomever they are, without having to find a perfect label or permanently changing their body. Just as there are infinite ways to demonstrate creativity, intelligence, fashion sense, and personality, we should allow children infinite ways to accept who they are, break free from gender stereotypes, and to thrive in their own bodies.
2. https://sexnotgender.com/brain-sex-does-not-exist/ & https://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-ideology-harms-children
5. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/relationship-between-child-maltreatment-sexual-abuse-suicide-attempts-report.pdf & http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide & https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990505/