An article recently appeared in “The Independent” about a 12-year-old Aussie boy who took estrogen to transition. This is one of an increasing number of similar stories being promoted by religious fundamentalists to undermine the existence of trans persons.
There isn’t much to the story – Mom says he “begged her” (for how long, how seriously?) to become a girl, because he said that “You wish you could just change everything about you, you just see any girl and you say I’d kill to be like that.” What kind of work-up did he receive? What questions were asked? Was he given puberty blockers, or immediately put on cross-gender hormones?
If he jumped through all the correct hoops and made what was considered by the adults in the room to be a sincere, informed decision, and followed the proper protocol, then the fact he changed his mind is simply proof the system worked. The entire point of this being a process, not a spur-of-the-moment impulse, is that it takes time for the individual to discover if it’s right for him. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature.
Not everyone gets it right. Many people take their time – sometimes a very long time – to complete transition. Some move forward and back, and some never reach completion. That’s all acceptable behavior.
The bottom line is this, and has always been this – it is cruel and unusual punishment to deny a trans child the support to prevent an unwanted puberty. It’s that simple. Those who have not undergone such a profoundly painful life experience don’t understand, but many have come to empathize. A trans life is worth the same as a cis life, and that includes gay and straight ones.
A feminine gay boy who inadvertently transitions, for whatever reason, will survive. He might even learn something. The fact that there might be false positives even when the protocols work at their best is no reason to demonize trans children or deny them their right to self-determination and liberty.
For decades, all gender non-conforming boys were treated with the same disgust by practitioners. It didn’t matter if you declared you were a girl or just dressed or acted like one. Slowly, thanks to the efforts of trans and gay persons themselves, some of whom went on to become scientists and physicians, we’ve learned more about human sexual development and have been able to differentiate between gender (sexual) identity and sexual orientation. We now know better.
But even though we know better, we are only beginning to create the studies – prospective, long-term – that will help us determine the factors that distinguish trans girls from gay boys. We have a pretty good clinical sense these days, which is why few mistakes are made. We will do better, as we learn more.
The darker days were described in “New York Magazine”:
In defending their approach, Zucker and his colleagues point frequently to the small but consistent body of research suggesting that something like three-quarters of children with gender dysphoria will ‘desist’ — they’ll eventually come to feel comfortable with their natal gender (and will also, relative to the general population, have an increased likelihood of eventually identifying as gay or bisexual). Some trans activists have howled at this claim — they believe that desistance is a transphobic myth entirely. But while these activists (and some researchers)* have tried to poke holes in the consistent findings about gender-dysphoria desistance, they just haven’t come up with scientifically convincing explanations for why the studies would all be wrong, and all in the same way. (Some skeptics argue that these studies lump in many kids who aren’t that gender dysphoric and who therefore weren’t going to become trans anyway, but that’s just not true, especially when it comes to the more recent samples.)
For those who are concerned, please realize the reason we don’t have better tools today is because society is extremely prudish, transphobic and homophobic. During the days of George Bush, no study with the word “sex” in it would be funded, let alone “gay,” “trans” or “HIV.” As a result we’re way behind, but we do know enough to tear up those studies from Dick Green, Ken Zucker and their colleagues which never even bothered to distinguish gay boys from trans girls, and as a result published, and have kept promoting, the myth that 80 percent of gender nonconforming boys will desist and return to their sex assigned at birth, as described in the above quote. It is also not true that more recent samples are better; they are not.
Build your reputation and practice on junk science, whether you intended to or not, and you end up with junk results and a damaged reputation.
Finally, if there are parents and clinicians out there who despise gay people more than trans ones, and prefer to transition their child than deal with his proto-homosexuality – let’s call it the “Iranian model” – then the victims of that approach will, like most trans kids, know who they really are and will take their future into their own hands. That some — though not the boy referenced above - may suffer through that process, however unwanted, is not a reason to deny a single trans child her deserved future. For too long the cries of traumatized trans girls were ignored, or silenced by locking away in institutions. Those days are past, and must never be allowed to recur, even for the sake of a few misdiagnoses or the antipathy of bigoted parents.