In response to my piece, “Concern for Children Transitioning,” Erik Kluzek added comments which are insightful and important. They warranted my bringing them to your attention. Erik agreed to my posting them.
As Erik states, he is the father of a transgender child, who transitioned as a youth and is now an adult. Also, Erik is the writer of the other letter in my post, “Two More Rays of Hope.”
Listen to Erik.
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Gina, thanks so much for this well done article on transgender kids. I would like to add a little bit from my perspective as a parent of a transgender child, who is now an adult. I’ve also worked with a lot of parents of transgender kids in peer support groups. So I know something of the experience from the point of view of parents.
Let me first of all affirm what you have said. Medical interventions do not happen to young children. The first step that may be used as you point out are puberty blockers which have been safely used for decades for precocious puberty. And they are safe and reversible. HRT is not reversible—but neither is puberty. They do have to pick either natal puberty or HRT. PIC is the language we use as well—persistent, insistent, and consistent. It’s not something done on a whim. The risk of suicide that you point out is very real as well and often transgender kids either make attempts or are hospitalized for suicide ideation (even for very young children). What I’ve seen over and over is that behavior drops as the kids transition and start to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Let me bring in a couple points from the original question which I’ll divide into three parts: “can kids make life-changing decisions at young ages,” “do kids eventually come to terms with these things,” and finally are professionals “actively forcing reluctant parents?”
First, can kids make life-changing decisions at young ages? What research has found is that kids gain a gender identity at about ages 2-6 years old. It’s also found that identity isn’t able to be changed. Even the conservative Dr. Kenneth Zucker has admitted that if a child’s gender identity is firmly transgender at about age 12—they aren’t likely to change and he recommends medical transition treatment as needed. Here’s some great advice from the AAP which is the US organization for Pediatricians (60,000 strong).
Second, do kids eventually come to terms with their natal sex? There’s better articles on this than I. But, let me point out a major new understanding on this. In the past the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder included kids who don’t identify themselves as being the opposite gender—but only display behavior that is stereotypical of the opposite gender. Most of those kids will desist. But, the kids with PIC as Gina pointed out—don’t. Hence, the new criteria for Gender Dysphoria has to do with what gender the child identifies with themself.
Lastly are professionals actively forcing reluctant parents? As a parent I understand this fear. It’s not something that I’ve seen however, and I think it could only be done very rarely. I also understand that parents in this position are very terrified—I certainly was. And that is what I see in the majority of parents, especially at first, they don’t understand, and they are scared to death. Since parents have parental rights for a child, a professional can’t force a parent to do anything they don’t want for their child—unless the professional can prove it’s in the child’s best interest.
In one study that opened my eyes the likelihood of attempted suicide for a person that is transgender and has family that is highly rejecting of them is a horrific 57%, while for supportive family it’s near the normal of 4% (to put a human face on it remember Leelah Alcorn).
Other metrics are similarly horrifying. Even with that a professional can’t force a parent to act. A parent has to consent for medical interventions on their child, until the child is 18. The only way that can be overturned is in the rare case, where a child can be legally emancipated. That process is long and difficult, and multiple people have to agree that it’s in the child’s best interest.
I used to think it was outrageous that my kids school can’t give my child aspirin without my consent, but they can send them for a highly dangerous medical procedure of abortion. What I know now is that having parents that are unsupportive of their transgender child is very dangerous for that child. Is there a point where a child is so unsafe with their parents, that parental rights should be taken away? Yes, there is. Does that happen very often? No. And I suspect it only happens in the most egregious cases, and probably not as often as it should.
As I say, just witness Leelah Alcorn.