A father of a trans child responds

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).

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Gender-Non-Conforming-Transgender-Children.aspx

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).

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Taken from the website Erik cited.  The numbers speak for themselves, and they scream out the need to compassionately listen to our children.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Leelah_Alcorn

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Children talking transgender with parents

Earlier this week, a mother was interested in more information so that she might be equipped to talk about transgender issues with her young children. Earlier this month, a mother wrote to me after her daughter told her that she felt like a boy.

What should a parent do in this situation? To make writing easier, I will pose everything as a young daughter with her mother, not meaning to neglect that this could be a son, or this could be a teenager, and the child could be talking with dad, both parents, or another trusted adult.

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Love, patience, and calm

The last thing a parent wants to do is react with surprise, or make a funny face with the accompanying, “Noooo, honey. You’re a girl. You can’t be a boy.” Though you might be your reaction, it is the best way to keep your child ever from opening up and, even more, to drive her feelings inward and cause her to believe she has nowhere to go with them.

Have you ever been in a position where you needed to share something which was difficult? What did you long to have from the other person? It’s a Golden Rule thing: treat others as you want them to treat you. Now, more than ever, your child needs you to be a Golden Rule person.

Sure, you might be shocked. So what? You’re a parent. Get used to it. Be ready for it.

Daughter: “Mom, I feel like a boy.” Mom, calmly: “You do? Tell me what that feels like, honey.”

Ask questions

You will not want to make your child feel she is being interrogated, but you will want her to see that you are interested in her life. Talk with her the way you would about anything that interests her. Conversely, not asking questions—“If I don’t ask her anything, maybe she’ll just forget about it”—will make her feel that you don’t care about her, or that she has done something wrong.

When you ask questions, make sure they are open-ended ones and not directed ones. Directed questions are those that call for a yes or no answer, as in, “Do you think you are a boy?” Young children, not yet complex thinkers and usually wanting to please parents and other important adults, often will not provide the real answer but the one they think they are supposed to give. Your tone, expression, and body language can easily lead a child to answer how she thinks she is supposed to, not what she actually feels.

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Instead, ask things such as, “How do you feel inside?” “What makes you feel good?” If she mentions something specific—say, clothes—good questions would be, “What do you think about that? What clothes sound good to you?”

As she replies, other questions will naturally follow, such as, “You mentioned some play clothes like your friend, Josh. Would you like to shop for an outfit like his?” Whether or not she displays joy at this, it will be telling. Again, follow-up thoughts will flow from the situation, such as, “You could start out by wearing your new outfit around the house and see how you like it.”

With younger children, do not use the vocabulary of this topic, such as “gender dysphoria” and “transitioning.” Don’t say, “Do you feel like you have gender dysphoria?” Besides being confused, the child likely would think she has an illness, is going to be hauled off to a doctor, and you have just negatively impacted things.

Don’t go running to a doctor or a therapist

The second-last thing to do is immediately make an appointment with a professional. This is not a medical emergency. You’re child doesn’t immediately require talk therapy. Right now, she simply needs to be allowed to be the child she is, at the age she is, with no pressure on her.

She has taken the big leap, entrusting you with her secret. Continue to provide her a safe place, a spot on the couch at your side, with your compassionate heart in which she is able to place her trust.

If you find that you are wanting more information, there are loads of resources, many at your disposal on the internet. Do your reading, become informed, but don’t tell your child that you are doing this research.

It might be a phase, and it might be more

The trite saying applies: time will tell. There could be any number of reasons your daughter has expressed wanting to be a boy. There might be a boy at school whom she admires, and she wants to be like him. She might be lacking your attention, and daydreams about how to be noticed by you, perhaps because she has a new baby brother. She might really feel like she wants to be a boy, or is a boy, but it will pass, as so many childhood desires come and go.

And she might be transgender.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has gender dysphoric adults look for three things in themselves, which you can look for in your child: persistent, insistent, and consistent.

Persistent. Insistent. Consistent. I think of it as PIC.

Take a PIC of the situation.

Is my child persistent in her desire to be a boy?

You will know, soon, if this is a phase. With children, phases usually come and go with whatever the next big thing is. If, however, as you continue the conversation, your daughter persists in her desire, you will want to look for the I in PIC.

Is my child insistent that she is a boy?

Most human beings, when pressed about something important to them, will become insistent. Our insistence is seen on our faces, heard in our voices, and evidenced in our determination. A common reaction from a transgender child to a parent who says, “You’re a girl. You can’t be a boy,” is, “Yes I AM a boy! I am! I am a boy!”

If she persists and insists, keep watch for the C to complete the PIC.

Is my child consistent as she talks about being a boy?

How might you look for consistency? It could be as easy as you one day asking, “Honey, did you want to wear your special outfit?” to which she replies, “No, my regular clothes are okay.” This could be a sign that it was a phase, but don’t assume it. Give it time.

Consistency will be seen in her persistence and insistence. If she is accurately expressing who she is, she will consistently speak the same thoughts, the same hopes, the same desires. Actions and other demonstrations likely will accompany her words. It will be obvious.

If you see a clear PIC, and if your daughter expresses further desires—say, that she wants to change her name, or go to school as a boy—then would be the time to engage a competent professional who is practiced in gender issues. Again, as you have been helpful and positive throughout, you will remain so now. You will not say, “Well, I guess we need to get you to a doctor,” with frustration in your voice. Rather, you will say, “Honey, I could use some help from someone who knows more about this than I do. I am going to look for a person to help us know what to do next. She or he will know all about this, and we will feel good to have a smart helper.”

Finally

If this were a phase in your child’s life, it still was an important moment for her. By loving her through it you strengthened your bond and her ability to trust, and you helped her learn how to express herself.

If your child is transgender, you will not keep it from being a reality, but you will have a dramatic impact on how it goes with her. Leelah Alcorn’s suicide is instructive. Her traditional Christian parents would have nothing of their teenage son’s being transgender. They took Leah to the pastor. Conversion therapy was used on her, to convince her that she was a male, as if that would drown out her female identity. Though they were otherwise fine parents who loved their son, their denial of Leelah’s situation drove her to despair. Leelah stepped in front of a truck and was killed.

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https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/she-was-a-real-person/

No parent wants her or his child to be in a difficult situation. No parent invites anything which will be a challenge, especially one which will affect how they live and move about in the world. Denial, however, changes nothing, and often makes a situation worse.

Remain calm. Display love. Don’t rush things. Show your interest by asking good questions. Take a PIC. Doing these things, you will have done the best you can for your child, whether the result is that it was a temporary desire or that she is transgender. If transitioning is in her future, you have begun the process well, instilling confidence for the challenging days ahead.

She was a real person

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I wrote the following in January, after the death of Leelah Alcorn, the young person who took her life by stepping in front of a truck. She despaired because her parents refused to see anything but the child who was identified as male at birth. If you are not familiar with her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Leelah_Alcorn.

There was to be a vigil for her in Indianapolis and, though I would never speak at it, the writer in me had to compose what I would have said. After my post on Thursday, “I Am a Real Person,” I finally found a good time to use this.

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/i-am-a-real-person/

I hope this demonstrates the tragedy of so many young people and the need for education and compassion. Remember, 41% of the gender dysphoric and transgender will attempt suicide, where the number is 2-4% in the general population.

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The impetus for this service was Leelah’s tragedy, but this vigil really is not for Leelah and, therefore, my encouragement is not for her, but for you.

This is not for Leelah, because, sadly, we can no longer help Leelah. We cannot help the dead. We cannot dry their tears, or mend their hearts, or hold them close until the pain subsides.

We cannot affirm their personhood, show them hope for a bright future, or walk side by side to fight the good fight.

We cannot fight for the rights of the dead, because they no longer can enjoy the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Leelah was pushed from the pursuit of happiness into the corner of grief. Her liberty was forcibly stolen as she was imprisoned by the expectations of others. Her life was robbed of her as she was led into the valley of the shadow of death.

Therefore, this is for every person who is alive, who is being bullied, who is being mistreated, who is being made to feel afraid and ashamed and abused, who is not being heard, being helped, being upheld.

This is for every person who does not make the supposed grade of his peers, of her friends, of family and government and workplace and sports team and you name it.

Yes, Leelah Alcorn needed our help, but so do countless others who are stuck between the rock and hard place of so many of life’s craggy conundrums.

We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Now, however, I am not talking about the Leelah Alcorns, who can no longer enjoy the good we might do, the justice we strive to achieve, the way of hope we shall strive to pave. It does no good to speak for the dead, for we can no longer help the dead. Look around at the living; it is they who need us to speak.

We must speak, but we must never be guilty of what we never want from others. Let us be the ones who model the Golden Rule. Let us be the ones who take the high road, whose words and actions prove who we are, that we only want to do good for all people.

Let us never be the ones to lash out. Let us never be the ones who fight back with words and actions that only serve to make more regrettable headlines.

Let us not bring more heat, but cast a brighter light.

If people insist on hating us, then let them hate us because we are so stinking nice to them. If anyone continues to dwell in ignorance, let it be because they refused to listen. If anyone will not work with us to create a peaceful world, with safe neighborhoods, where understanding and hope abounds, let it be because they would not take our hand when we held it out to them.

There is no Gospel that we can proclaim to Leelah, for she can no longer hear the good news which brings hope to the hurting, which is a balm to those who have been battered, which leads the lost to a place of love. Leelah has been removed from this vale of tears and, we pray, she is at rest, dwelling in peace.

It is we who cannot rest until there is peace—peace for us and peace for all. Justice for us and justice for all. Hope for us and hope for all. A safe world for us and a safe world for all. The Golden Rule lived for us and the Golden Rule lived for all.

A world where no one would ever begin to give the first moment’s consideration to treating another person any differently, any less, any worse than that person would have him or her treat her or him.

A world in which I want to live, and be free, and pursue happiness, and so do you, and so does the person who, right now, thinks he is my most bitter opponent, for whom it is my job to be the most winsome person on the face of the earth, that I might win him over. If I do, hooray! If I do not, I cannot be faulted, because I always cast a brighter light.

I commend you to the spirit of kindness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of harmony, the spirit of education, that we might be known for who we are:

We are them. They are us. We are in this together.

Let’s be in this together.

Shall we do this for Leelah? Of course, for Leelah. But, infinitely more, that we never need to learn the name of another Leelah, because she will be just another teenage girl who is way more concerned with the things with which a seventeen-year-old should be concerned—learning about herself and what provides her with the satisfaction of accomplishment, getting into the college of her choice or the job which interests her, and giggling with her girlfriends the way young people should giggle.

The church of my youth was fond of a hymn which you might know. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. With you. With all.