My point of view is controversial, but it is one that concerned parents need to hear.
I was your typical, gender atypical little girl. My friends were all boys. My favorite pastimes included rough-and-tumble play and running around the house while waving my he-man sword high in the air. I insisted on using the toilet while standing up. I hated dolls and the color pink.
I dreaded puberty, and when that inevitable time came, I was relieved to find that my body didn’t undergo too many physical changes aside from a self-induced shaved head.
Then something bizarre happened—I reached my late teens, and for the first time on my own volition, I fancied putting on a dress. The idea of appearing feminine no longer repulsed me, so I grew my hair long and began carrying a purse.
I was lucky in that my parents were never troubled by my gender non-conformity. They allowed me to dress how I pleased and to pursue the interests I enjoyed.
Now, as a cisgender woman in my thirties and a sex researcher, I follow the current discourse on transgender children’s issues. The predominant narrative is imbalanced and this must be addressed—for the sake of trans children, their families, and medical decision-making.
Popular opinion suggests that early intervention is the necessary approach in order to remedy a child’s gender dysphoria. This consists of early social transitioning followed by hormone blockers to prevent the otherwise irreversible changes of puberty, contra-sex hormones, and, if desired, eventual sex re-assignment surgery. Denying a child these interventions is viewed as antiquated and cruel.
But research has shown that most gender dysphoric children outgrow their dysphoria, and do so by adolescence: Most will grow up to be happy, gay adults, and some, like myself, to be happy, straight adults. There is a small proportion of trans kids whose dysphoria will persist and who would benefit from medical intervention, but the tricky part remains predicting whom these ideal candidates will be.
For a young child whose gender dysphoria would have desisted without intervention, these procedures amount to a needlessly challenging process to undergo—and that’s without considering the implications of choosing to transition back. Even a social transition back to one’s original gender role can be an emotionally difficult experience for children.
Waiting until a child has reached cognitive maturity before making these sorts of decisions would make the most sense. But this is an unpopular stance, and scientists and clinicians who support it are vilified, not because science—which should be our guiding beacon—disproves it, but because it has been deemed insensitive and at odds with the current ideology.
I often wonder, as I review the myriad of editorials and magazine articles published every day on transgender kids, if I had been born 20 years later, would adults in my life be suggesting transitioning as a solution for me? Even more alarmingly, with all of the information floating around the Internet and on mainstream TV, would I myself believe that I had an issue that would not eventually subside on its own?
I was lucky in that my parents were never troubled by my gender non-conformity. They allowed me to dress how I pleased and to pursue the interests I enjoyed. The only thing they remained firm about was my sitting down to use the toilet, but that was more about the mess I would otherwise make than any socially reinforced gender norms.
Outgrowing my discomfort resulted from the realization that gender does not need to be binary. To this day, I still feel that I am more masculine than most natal females, but also much more feminine than most natal males. We can have the best of both worlds.
I urge families, who are struggling through a sea of mixed information and unknowns, to not act in haste. Know that your support and acceptance will help your child survive this difficult time so that, together, you can make an informed decision when they are ready.