At age two, female-assigned Tyler told parents Jean and Stephen he was a boy. After two years, they listened.
Jean and Stephen’s support could save Tyler’s life, but when their transgender child’s story was featured in the Washington Post last week, online commenters accused the parents of overreacting to harmless “tomboyishness.”
“Why would choosing gender even be a consideration for a 2 year old? Is there a possibility that the child picked up on the fact that they got more attention as the opposite sex?” one commenter wrote.
But for Tyler, the disconnect between his brain and his body made him want to hurt himself, a threat that his parents couldn’t ignore. If Tyler remains male-identfied as he approaches adulthood, Jean wondered, what will happen to her child’s mental heath when female puberty hits? Jean and her husband sought advice from psychiatrists and other parents of transgender kids to learn how to help him.
As psychiatrist Jack Drescher noted in a recent article in the Journal of Homosexuality, children have limited capacity to participate in decision making regarding their own medical treatment. Even adolescents can’t legally provide informed consent. That means it’s up to parents like Jean and Stephen to advocate for what their kids need. But when those needs involve medical intervention, the situation gets sticky.
Lesbian couple Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel caused a media uproar in 2007 when they allowed their trangender child, Tammy, to delay male puberty by taking hormone blockers.
“When she’s ready, she’ll be able to decide which way she’s going to go through puberty,” Moreno told CNN. “She’ll have either female hormones, or she’ll stop the hormone blockers and become a man.”
“This is child abuse. It’s like performing liposuction on an anorexic child,” Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, responded.
But Tammy was so terrified of developing male secondary sex characterists that she was threatening to hang herself—hormone blockers could help her survive.
Puberty blockers are already used among non-trans kids who are experiencing premature puberty. According to Dr. Jennifer Hastings, suspending puberty in trans kids gives them more time to decide what kinds of medical interventions they want or don’t want later. Despite what Keith Ablow, my favorite reporter of misinformation, claims, the effects are reversible.
Media commentators who accuse the parents with transgender kids of child abuse cite erroneous claims about hormone blockers, and refuse to acknowledge that children can speak for themselves are missing the life-or-death part of the conversation: Parents who listen to their kids, allow their kids to live as their preferred gender, and guide them through consensual medical decisions are choosing life for their children when the alternative could be far more serious than a temper tantrum.