Princes and Princesses

Okay, so here’s a bit of a situation. My daughter is a counsellor at an after-school program. The other day one of her charges – a lovely little 5-year-old boy – was weeping bitterly in the corner by himself.  XUP Jr. went over to comfort him and to see what was the matter — because when she’s working with children or interacting adults other than me, she is the most charming, polite, caring and thoughtful young lady you’d ever want to meet.

After some cuddling and tear-wiping, the 5-year-old boy said:

“I hate being a boy. I don’t want to be a boy. I want to be a girl. I feel like a girl inside my head. I want to wear pretty things like a girl and play with girl toys and be a girl. I don’t want to be a boy anymore. I’m not a boy!”

My daughter, thinking more furiously than she probably has ever done in her entire life, finally asked him if he had told his parents that he feels like this. And the boy said yes he had but that they’d just told him he was being silly.

Then she told him that she’s heard of other little boys who feel like that and that there’s even some girls who feel like they’re really boys. And that some grown-ups feel like that too and tell their doctors and the doctors can help them be what they really want to be.

The boy seemed somewhat interested and consoled by that, so she told him he should really talk to his parents about it again and try to make them understand that he really means it; but that in the meantime he could play with all the girl toys he wanted in the after-school program.

Of course, she relayed the entire episode to the program supervisor, who just said “thanks for telling me”, but didn’t offer any advice. So then XUP Jr. told me to see if I had any other ideas. I told her that as a 17-year-old after-school counsellor she had handled it really well and to just keep an eye on the boy, talk to him, let him know she understands. There’s not much else she can do.

I’m surprised, first of all, that a 5-year-old was able to articulate such complex feelings so well. And, I wonder if he presented this to his parents in the same way? What would you do if your 5-year-old said he or she was the wrong gender? What could you do?

I know young children often tell you the most astonishing things, so it might be simple to dismiss this sort of thing, too. But what if you are wise enough to realize that maybe your child is really in pain?  The incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation is quite high in transgender children.

Some experts believe that young children confuse gender identity with different aspects of love and nurturing and that they’ll grow out of wanting to be the opposite sex. They believe that if you spend some extra time with the child, showing and telling him what is really good about being a boy and reinforcing the fact that he is a boy and not a girl, they will eventually understand.

That sounds a little to me like parents/experts who want to “cure” gay kids. Although, I suppose there’s a slim possiblity that they might be right. After all, you hear about little girls who tell their parents they want to be ponies and conduct themselves as if they were ponies for years.  We had a girl in high school who would only answer to the name of “Horse” and galloped and whinnied and did other horsey stuff…but that’s a story for another time.

In this case I guess, at the very least, if it was my child, I’d take him to counselling to help him, and me, deal with his feelings. What would you do? Would you let him dress like a girl? Parents in southern England subjected themselves and their child to all manner of cruelty and harassment last year when they let their 12-year-old son return to school in September as a girl.  

Perhaps a better solution would be to move away and/or let the boy start over in another school as a girl? That, too, could cause all sorts of problems down the road. Sooner or later someone is going to notice that he has a penis. What happens when he reaches puberty and doesn’t develop like a girl? I suppose they could begin hormone therapy at that point. I don’t know.

In Germany, pop singer Kim Petras, was the youngest person ever to have undergone gender reassignment surgery at age 16.  

Is that too young? How old does a child have to be in such a case to be able to give what is considered “informed consent?” Or, on the flip-side, how long do you let your child live with the torment of feeling like they’re the wrong gender?

What would you do if it was your child? Have any of you ever had any experience with any of this?