Thursday, May 08, 2008

NPR All Things Considered – “Two Families Grapple with Sons' Gender Preferences”

Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) had an excellent show on Gender Identity Disorder in children; they compared the treatment of two children, one who was allowed to follow their own course and the other was forced to be straight. Part two is today at 4:00Pm EDT

One Direction in Therapy

Carol decided to seek professional help. Bradley's school referred her to a psychologist in Toronto named Dr. Ken Zucker, who is considered an expert in gender identity issues. After several months of evaluation, Zucker came back with a diagnosis. Bradley, he said, had what Zucker called gender identity disorder….

… Zucker, who has worked with this population for close to 30 years, has a very specific method for treating these children. Whenever Zucker encounters a child younger than 10 with gender identity disorder, he tries to make the child comfortable with the sex he or she was born with.

So, to treat Bradley, Zucker explained to Carol that she and her husband would have to radically change their parenting. Bradley would no longer be allowed to spend time with girls. He would no longer be allowed to play with girlish toys or pretend that he was a female character. Zucker said that all of these activities were dangerous to a kid with gender identity disorder. He explained that unless Carol and her husband helped the child to change his behavior, as Bradley grew older, he likely would be rejected by both peer groups. Boys would find his feminine interests unappealing. Girls would want more boyish boys. Bradley would be an outcast.

Another Family, Another Approach

Jonah was 2 when his father, Joel, first realized that no amount of enthusiasm could persuade his child to play with balls. Trucks languished untouched. Fire engines gathered dust. Joel says Jonah much preferred girl toys, even his stuffed animals were female…

… Joel and Pam also ended up in front of a gender specialist — Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist in Oakland. Joel remembers an early session when Pam talked about her concerns.

"I remember her talking to the therapist and saying something to the effect of, like, you know, 'I'd be OK if Jonah just was gay, I just don't want ... him to be transgender.' And the therapist just laughed, she said, 'You know, 15 years ago, I had people on this couch saying, 'I don't mind him being a little effeminate, as long as he's not gay,'" Joel says…

… Ehrensaft, however, does not use that label. She describes children like Bradley and Jonah as transgender. And, unlike Zucker, she does not think parents should try to modify their child's behavior. In fact, when Pam and Joel came to see her, she discouraged them from putting Jonah into any kind of therapy at all. Pam says because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn't think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah.
The two approaches are like night and day. Dr. Zucker’s approach is from the old school. Dr. Money thought that gender identity was all nurture, a social construct and that by raising a child as a boy or a girl would result in that person becoming a boy or a girl. The classic case was a set of twins in Canada when one of the boy’s had an accident during circumcision. Dr. Money advised the parents to raise him as a girl, the results were disastrous, and he eventually committed suicide. His story is told in the book “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as A Girl” by John Colapinto.
While psychologist Diane Ehrensaft, approach is the approach that seems to be getting better results with the child developing a more stable personality.

And how are the treatments for the two children doing?
The Problem with the Color Pink

It does seem to be the case that, at least in the short term, Carol's son Bradley is struggling in some ways with Zucker's therapy. Carol says it was particularly hard at the beginning.

"He was much more emotional. ... He could be very clingy. He didn't want to go to school anymore," she says. "Just the smallest thing could, you know, send him into a major crying fit. And ... he seemed to feel really heavy and really emotional."

Bradley has been in therapy now for eight months, and Carol says still, on the rare occasions when she cannot avoid having him exposed to girl toys, like when they visit family, it doesn't go well.

"It's really hard for him. He'll disappear and close a door, and we'll find him playing with dolls and Polly Pockets and ... the stuff that he's drawn to," she says…

…"I mean, he tells us now that he doesn't dream anymore that he's a girl. So, we're happy with that. He's still a bit defensive if we ask him, 'Do you want to be a girl?' He's like 'No, NO! I'm happy being a boy. ...' He gives us that sort of stock answer. ... I still think we're at the stage where he feels he's leading a double life," she says. "... I'm still quite certain that he is with the girls all the time at school, and so he knows to behave one way at school, and then when he comes home, there's a different set of expectations."

Jonah, Now Jona

For their part, Joel and his wife Pam say they are clearly happy with the choice they've made. Joel says he now thinks of Jonah as his daughter, and he says that she — Jona — is thriving.

"She's so comfortable with her own being when she's simply left to be who she is without any of these restrictions being put on her. It's just remarkable to see."

In terms of which of these therapies is more prevalent in the United States, Ehrensaft says there is absolutely no doubt.

"Zucker's," she says.

Ehrensaft hopes this will change. She says that professional opinion on this subject is in incredible flux — that the treatment of transgender children is becoming a kind of civil rights issue, in the same way that the psychiatric treatment of homosexuals became a civil rights issue in the 1970s.

Of course, Dr. Zucker’s program is more popular with parents, no one would want their son or daughter to be transgender or homosexual and some parents would go to any extreme to keep that from happening.
Dr. Zucker’s approach is used by the religious right’s Ex-gay programs, he is quoted and used as a resource extensively by National Association of Research and Therapy (NARTH) to justify their anti-gay/transgender programs. In addition, the worst thing is that Dr Zucker is the Chair of the American Psychological Association (APA) work group to change Gender Identity Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Talk about stacking the deck against us.

Listen to the program it is an eye-opener, the story is better then the article and has more details then the article.

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