- Autumn Quiles, LCSW
The news has recently focused on a custody battle in Texas between a Mom and Dad with a son who was reportedly diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria. The Mom sought psychological support for the seven-year-old who, she reports, identifies as a girl. The father believes that the son still identifies as a boy and he feels his son is being forced into transitioning to a girl.
Gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis we give to individuals who have an internal conflict between their physical gender (what sex parts they were born with) and the gender with which they identify (usually the opposite of the sex parts they were born with). These people are "boys trapped in a girl's body" or "girls trapped in a boy's body." I have met kids as young as six years old who have felt they are "trapped" in the "wrong" body.
This is very, very different from individuals who identify as gay/lesbian, though few lay people make the distinction. Identifying as gay/lesbian is not a mental health problem and there is no associated medical diagnosis. Individuals who identify as gay/lesbian are emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to people of the same sex. Being gay/lesbian is more about who you love, not who you are and whether or not who you are fits the body you were born into.
The disagreement between the parents in Texas is a difficult scenario that I have seen many times. In fact, I have also seen this level of disagreement between a couple whose child identifies as gay/lesbian. In my experience, each parent desperately wants to do what is best for the child, though their definition of "best" may not be the same. The child is often caught in the middle, not sure about who to please.
The most concerning part of the Texas story, for me, was the media's spin that the mother was planning to facilitate the child's "transition" to the opposite gender. Transitioning means an individual changes the way they present themselves to society. Some individuals are most comfortable changing their hair, or their name, or the pronouns they use... but some individuals feel the need to medically alter their bodies to reflect Who They Are.
I didn't know if the Mom was supporting the child's desire to medically transition; this distinction is subtle, but significant. And these kinds of difficult decisions are typically only made by adults with the help of a super supportive therapist, like Jamie Weiss in Boca Raton, Fl.
I don't know the child or the details of his/her plan, but I do not that Who We Are is generally not "fixed" by age seven- we are still growing and learning and becoming. I also know that the brains of seven-year-olds are not capable of grasping all the implications of their choices. I was a bit worried about the courts allowing a seven-year-old to choose to medically transition.
It took a bit of digging, but I finally learned that, in fact, there is no plan for the child to medically transition at this time. The Mom is supporting the child in only the beginning stages of transitioning... affirming changes that the child could easily change-again at a later date, if they do not fit him/her.
I realized then that the numerous articles floating by have been sensationalized. I was hoping that the media would do more to explain and illuminate the struggles a family faces when their child has Gender Dysphoria. I was hoping the articles would reduce stigma and encourage acceptance. I was hoping that family would be embraced and supported during this super difficult time.
Instead, I made my own blog about it.