A Problem I See with the DOE/DOJ Guidance on Transgender Students

At the outset, let me be clear that I believe transgender students should not be discriminated against when it comes to public accommodations. I have no problem with the Obama administration issuing guidance to schools about how the Departments of Justice and Education interpret the law regarding sex discrimination. While I don’t agree with all aspects of the DOJ/DOE documents (more on that below), I think schools benefit from knowledge of how the Departments interpret the law.
The guidance isn’t new law.*  The May 13 letter says:

ED and DOJ (the Departments) have determined that this letter is significant guidance. This guidance does not add requirements to applicable law, but provides information and examples to inform recipients about how the Departments evaluate whether covered entities are complying with their legal obligations.

While I don’t object to equal treatment under the law for transgender students, I question the DOE/DOJ on their interpretation of how a student should be regarded as transgender. According to the DOE/DOJ, no professional assessment of the student is required.

The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. Under Title IX, there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.6  Because transgender students often are unable to obtain identification documents that reflect their gender identity (e.g., due to restrictions imposed by state or local law in their place of birth or residence),7 requiring students to produce such identification documents in order to treat them consistent with their gender identity may violate Title IX when doing so has the practical effect of limiting or denying students equal access to an educational program or activity.

All that is required for schools to treat students in keeping with their asserted gender identity is a student’s word (presumably for adult students) or a parent’s word (presumably for minors).
In my experience, parents often disagree over what is best for children. What is a school to do when one parent asserts a change in gender identity and the other doesn’t? In my clinical experience, I have seen just such cases. For instance, some parents interpret gender non-conforming interests as a signal that a child’s gender identity is different than what was assigned at birth. Such interpretation may not be in the child’s interest.
Evaluating the broad spectrum of children where gender identity is an issue often requires professional assistance. Particularly when children and teens are involved, getting competent help can be key in coming up with the best course of action in keeping with professional guidelines. To me, it makes sense for schools to require a supportive statement from a treating physician and mental health professional.
What is the basis for the DOE/DOJ claim?
As an authority (footnote #6) for the contention that schools can’t require a diagnosis, the DOE/DOJ letter uses a case of a transgender female employed by the Army who won an EEOC complaint alleging a civil rights violation in part because she was not allowed to use a common women’s bathroom. The Army’s defense involved a concern that the complainant had not fully physically transitioned from male to female. The EEOC ruled that an employer cannot require a medical procedure in order to deny civil rights to a transgender employee.
However, in that case, the complainant had legally changed her records and was legally female. While she had not had surgical reassignment, she had made significant steps toward transition. The facts of the case involve an adult and are much different than a school where a parent or student may not have consulted a professional.
Of course, students should not have to prove full reassignment to be treated fairly, but it seems to me that schools would be within their rights to require evidence from mental health professionals and physicians that accommodation would be appropriate. Schools regularly require professionals to provide opinions on lesser matters.
When the DOE/DOJ says “there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity,” I think they go beyond the facts of the case they used as a basis for their interpretation. Perhaps there are other relevant cases, but the letter doesn’t list them.
Schools should be safe for all students, including transgender students. My concern is that this guidance will hamper schools in reacting for the good of all students on a case by case basis.
 
*When I first posted this article, I wrote that the DOE/DOJ letter wasn’t an edict. While I still don’t see it as heavy handed as some opponents do, I will concede that some school districts may experience it negatively. Furthermore, I removed that reference because I don’t want to distract from the main point of the post.

What Kind of Woman is Caitlyn Jenner? Part Two of a Q&A on Autogynephilia with Michael Bailey

Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Michael Bailey on the topic of Caitlyn Jenner and autogynephilia. In that segment, Bailey covered the basics about autogynephilia and why he thinks Jenner manifests autogynephilic characteristics. In this segment, Bailey tackles what is known about outcomes for autogynephilic individuals, issues relating to minors with gender dysphoria and addresses critics of the concept. He also mentions one case where autogynephilia disappeared with the administration of leuprolide.
I also wrote GLAAD three times and asked for comment on autogynephilia generally and yesterday’s interview specifically with no response. GLAAD produces a tip sheet for journalists that doesn’t mention autogynephilia. Bailey addresses the media silence at the end of the interview.
I want to thank Michael for sharing his time and knowledge.

WT: What are the long term trajectories for autogynephilic individuals? What is the proper therapeutic response?
MB: Persons with autogynephilia often struggle, because of shame, lack of understanding, and the disapproval of others. Also, there is a real tension between achieving autogynephilic goals and maintaining conventional romantic relationships. Autogynephilic males who cross dress often go through binge-purge cycles, in which their cross dressing increases periodically, they get fed up and throw away their female clothing, and then later begin the cycle again. Some are fortunate to find partners (generally women) who accept their autogynephilia-driven behavior–some women even cooperate and participate. Some autogynephilic individuals never acquire partners, and they avoid the aforementioned struggle.
Some persons with autogynephilia are content to remain male. Those who get their gratification primarily from cross dressing are less likely to want to progress than those whose fantasies involve having female bodies, especially genitalia. Those, of course, can acquire female genitalia via surgery. Those who go that route generally undergo electrolysis and hormonal therapy prior to genital surgery.
As for “proper therapeutic response,” this is surely best considered at the individual level. But gender dysphoria due to autogynephilia doesn’t merely go away. Again, autogynephilia is like a sexual orientation, and that doesn’t change. I suspect that if there were more honesty about autogynephilia, then those who have it would understand themselves sooner, be less likely to commit to romantic interpersonal relationships, and would be more likely to pursue earlier sex reassignment. Evidence suggests they would be happier doing so, and there would be fewer wrecked families; quite parallel with the case of men hiding their homosexuality and getting heterosexually married.
WT: In your answer about proper therapeutic response, you said autogynephilia doesn’t change. Is this based on research or on the classification of autogynephilia as a sexual orientation? 
MB: Many men with autogynephilia would like not to have it. But I have never met a man who said his autogynephilia went away. Some transwomen say that it diminishes or vanishes after a sex change. Remember, the sex change also removes testosterone, which fuels male sex drive.
I should mention one other therapeutic approach that has not been widely used, to my knowledge. Still, I know one autogynephilic man who was on the verge of changing sex. He was, however, conflicted because he would have lost everything: his family fortune, his job, and his family. He was put on a course of leuprolide, a powerful drug that removes testosterone from the body. His desire to change sex virtually vanished. He’s happy and somehow able to have sex with his wife (viagra helps).
WT: I assume you are talking about adults. In other words, do you have different advice for minors? 
MB: The controversy over how and whether to treat preadolescent children experiencing gender dysphoria is irrelevant to controversies concerning autogynephilia. These preadolescent children are not autogynephilic. Autogynephilia almost never manifests in an obvious way before adolescence.
Lots of autogynephilic transsexuals wish they’d transitioned earlier. I can imagine this would have been better for them. If only people were more open about autogynephilia and people were more honest about it–and here I include journalists along with people with autogynephilia among those who have conspired to keep it secret–we could collect better data and ideally learn the optimal treatment for autogynephilic individuals of various subtypes.
I worry when autogynephilic transsexual activists (this includes all who were born male who have not always been exclusively attracted to men) advise families of preadolescent gender dysphoric children. The older activists have completely distinct conditions from the children, and the activists’ experiences are not an accurate guide to what the youngsters feel or how they will turn out. As we have argued, most preadolescent gender dysphoria does go away, and it is at least questionable whether it is in preadolescent children’s interests to change sex, socially (because this may lead to persistence requiring serious medical treatment).
WT: Why is there so little media coverage of the autogynephilia angle? 
MB: I think it’s a mixture of ignorance, political correctness, and fear. Most journalists know what they know from the media and from transgender activists — who do not mention autogynephilia. In fact, a few activists have managed to convince a lot of people that autogynephilia theory has been disproved (when in fact, it has substantial scientific support) and that anyone who agrees with it is anti-transgender (when in fact its major proponents, including me, have been quite supportive of transgender rights). As for fear, transgender activists (especially Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey) were so enraged by my writing about these ideas in my book that they tried to ruin my life. They were unsuccessful–their major success was to help Alice Dreger write a terrific article (and recently, a book) about the controversy–but I’m sure few people want to risk that. We will have made progress when Conway et al. are more ashamed of what they did to me than of autogynephilia.
WT: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
MB: I’ve noticed disapproval among some journalists–even Jon Stewart on the Daily Show went there–of the focus on Caitlyn Jenner’s attractive photographs in Vanity Fair. I can assure you (and Stewart): Caitlyn’s thrilled with that attention. It’s an autogynephilic fantasy.

Again, thanks to Michael for this information. Readers can leave follow up questions in the comments section which may form the basis for a return to the issue at a later time.

What Kind of Woman is Caitlyn Jenner? Part One of a Q&A on Autogynephilia with Michael Bailey

The transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner has raised many questions about transgender issues. One that has not been widely discussed is autogynephilia as a trajectory for males who experience gender dysphoria. My impression of Jenner’s story is that she manifests aspects which are often associated with autogynephilia so it seems odd to me that the topic has not come up.
Michael Bailey is professor of psychology at Northwestern University and one of the more prolific sex researchers in the world. He kindly accepted my invitation to discuss autogynephilia in light of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.

Throckmorton: What is autogynephilia? And how do autogynephilic individuals differ from androphilic men who become women?
Bailey: Before explaining what autogynephilia is, let me begin by explaining what it looks like. It occurs in natal males (those born male, regardless of whether they switch gender later), and it generally first manifests in adolescence, with the onset of puberty and sexual feelings. In the large majority of cases, it begins with erotic crossdressing. Generally, a boy discovers it’s sexually exciting to put in female clothing, especially lingerie, in private, look at himself in a mirror, and masturbate. People who know these boys don’t usually see them as feminine. Males like this usually are attracted to females, though some are not attracted to other people. A subset will discover other, related erotic fantasies, sometimes including the idea of having female anatomy (such as breasts and a vulva). If the anatomical fantasies predominate, then gender dysphoria is most likely to be intense. Males who eroticize the fantasy of having women’s bodies are most likely to get sex changes, for obvious reasons.
The phenomena I’ve talked about so far don’t make much sense if we take the conventional approach that these males have women’s brains. They make much more sense explained via autogynephilia. Autogynephilia might best be thought of as an unusual sexual orientation that occurs in natal males (those born male, no matter what they become). It’s very similar to male heterosexuality, because the erotic target is a woman. The difference is that in autogynephilia, the target is a self-constructed internal image–it’s like inwardly-turned heterosexuality. These males eroticize and fall in love with a woman they create within themselves
WT: Do you believe that Caitlyn Jenner is autogynephilic? If so, why?
MB: I believe it is very likely that Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was motivated by intense autogynephilia. I believe this because the best science suggests there are two completely different reasons why natal males become women: because they are feminine androphiles (lovers of men) or because they are autogynephilic. Jenner’s history shows none of the former and is very consistent with the latter. I refer specifically to his previous heterosexual marriages and secretive crossdressing.
WT. She says she always had gender dysphoria and that there was no erotic component. Would she say this if she were autogynephilic? Why?
MB: Autogynephilic individuals experience gender dysphoria, typically beginning in adolescence, when their intense erotic longing for female characteristics almost always begins. There is evidence (John Bancroft published an article long ago) showing that after changing sex, some show memory distortion. They begin to assert that their gender dysphoria began in early childhood and was far more overt than they had alleged before. They also deemphasize the erotic component, even if they admitted it before. I think they do this for at least two reasons: shame (because: sex is involved) and the desire to believe they really have the brains of women (as Jenner suggests she does–um, how does she know that?). I think also that Jenner (and others in the spotlight) likely enjoys the media spotlight, and the mainstream media loves the “was always a woman trapped in a man’s body” story and can’t deal with the “experienced intense sexual arousal when crossdressing or imagining I had a woman’s body” story.
WT: If Jenner doesn’t want people to think her transition was due to autogynephilia, why shouldn’t we just go along? 
MB: This inaccurate denial of autogynephilia is not for the good, because being honest could help lots of males struggling with their autogynephilia. (And there are lots who are.) It might help them understand themselves. It might help them accept themselves. It would at least say “Autogynephilia is nothing to be ashamed of.” I would say that people who admit and deal with their autogynephilia are even admirable.
Falsely misrepresenting one’s gender issues is also bad for science. It’s not good for people to believe false things merely because journalists don’t want to go certain places. Even among scientists, too many don’t bother to learn about the relevant literature and just listen to transgender people’s explanations (“I have the brain of a woman.”). This leads to bad scientific studies and ideas.
I think that Jenner’s brain has nothing more in common with the brain of a natal woman than mine does. She’s not that kind of woman. Her gender dysphoria was much more akin to times in my life when I had erotic and romantic longings for someone I couldn’t have.
WT: Do autogynephilic individuals have attraction to other people? 
MB: Usually, they are also attracted to women in the world (i.e., women besides their inner creation) as well. Some of these individuals marry–some tell their wives and some don’t. Wives who know often feel like they are married both to their husband and to the other woman. And the men (many–probably most–never become women) sometimes struggle between their love for their families and their desire to become women. This desire is like a typical man’s midlife crisis.
A subset of autogynephilic males report that they are bisexual, but knowledgeable scientists think this is not true bisexuality. Rather than attraction to men’s bodies, these individuals enjoy the fantasy of being courted by, desired by, or even engaging in sex with men, as women. This makes them feel quite feminine, and is thus exciting. Another subset identifies as asexual. These have plenty of sexual fantasies–it’s just that the sexual fantasies are all about the internal woman, and there’s nothing left for women in the world.
WT: What research support does this phenomenon have? 
MB: There is a great deal of support originating in Toronto in the important clinic formerly run by Ray Blanchard, the scientist most responsible for the study of autogynephilia. Blanchard observed that erotic arousal at the idea of having a female body was uncommon among natal male gender patients who said they were exclusively attracted to men (he referred to these as “homosexual” because with respect to their birth sex, that is their sexual orientation). In contrast, it was very common among natal male gender patients attracted to women, those who identified as bisexual, and those who identified as asexual–he referred to these three subtypes as “non homosexual” because they were not exclusively attracted to men. Homosexual natal male gender patients tended to have been extremely feminine since childhood. Nonhomosexual patients, not so much. (In follow up studies of preadolescent boys so feminine they wanted to be girls, not a single one was attracted to women as an adult.) Non homosexual natal male gender patients’ gender dysphoria is rarely evident in childhood but begins in adolescence. Homosexual patients request sex reassignment surgery much younger than non homosexual patients do–at least they have in the past. This partly reflects the fact that many non homosexual patients form families that delay them from pursuing such surgery.
A good resource summarizing this science (up to 2003) is the third section of my book (free pdf). A more scholarly and updated treatment is Anne Lawrence’s book.

Tomorrow, I will post the second part of my Q&A with Michael Bailey. In that part of the interview, Bailey opines about the proper therapeutic response to autogynephilic individuals, minors and transgender issues, media reporting about autogynephilia and his critics.
Part two of this Q&A is here.

Common Sense on Treatment of Gender Dysphoria

Given the controversial nature of the subject matter, I think this Globe and Mail article does a good job of representing the type of treatment offered at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
According to this article, gender identity clinic director Ken Zucker is not allowed to speak to the media. However, clinic founder Susan Bradley gave her views along with parents of children treated by the clinic. Quite appropriately, the clinic evaluates each situation and creates an individualized treatment plan. Some kids later transition and some don’t.
The writer, Margaret Wente, provides several illustrative cases. Here’s one:

“They never tried to force my son into something he wasn’t,” one mother told me. Her son had been a hyper-anxious child since birth. In kindergarten he became obsessed with dressing like a girl. The CAMH therapists determined that anxiety, not gender, was the key issue, and advised the parents to discourage their son’s obsession with girls’ clothing. Today, he is a well-adjusted young adult with a girlfriend and no interest in women’s clothes. The mother, who describes herself as “quite liberal” says she would have supported gender change if that had been the right thing to do.

This fits my experience working with such children. In some cases, it is very clear that gender is not the primary issue. Clinical response should not be “one size fits all.”
I hope the legislative effort to stop the work of the clinic is not successful.
For prior posts on Zucker and gender issues in children, see:
Gender identity disorder research: Q & A with Kenneth Zucker
Two families, two approaches to gender identity
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An Update from a Mother of Twins
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An Update from a Mother of Twins, Part 2
 

Nobel Peace Laureates issue statement on behalf of LGBT people

Government oppression of freedom of conscience and expression is unconscionable. View this statement from four Nobel Peace Laureates expressing support for such freedom with special application to LGBT people. Uganda’s Frank Mugisha is quoted in the statement as well.

The statement begins:

(Washington – June 21, 2012) In an unprecedented statement, four esteemed Nobel Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Yunus, have expressed solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. Together, they call on the global community to recognize that traditional cultural values compel them to respect the inherent dignity and human rights of all individuals.

Go read the rest here.

Fetal Testosterone Predicts Sexually Differentiated Childhood Behavior in Girls and in Boys

This is an important study from the Psychological Science journal’s early view:

Fetal Testosterone Predicts Sexually Differentiated Childhood
Behavior in Girls and in Boys

Bonnie Auyeung, Simon Baron-Cohen, Emma Ashwin, Rebecca Knickmeyer, Kevin Taylor, Gerald Hackett, and Melissa Hines
ABSTRACT—Mammals, including humans, show sex differences in juvenile play behavior. In rodents and nonhuman primates, these behavioral sex differences result, in part, from sex differences in androgens during early development. Girls exposed to high levels of androgen prenatally, because of the genetic disorder congenital adrenal hyperplasia, show increased male-typical play, suggesting similar hormonal influences on human development, at least in females. Here, we report that fetal testosterone measured from amniotic fluid relates positively to male-typical scores on a standardized questionnaire measure of sextypical play in both boys and girls. These results show, for the first time, a link between fetal testosterone and the development of sex-typical play in children from the general population, and are the first data linking high levels of prenatal testosterone to increased male-typical play behavior in boys.

Here’s the money quote:

Thus, our data are the first documentation that androgen exposure prenatally relates to sexually differentiated play behavior in boys and in girls. In addition, the current results support an organizational, as opposed to current, activational role of testosterone, because play behavior is measured in childhood, when concurrent testosterone levels are low.

Gender non-conformity is the strongest predictor of same-sex attraction in adulthood. This study links prenatal testosterone with later gender typical behavior. The brains of children are organized in ways that react to their environment in socially typical or atypical ways. How such behavior shapes the family environment is unclear, however, it does not appear that the behavior is exclusively a response to parental bonding or modeling.

More on the Dr. Phil Show Little Boy Lost – Sparks fly among guests

This clip features some give and take between panelists on the Dr. Phil Show episode on gender identity issues. In this segment, Dr. Siegel defends moms by saying there is no evidence that being too close to a boy will make him want to be a girl. Dr. Nicolosi says Siegel is oversimplifying his reparative theory. What do you think?
Lights, camera, action!

The Dr. Phil Show on gender identity, Part 3 – Should puberty be delayed?

Near the end of the Dr. Phil Show on gender identity, two guests who were not on stage provided a mini-introduction to the controversy of using hormones to delay puberty. Dr. Jo Olson and Dr. Eva Cwynar are two prominent doctors who work in the field of gender disorders and endocrinology. And action!

From the Dr. Phil website, here is a rough transcript of their comments.

Dr. Phil turns to two more medical professionals in the audience. Endocrinologist Dr. Eva Cwynar says parents need to wait and see what happens with puberty and not give in to their child’s fantasy of wanting to become the opposite sex. Dr. Jo Olson, pediatrician with the Transgender Clinic of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says children are born this way, and she helps kids make the transition through hormone therapy.
“Dr. Olson, at what point do you begin that?” Dr. Phil asks.
“It’s a different process for each child. It’s really important to recognize that young people and their families come in at very different stages of this process. Many of the people we see have actually already gone through puberty, but we do have some patients who are young, in the 12- to 16-year-old age range as well,” Dr. Olson says. “However, I want to say that we don’t just provide hormone therapy for young people, and not all young people who want to transition get hormones. We have a multi-disciplinary approach in our clinic, where they are assessed by a psychologist who is extremely familiar with gender-questioning youth, gender identity disorder and the issues that these young people face, as well as the case manager who understands what these young people go through. And hormones are not the end of the story for every young person.”
“And you work with the family members as well. It’s not just something you do to the child in isolation,” Dr. Phil says.
“Absolutely, and we have many parents who experience this same kind of mourning,” she says, referring to Toni.
“Dr. Cwynar, do you think there’s ever a point when hormone-blocking therapy is appropriate?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I do,” Dr. Cwynar says. “I think that, as everybody mentioned before, there’s a spectrum of this transgender, and I do believe as well that gender is a definition between the eyes and not between the legs, and that there are certain chemical phenomena, chromosomal phenomena, that occur both in utero and as we develop that make us appear as one sex, but is actually a different sex. I prefer waiting through puberty to see what actually happens when the hormones kick in. There are situations where you have distress and suicidal ideations and because of that, hopefully the family will be there for the child to help them get through that process. So, I like to see the whole adolescence be complete, essentially, before I do anything permanent.”

This is among the most controversial of issues and one with which I have had some professional involvement. I will give one example and then some links from past blog posts which address similar gender identity concerns.
Among several similar cases, I recall a family in conflict where the mother wanted to delay puberty for a GID child but the father did not. In short, the child now post-puberty is strongly identified with the biological gender. Delaying puberty would have been a mistake and the earlier wish to consider it vanished. Other cases are not so clear cut and hence the controversy.
Here are some relevant links to past posts:
Two families, two approaches to gender preferences
Gender identity disorder research: Q & A with Kenneth Zucker
Ken Zucker compares ethnic identity conflict and gender identity conflict
APA issues statement regarding GID and the DSM-V
The Man Who Would Be Queen – Chapters 1 & 2
American Psychological Association comments on DSM gender identity issue
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An update from the mother of twins
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation mother of twins, part 2 (this 2 part series is highly recommended)

More on the Dr. Phil episode on gender identity: Reparative drive theory

I have some video clips of yesterday’s Dr. Phil Show on gender identity. In this segment, Toni, the mother of a three boys, one of whom is transgender, expresses strong disagreement with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and Mr. Glenn Stanton. Prior to this clip, Nicolosi outlined his views on response to gender identity issues. From the Dr. Phil website:

“So, what is a parent to do?” Dr. Phil asks. “You’re at home with your little child, they don’t do what other little boys do — and I’m using a little boy as an example. It happens with girls too, but statistics say it’s about five to one boys over girls who have this, but what is a parent to do at that point? Their question is, ‘Do we support his interest, or do we say, “No, no, no. You can’t play with that. You must play with this”?’”
“We see certain patterns, very typical patterns, of an over-involved mother, where the mother and son have a symbiotic relationship,” Dr. Nicolosi explains. “It’s very close, their identities are merged, and the father is out of the picture, and the work that we’re doing is to get the mother to back off, get the father more involved, get that boy to dis-identify with the mother and bond with the father, and in the bonding with the father, he develops that masculine identity.”

Most therapists have encountered families like this. However, they often come in for reasons other than a child’s gender identity. As Dr. Siegel said in a later part of the show, there is no evidence that a mom being close with a son leads to gender identity problems.
In this clip, Nicolosi and Stanton lay out their view of what happens to create a son like Toni’s. Roll the tape for the segment.

If I am following the mother’s explanation, she says she was not close to her son and her fiance became close to him after she backed off. She also notes that she was a single mom to her first son who would be expected to be closer to mom. Apparently, that child has no gender identity issues. And she says, the fiance/father-figure was less involved after the boy transitioned to a female role, but very involved prior to the transition. She further says that she wasn’t enmeshed with him. In other words, the reparative theory predicts a certain constellation but this women disconfirms it.
As noted in my first post on this episode, no middle ground views were presented. Near the end of the show, two reseachers seated in the audience were given a chance to speak. This segment was too short. I hope to post the clip of that exchange in a future post.
For now, I want to point out again the problem with confirmation bias in thinking through highly controversial topics. In this clip, the comments presented by Nicolosi and Stanton were not consistent with the experience of the mother and this son. Is it possible she was in denial? Is it possible that the reparative theorist was in denial? Sorting through this is difficult since both mom and the psychologists have powerful incentives to seek evidence favoring their commitments and views. In an area, like this one, where the science is developing, I advocate a very loose hold on theoretical commitments.
While the scientist can and should take a critical stance, it is true that parents need advice now. I tend to favor waiting until puberty to make decisions about transitioning since the existing research indicates most children do not opt for transition after puberty. However, even that finding is not as clear as Dr. Phil presented. See this interview with Ken Zucker for more on persistence of GID into adulthood.
Stay tuned…

60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation mother of twins, part 2

At last, I am posting some follow up comments made by Danielle, mother of the twin boys featured in the 60 Minutes segment, Science of Sexual Orientation. Part one is here and should be read first.
Danielle said this in her initial email:

I often wonder “if” I had told Adam that “yes” he could be a girl when he became old enough would he have stayed on that track of thought? However, at the urging of his therapist I told him I understood he was a girl yet he was really a boy and couldn’t be a girl.

Wanting to be clear, she wrote to elaborate:

This was my response when he was three years old. We thought it would be confusing for that age of a child to hear he could be a girl but not until he was older. Later in his life I was up late watching a tv show about transgender surgery. Adam had awaken and was watching the show behind me – I didn’t know he was there. I heard a gasp. When I turned around there was my Adam staring intently at the tv. He asked me in a shocked whisper “Can I do that surgery and be a girl?” I told him “yes” he could but not until he was 18 years old. He became very excited. You have to understand the differences in his age. I believe the information I gave him at each step was based on age appropriate responses. He did stare at me for a bit and asked me if I would really let him do something like that if he wanted. I assured him I would if it would make him happy. He wanted to know why I would help him change his body. I informed him because I loved him and I didn’t want him to be sad or hurt. He asked me if I really loved him that much. My response was a very sound “yes!” that seemed to please him very much.
The last time Adam and I talked about him being able to change his body into a girls body Adam was indecisive. Again, I believe it’s the age/stage of his life and awareness of all around him. This conversation occurred after Tyra Banks had issued an invitation to be on her show. At that time Adam advised me he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He didn’t know if he should change his body so he could be a girl, stay with a boys body, if he was straight sexually or gay. Again, I believe his answer and confusion to be age appropriate. I declined the show offer because I didn’t want him to expose himself when he was so unclear about his future. I didn’t want to “lock” him into any particular role. That was when I decided to proceed with the hormone therapy to give him more time and maturity to decide what he wanted for himself. However he was already fully into developing so we decided not to go ahead with the treatments.
We are in the process of working on another television project. I am allowing Adam to participate because I believe the show will allow him to show his confusion and be himself as he is for a 12 year old. This lead us to another conversation about the issue. For all of his wise wisdom he informed me he still didn’t know what he wanted to do. “After all Mom, I’m only 12. I’m not suspose to know 100% for sure where my sexuality belongs. I’m suppose to be able to explore and decide later” And that’s where I have left it. For him to be a normal 12 year old child, maturing, developing and exploring the possibilities of his future. I’m here to guide him, support him, and show him all the possibilities of the future. I can love him, hold him, praise him and catch him if he falls. That’s my role as a parent.

I then wrote to her to clarify how these thoughts related to her parenting decisions, specifically with his name and school. She said:

The issue of what name to use during school was never really discussed. I wouldn’t have allowed him to use a girls name at school even if he had pushed me to do so. He was “Adam” and that was that.
During school hours he could wear what he wanted as long as it followed the school dress code. He only asked to wear a dress to school a few times. My response was always that his brother couldn’t wear his fireman clothing so he couldn’t wear his dresses to school however, he did wear them around the house. He did wear a girls black sweater with gold thread for two years. He wore girls tennis shoes all his life because of the color and sparkles and still wears them. He would wear girl shirts; however, in today’s fashion world, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference except in color. In his younger years, he wore girl jeans with sparkles but only for about an year then he didn’t want to wear them anymore. But the really feminine clothing was only at home. My life was easier dealing with this issue because I had twins. His twin wanted to be a fireman. He had everything to do with a fireman just like Adam had everything to do with being a girl. My rule was that the girl clothing (dresses, heels, jewelry, skirts, femme blouses, makeup) and the fireman clothing stayed home when we went to the library, grocery store, grandma’s, church, school and so on. My main reason for my restrictions were due to my parents who are totally against Adam’s gender issues. However, his Nana didn’t care what he wore so he could take his dresses to her house and wear them over there. I did have an issue at school once where the principal asked me if I could get Adam a different book bag (his was pink) and buy him different shoes (his were white with a pink logo on them). I advised her that he wasn’t breaking any rules by his choices so I wouldn’t make him give them up. I told her I could give in to him and allow him to wear dresses to school if she really wanted to push me since there isn’t a dress code that says he can’t. She backed off after that. However, I wouldn’t have ever allowed him to wear a dress to school anyway. Yes, I had restrictions about what he wore and did in society but he did have a bit of freedom by his choice of shoes.

I again want to thank Danielle for her candid comments. I have received emails from parents and professionals who are glad for this glimpse into how one parent reasons through these difficult issues.