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.
This National Public Radio broadcast provides a look at the controversies surrounding how to treat gender identity concerns in childhood. Essentially dividing the field into two camps, the program follows the treatment choices of two families. One approach, represented by Kenneth Zucker, advocates making “the child comfortable with the sex he or she was born with.” The reporter elaborates further:
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.
Zucker’s approach is contrasted with Oakland, CA therapist, Diane Ehrensaft’s approach. She advocates:
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.
Ehrensaft did eventually encourage Joel and Pam to allow Jonah to live as a little girl. By the time he was 5, Jonah had made it very clear to his parents that he wanted to wear girl clothes full time — that he wanted to be known as a girl. He wanted them to call him their daughter. And though Ehrensaft does not always encourage children who express gender flexibility to “transition” to living as a member of the opposite sex, in the case of Jonah, she thought it was appropriate.
The whole program is intriguing, controversial and worth a review.
UPDATE – The second part of this story is out today here and a school district in Southeastern PA is confronting this issue.