Sex-change treatment on the rise for kids, but is that too early?

According to the journal Pediatrics a small but growing number of teens and even younger kids who think they were born the wrong sex are getting support from parents and doctors for sex-change treatments.

From The Associated Press:

“It’s an issue that raises ethical questions, and some experts urge caution in treating children with puberty-blocking drugs and hormones.”

“An 8-year-old second-grader in Los Angeles is a typical patient. Born a girl, the child announced at 18 months, “I a boy” and has stuck with that belief. The family was shocked but now refers to the child as a boy and is watching for the first signs of puberty to begin treatment, his mother told The Associated Press.”

“Pediatricians need to know these kids exist and deserve treatment, said Dr. Norman Spack, author of one of three reports published Monday and director of one of the nation’s first gender identity medical clinics, at Children’s Hospital Boston.”

” ‘If you open the doors, these are the kids who come. They’re out there. They’re in your practices,’ Spack said in an interview.”

“Switching gender roles and occasionally pretending to be the opposite sex is common in young children. But these kids are different. They feel certain they were born with the wrong bodies.”

“Some are labeled with “gender identity disorder,” a psychiatric diagnosis. But Spack is among doctors who think that’s a misnomer. Emerging research suggests they may have brain differences more similar to the opposite sex.”

“Spack said by some estimates, 1 in 10,000 children have the condition.”

“Offering sex-changing treatment to kids younger than 18 raises ethical concerns, and their parents’ motives need to be closely examined, said Dr. Margaret Moon, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ bioethics committee. She was not involved in any of the reports.”

“Some kids may get a psychiatric diagnosis when they are just hugely uncomfortable with narrowly defined gender roles; or some may be gay and are coerced into treatment by parents more comfortable with a sex change than having a homosexual child, said Moon, who teaches at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.”

“It’s harmful ‘to have an irreversible treatment too early,’ Moon said.”

“Doctors who provide the treatment say withholding it would be more harmful.”

“These children sometimes resort to self-mutilation to try to change their anatomy; the other two journal reports note that some face verbal and physical abuse and are prone to stress, depression and suicide attempts. Spack said those problems typically disappear in kids who’ve had treatment and are allowed to live as the opposite sex.”

“Guidelines from the Endocrine Society endorse transgender hormone treatment but say it should not be given before puberty begins. At that point, the guidelines recommend puberty-blocking drugs until age 16, then lifelong sex-changing hormones with monitoring for potential health risks. Mental health professionals should be involved in the process, the guidelines say. The group’s members are doctors who treat hormonal conditions.”

“Those guidelines, along with YouTube videos by sex-changing teens and other media attention, have helped raise awareness about treatment and led more families to seek help, Spack said.”

“His report details a fourfold increase in patients at the Boston hospital. His Gender Management Service clinic, which opened at the hospital in 2007, averages about 19 patients each year, compared with about four per year treated for gender issues at the hospital in the late 1990s.”

“The report details 97 girls and boys treated between 1998 and 2010; the youngest was 4 years old. Kids that young and their families get psychological counseling and are monitored until the first signs of puberty emerge, usually around age 11 or 12. Then children are given puberty-blocking drugs, in monthly $1,000 injections or implants imbedded in the arm.”

“In another Pediatrics report, a Texas doctor says he’s also provided sex-changing treatment to an increasing number of children; so has a clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where the 8-year-old is a patient.”

“The drugs used by the clinics are approved for delaying puberty in kids who start maturing too soon. The drugs’ effects are reversible, and Spack said they’ve caused no complications in his patients. The idea is to give these children time to mature emotionally and make sure they want to proceed with a permanent sex change. Only 1 of the 97 opted out of permanent treatment, Spack said.”

“Kids will more easily pass as the opposite gender, and require less drastic treatment later, if drug treatment starts early, Spack said. For example, boys switching to girls will develop breasts and girls transitioning to boys will be flat-chested if puberty is blocked and sex-hormones started soon enough, Spack said.”

“Sex hormones, especially in high doses when used long-term, can have serious side effects, including blood clots and cancer. Spack said he uses low, safer doses but that patients should be monitored.”

“Gender-reassignment surgery, which may include removing or creating penises, is only done by a handful of U.S. doctors, on patients at least 18 years old, Spack said. His clinic has worked with local surgeons who’ve done breast removal surgery on girls at age 16, but that surgery can be relatively minor, or avoided, if puberty is halted in time, he said.”

“The mother of the Los Angeles 8-year-old says he’s eager to begin treatment.”

“When the child was told he could get shots to block breast development, “he was so excited,” the mother said.”

“He also knows he’ll eventually be taking testosterone shots for life but surgery right now is uncertain.”

“The child attends a public school where classmates don’t know he is biologically a girl. For that reason, his mother requested anonymity.”

“She said she explained about having a girl’s anatomy but he rejected that, refused to wear dresses, and has insisted on using a boy’s name since preschool.”

“The mother first thought it was a phase, then that her child might be a lesbian, and sought a therapist’s help to confirm her suspicion. That’s when she first heard the term “gender identity disorder” and learned it’s often not something kids outgrow.”

“Accepting his identity has been difficult for both parents, the woman said. Private schools refused to enroll him as a boy, and the family’s pediatrician refused to go along with their request to treat him like a boy. They found a physician who would, Dr. Jo Olson, medical director of a transgender clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”

“Olson said the journal reports should help persuade more doctors to offer these kids sex-changing treatment or refer them to specialists who will.”

“It would be so nice to move this out of the world of mental health, and into the medical world,” Olson said.”

I am torn on this because on the one hand you want to help a child feel good and be the happiest, most fulfilled person they can be. But on the other hand, it is a child. You want to be certain this is the right thing.

I can see intervening early so a child doesn’t suffer but it’s a lot of responsibility to make sure you make the right decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

So what do you think: Would you allow gender-reassignment treatment for your child?

Is it good to intervene early if a child doesn’t feel their sex is correct?

Do you think they should reach adulthood to make a decision about their sex?

24 comments Add your comment

shaggy

February 21st, 2012
6:30 am

ANY parent that gets gender reassignment for a MINOR child should be absolutely locked up for a long time and the jerk doctor that did it too.
Taking an 8 year old child of either sex to a willing slime ball doctor, signing papers for them, because jeez they can hardly write at age, and going through with this IS criminal.

What do you think a child is, a puppy to be neutered? I am throwing up a little in my mouth just thinking about this.

Where is that little Asian guy with the long stick…someone needs a good caning.

Fred ™

February 21st, 2012
7:30 am

Me

February 21st, 2012
7:38 am

I think I was born a Lesbian – quite certain I still am… Oh, sorry…
Otherwise, my opinion on the actual topic at hand is probably best left unstated.

Voice of Reason

February 21st, 2012
7:56 am

I’m torn, part of me says that this is one of those procedures that an individual needs to be at least 18 years old before they can have performed but at the same time it has to be hard for the child to grow up not being able to be who they feel like.

Plus being a teenager is awkward enough when you know you are the right gender, I can only imagine what it would be like if I had to grow up male but felt like a female….it’s just such a strange concept for me to comprehend because I didn’t have to deal with it.

DB

February 21st, 2012
7:57 am

I am supremely glad that that is a decision I never had to make. I cringe at the thought of messing with a kid’s basic gender identity, and trying to sort through layers and layers of psychological issues to get to the root of the problem. Maybe wating until the kid is old enough to legally make their own decisions in the extreme cases is a cop-out — parents can’t/don’t want to deal with a tough, explosive issue, so they put it on the kid? I dunno . . .

Either way, the kid and their family have my sympathy for having to deal with this. I can’t imagine having a child so deeply unhappy in their own body that they threaten to cut off their genitalia.

Jeff

February 21st, 2012
8:09 am

I have mixed emotions about it. I believe people who have this conundrum have it from day one. But for some, it’s never a “problem” to be solved. For others, it becomes a problem at puberty, in college, or even as an adult. And it’s not my business to question what they believe about themselves at that point.

The other emotion is, is this child mature enough to be making this decision? We don’t allow children this young to be responsible for any legal decisions, etc, yet we’re giving them carte Blanche on a subject as defining as this?

Like I said, mixed emotions.

Jeff

February 21st, 2012
8:11 am

Voice, you’re right. I can’t imagine the torture of going through high school with this issue unresolved.

shaggy

February 21st, 2012
8:24 am

“Dealing with it” is really simple.
Raise the child until it is an adult. If the child is gay, raise a gay child. Once the gay child has come of age and then, and only then, wants to have this procedure, they can pursue it with an adult mind.

This positively reeks of adults doing this to their “pet” child to make the adult’s life easier, under the guise of doing it for the child’s well being. BULLHOCKEY!
As for going through school like this, school is for learning, not always a “be seen” social club. If the kid is gay, has the intellect of say, Stephen Hawking, and as an adult decides to reassign their gender, you have obviously accomplished your job as a parent.

Where is General Tsao, with his cane when you need him?

RJ

February 21st, 2012
8:36 am

This should be criminal. Raise the kid as the sex they are, then allow them to make the deicision to change it once they’re an adult. I’m just not understanding parents that do this to their kid. An 18 month old saying they are a boy, when they were born a girl doesn’t mean you go get their sex changed. Everyone should not be allowed to be parents!

Augusta

February 21st, 2012
8:48 am

Let me get this straight….and 18 MONTH old child announced “I’m a boy” and the parents ran with that? 18 MONTHS?????? They can barely form complete words at that age, let alone decide what sex they are……..This falls under the OH. MY. GOD. file…….Just unbelievable..

Soccer MILF

February 21st, 2012
8:55 am

Wow…..how bad are the quesitons that this blog holds as topics/ First is teen marriage a good idea and now sex changes for kids.

Future Momania topics?

*Should you let your toddler smoke crack?
*Would you hire Jerry Sandusky as a babysitter?
*Is it okay that your kid cuts himself?

K's Mom

February 21st, 2012
9:01 am

I too fall in the wait til you’re an adult camp. I can see how torturous HS could be if your child feels this way, but most research shows that full frontal lobe development does not occur until age 25 and that is the critical thinking and reasoning core of the brain. What if you allow an 8yo to do this and later on they regret it. I mean, I regret several HS fashion choices and hairstyles that I thought were fabulous at the time and those were meaningless choices. I cannot see how 100% of minors who do this could reach adulthood and be pleased with their decisions. I wonder if thes children will be foloowed into adulthood.

And an 18mo girl proclaiming she is a boy is certainly not anything to fret over and if parents take that seriously they should have their right to procreate revoked and any physician that would encourage taking that seriously should not be practicing medicine.

JATL

February 21st, 2012
9:20 am

OK -this is ridiculous! I am VERY open-minded about this sort of thing, and I would be supportive of an ADULT child’s sex change if he or she deemed it necessary for their happiness, however, to do this for a child is completely irresponsible. I know a number of gay people who recall only liking the same sex for as long as they remember. That’s fine! I completely support that, and if one of my boys is gay, I will support him as a pre-teen, teenager and beyond -but that’s not life-altering surgery or hormone therapy or medical records.

I would be very honest with a kid of mine and tell them that it was okay if they felt like a girl or boy in the opposite body, and that if they still felt that way after they grew up, then they could do whatever they wanted to do about it, but to start referring to a toddler girl as a boy because she says that or to try and force doctors, schools, etc., to refer to and label your child as the gender they are not is warped -and not doing your child any favors. Support your child, arrange counseling for them (not to try and change them, but as an additional support outlet until they’re grown) -but don’t make forever decisions like this while they’re still growing.

And don’t most toddlers “try on” being the opposite gender? My boys certainly did. They both went through a period of loving all the princessy, sparkly, pink girl stuff, and the youngest has a game he still plays (he’s 3) where he either calls everyone by a different family member’s name or he says, “You’re a boy, mommy!” or “I’m a girl, mommy!” -simply because he likes to do the “play” arguing and point out specific body parts, etc. Toddlers do stuff like this, and some are transgendered I’m sure, but most are not. It’s really not that common!

RJ

February 21st, 2012
9:44 am

So a minor can’t get a tatoo, even with the parents permission, but they can have sex change treatments? Wow!

jarvis

February 21st, 2012
9:45 am

97 children in 12 years?
Can someone do the math for me? How many children have been born since 1998?

This is certainly an epidemic worth debate.

JATL

February 21st, 2012
9:48 am

My comment is lost…

Voice of Reason

February 21st, 2012
9:50 am

@Jarvis

It’s just like when 100 people died of Swine Flu and the main-stream media fear mongers went batshiat crazy calling it a pandemic.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 21st, 2012
11:35 am

Great discussion about a local eatery that has asked parents to take crying kids outside — story made the Today show — See what you think.

http://blogs.ajc.com/food-and-more/2012/02/21/grant-central-pizza-to-customers-take-crying-kids-outside/

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 21st, 2012
11:35 am

JATL — i will retrieve.

Tyler Perry

February 21st, 2012
11:57 am

Do what I do. Wear a dress and wig, then film it. I am a millionaire now and I can still keep my secret!

steve

February 21st, 2012
1:02 pm

Sex change for an 18 month old? I don’t think so.

FCM

February 21st, 2012
1:04 pm

Someone allows their (elementary aged) child to get a tatto and the parent loses the kid to DFACS and gets charged as a criminal.

BUT

Giving hormone therapy to the kid and getting a gender change is just fine?

I am pretty sure that REM said it best “It is the end of the world as we know it…..”

the only problem is, I don’t feel fine.

threeboymama

February 21st, 2012
7:36 pm

Would a parent give their child a species reassignment if they said they were a dog? Would you send your child to Japan if they said they were a Ninja? Children have extremely active imaginations well into their tween years, and the brain’s ability to understand the repercussions of decisions is not fully developed until the mid 20’s. Why in the world would any doctor or parent think it is ok to do this before a person’s “being” is fully realized?

Conroy

February 25th, 2012
1:30 pm

I would like to appreciation for the endeavours you’ve made in writing this post. It has been an encouragement for me personally. I’ve transferred this on to a friend of mine. thankyou