How to Help Children with Gender Issues

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele

Sensitivity to trans-gender children and adults is in the air more these days and it’s a good thing.

I recommend for all parents the article by Herbert Schreier and Diane Ehrensaft called “Want to know a child’s gender? Ask.” While some want to put a stop to any gender-changing, these experienced doctors have found good ways to support these children. They know many of these children will insist that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. They also know it’s harmful to try to dissuade these children from believing in themselves. They abhor what they call social engineering and point out the biological and/or genetic underpinnings to gender identity. Dr. Herbert Schreier is a psychiatrist at the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. Dr. Diane Ehrensaft is director of the mental health center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Child and Adolescent Gender Center.

“In these ‘gender-affirmative’ models, gender nonconformity is seen as a form of diversity to be celebrated rather than a disorder to be treated,” they write. “If they suffer from psychological problems, then these are usually caused by their being thwarted and stigmatized in their identity.

“Acceptance and affirmation are rapidly replacing ‘reparative’ treatment in gender clinics throughout the United States and Europe, as evidenced locally at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and Oakland gender clinics and the mental health wing of the Child and Adolescent Gender CenterMind the Gap Mental Health Collaborative, a group of therapists which meets regularly to refine our understanding of these children and who are expanding our initial binary thinking about gender.

“Studies have shown children pay the price of gender nonacceptance throughout the rest of their lives. And we now have strong data that show the ‘gender-affirmative’ approach carefully followed leads to an improvement in the children’s mental health in adolescence and beyond. By listening to the kids, we have learned well beyond anything we were taught about human diversity: supporting children living the gender that feels most authentic to them.”

Here is a story of one child, from #SupportTransKids:

 Charlie was a prodigious child, starting to read at age 2, said his mother, Anne. One night after a bath, he asked his mother in all earnestness when he could have his penis taken off as he was really a girl.

At age 3, he began asking to wear nail polish and girl’s clothing, a request his parents periodically granted, allowing Charlie’s hair to grow long as well. A psychologist who was testing Charlie for attention deficit disorder said not to worry about the gender issues, that it was a passing phase. It did not pass.

Charlie’s parents sought advice at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where they were enrolled in a two-day evaluation. They were told Charlie had, among many disorders, gender identity disorder. Charlie should spend more time with dad, the specialist recommended, even though both parents said dad was very involved and close to Charlie. And, he should stop playing with girls, spend more time with boys and play with boys’ toys. The psychologist they were referred to recommended the same. Rather than feeling helped, the parents felt demeaned and concluded they could not follow through with the recommended treatment. They feared it would hurt rather than help. Charlie is now in a fourth-grade class for gifted children, having transitioned as a girl when she entered school, and doing remarkably well.”

— Herbert Scheirer

* Children can learn the Enneagram from Finding the Birthday Cake.


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