Gender Dysphoria in Younger Children

Rebecca White,

Gendys Conference, 1998

is a support group for
children and teenagers
with gender identity
issues, also
their families, etc.

I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Monica from Mermaids. I've been given the job of talking at this conference this year and only hope I can do it the justice that Linda has given it in previous years. I can only talk from personal experience and I hope that what I've got to say will interest you. I hope you will bear with me if in parts I'm telling things you already know all too well.

Now to introduce Mermaids for any of you who are not aware of our organisation. We are a family support group for children and young adolescents with Gender Identity Issues and we are on our way to becoming a charity.

Why Mermaids?

Often children and adults who have Male to Female gender identity disorder issues are fascinated by Mermaids. Probably this is because they are ambiguous in that they are sexless from the waist down, but woman from the waist upwards?

What are children with Gender Identity Issues?

Younger children with Gender Identity Issues are most commonly characterised by cross dressing and expressing the feeling that they belong to the opposite gender to that which their bodies belong. Older children and teenagers might well have tried to conceal their problem until the stress it causes becomes noticeable to others.

Children will often want to play with toys or prefer games and sports generally associated with the opposite gender.

Parents may be frustrated puzzled and/or saddened by their 'daughters' insisting on trying to stand up to pee and wanting to be called by a boys name. My own child wanted to be called Toughie at 7. At that time I considered 'her' a girl. That is no longer the case. 'Sons' may attract attention by disliking the usual rough and tumble of boy's games, crying easily, and by feminine behaviour.

Statistically, I am told that about half the children exhibiting the condition will grow up to be homosexual or bisexual. A few will grow up to be heterosexual and one-third grow up to be transgendered adults.

Unless a parent is particularly 'switched on' the condition may go unnoticed or ignored for years. Happily, things are improving and parents are less 'freaked out' about it than they used to be, but many of you will know all about that and to some respects I may be teaching you how to suck eggs.

For my own part, when my 'little girl' started to talk and her most frequently spoken sentence was 'I'm a boy'! When she refused to wear dresses (well so what! you may think), I'm not glad that I chose to believe a kind relative's explanation that it was all just a game and then I just buried my head in the sand for as long as possible. I did take my son to our GP when he was around 3 years old and when I was asked if he really thought he was a boy, I thought about it and concluded 'No, he can't do.' You see, I was completely ignorant. Well, I was told to come back in 6 months if 'she' didn't change but I buried my head back in the sand refusing to even consider that there was really a problem. After all, it was no real problem in practical terms for me when Jazz was that age. It would have been better for Jazz though if he hadn't had to be so alone in his frustration that the world wasn't right and if I'd been able to recognise that his aloneness and inability to fit in (even at a very young age), and his need for constant comfort (in the form of a baby feeding bottle) was part of a bigger problem.

I finally took Jazz to his GP again at the age of 9 after a lot of hassle at school. His teacher had suggested that children like himself, who are not accepted by their peers, can become depressed and suicidal when teenagers. This was good advice but I took a bit of umbrage to it.

It has to be said that not all children suffering with GID have a tough time at school and are rejected by their peers. In fact some are quite popular and have friends either same sex or opposite but I think the majority have difficulties in fitting in, however you will know more about that than me. Many children with GID experience continual severe bullying whilst at school.

When Jazz was 9, I was told quite categorically by a psychiatrist that my child probably belonged to a small group of people who feel emotionally that they belong to the opposite sex. As I had expected to go along and get Jazz 'cured' you can imagine that my reaction was not admirable and I said some unbelievably prejudiced things in the car on the way home and so did my husband. Anyway, this set us on the medical professional road and we've been seeing Dr Di Ceglie ever since. I repeat that we've been lucky in the services offered to us. Unfortunately - as you will know, the help you will get depends almost entirely on the attitude your GP takes at the outset. Some people do not get a referral to any service and some people get referred to the wrong service. No medical service is adequate in that it doesn't and cannot at the present moment do anything about the worst problem which is the ignorant and prejudiced treatment that children with GID and transsexual adults receive from society at large. It is up to organisations like ourselves to raise public awareness and education so that parents don't react the way I did or much much worse. The sooner gender identity education is included in the school curriculum, the sooner the rest of the population will be educated. And it is up to organisations like Press For Change to tirelessly keep chipping away at changing the law that makes transsexual people's lives so difficult and unequal.

Although my son has had problems at school; it has to be said that his current school have bent over backwards to try and help him and to keep him at school.

However the situation is that, because of subtle bullying he is not receiving an education - and nobody really knows what to do about it. The pressure is on for him to go back to school but this is not acceptable to him and I'm sure that many of you know what I mean. The pressure is also on for him to keep out of the public eye. Now how do we raise public awareness, cultivate their sympathy (as anybody with any other disorder or disease would be able to) and educate them if the very people who could so perfectly do it are too scared to stand up and be counted?

Mermaids is a support group formed by a group of parents, all bringing a child to a Gender Identity Development Clinic, who were brought together as a result of their children's long-standing Gender Identity Issues. They have been able to support each other and their children through the difficulties and trauma that gender issues commonly bring to families. They have identified a need to form a support group to aid other families, children, and teenagers in similar situations. Enquiries can be made to: Mermaids, London WC1N 3XX

Citation:White, R., (1998),Gender Dysphoria in Younger Children,GENDYS '98, The Fifth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 24.05.02