Response to Dr. Jack Drescher and the NY Times About Childhood Transition: Part 2, by Arlene Istar Lev
July 5, 2013 3 Comments
A Guest Post by Arlene Istar Lev LCSW-R, CASAC
Albany New York
Social Worker, Family Therapist, Gender Specialist, Activist
Choices Counseling and Consulting
To the Editor:
Thank you for opening this dialogue and recognizing the importance of public discourse on the issue of transgender children and their civil rights.
My colleague, Dr. Drescher, is correct that “no one knows” whether Coy will identify as a girl or boy when she matures; however, the same can be said for Coy’s classmates. He is also correct that theories abound in this newly emerging field and that experts are engaged in heated discussions about how to best support gender dysphoric children and their families. The concept of children transitioning gender in elementary is clearly a recent, and controversial, phenomenon, one which is increasingly being supported by mental health specialists, school policies, and legal decisions.
Dr. Drescher states that most “children like [Coy] grow up to be gay, not transgender.” This is a misleading statement for a number of reasons. First of all, the research he is referring to is a few decades old; gender atypical children who are now gay adults matured into their identities before transgender expression was a viable social option (especially for children!), and in the early days of the gay liberation movement. More options exist in the modern world for exploration of gender identity and expression, as well as the freedom to live an out gay life. This research also examined gender non-conforming children, not necessarily those who were gender dysphoric, a distinction that may appear academic, but is crucial to understanding the experiences and potential trajectories of children’s emerging gender identities.
Gender non-conforming behavior can exist in a wide-range of children, and can cause distress since our culture can (still!) be extremely rigid about gender roles and rules, especially for boys. One can imagine a gender atypical boy, particularly one who might be aware of attractions to other boys, might be struggling psychologically. Gender dysphoria is, however, markedly different from the social and identity challenges of a gender non-conforming child who will grow up to be gay. Transgender children are suffering in an intensely personal way, with a body and a social world that is at odds with their deepest sense of self.
I am not saying it is always easy to determine what is happening within a young child’s psyche, not as a therapist, and not as a parent. I agree with Dr. Drescher that parents must educate themselves on all the treatment approaches, and recognize the current limitations of science. I also believe that parents can see the difference between a profoundly suffering little boy and a happy contented little girl. A child who is not transgender would simply not adjust to a gender transition with a lessening of mental health symptoms, and an increasing satisfying social life. A boy, no matter how atypical his gender might be, has no interest in using the girls’ bathroom. For a child who is a girl, it is an essential part of her identity.
Thank you Colorado for recognizing this obvious truth. Thank you to Dr. Drescher for initiating respectful public and professional dialogue on this controversial subject. Thank you to Coy and her parents, for allowing their personal family struggles to be a guiding light to others.
Arlene Istar Lev
Arlene Istar Lev, LCSW, CASAC
Arlene Lev is a social worker, family therapist, educator, and writer whose work addresses the unique therapeutic needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. She is the Founder and Clinical Director of Choices Counseling and Consulting in Albany, New York, providing family therapy for LGBTQ people and is on a Lecturer at the University at Albany, School of Social Welfare, and an adjunct at Empire College. She is also the Founder and Clinical Director of TIGRIS, The Institute for Gender, Relationships, Identity, and Sexuality, a post-graduate training program serving people seeking greater relational and sexual intimacy, people who identify as sexual minorities, and those interested in exploring sexuality, gender, and identity issues. Arlene is the author of The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guide andTransgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and their Families, winner of the American Psychological Association Distinguished Book Award, 2006. She serves on the editorial Boards of theJournal of GLBT Family Studies, The Journal of Lesbian Studies, and the Journal of Transgenderism. Arlene is the organizer of Professionals Concerned with Gender Diagnoses in the DSM.