A ten-year-old boy from Comox British Columbia, who calls himself Harriette, has gone public with his crusade to reform the law that prevents him from acquiring a new birth certificate to reflect his preferred gender.
Harriette’s birth name is Declan Forrest Cunningham, but he recently announced to his Grade 5 teacher and classmates that he is transgendered and lives as a girl, with the full support of his family, who decry the Canadian bureaucracy that refuse to issue him new identification.
Harriette could be a poster child for a debate that is brewing over the treatment of children who are confused about their gender.
Picture a little boy in a pink tutu, fairy wings and ballet pumps. Now imagine that boy being treated with hormone-blocking drugs in a clinic established to diagnose and treat children who believe they were born in the wrong body.
Gender Identity Syndrome, first identified by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1990’s, has spawned a new industry, one where children as young as five, are receiving puberty suppressing injections, despite a paucity of research with respect to the side effects or medical dangers that may accompany these treatments.
At Tavistock Clinic in the United Kingdom over 165 children are being treated by the clinic’s team of social workers and child therapists. Seven of these children are under the age of five, despite Tavistock’s own research that indicates that up to 80% of these children will change their minds about living in the wrong body, once they reach adolescence.
Nonetheless, proponents of hormone therapy believe the treatment is worthwhile to prevent the mental distress these children will experience as their bodies mature. The treatment is also said to be beneficial to those children who will eventually have gender-changing surgery. Others say the treatment reduces suicide and self-harm rates.
Contrary opinions abound. Professor Russell Viner, a hormone specialist at London’s Institute of Child Health believes the impact on a child’s developing bones and brain has not been ascertained and warns of the potential danger. He notes the drugs reduce a patient’s fertility level.
Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a world authority on gender issues, with a Toronto clinic, is opposed to hormonal treatments for children. He says:
“Suppose you saw a black kid that wanted to be white. Wouldn’t you try to understand what was happening…You certainly wouldn’t recommend skin-bleaching.”
He says that gender confusion is an issue of nurture, not nature and believes dysfunctional families or cultural backgrounds play an important role. Other experts say that children confused about their gender may have experienced sexual abuse or have psychiatric ailments and need psychotherapy, not drugs, and not sexual reassignment surgery.
While it is reported that most adults who complete sex-change surgery are happy with their new lives, for others the surgery is anything but positive.
After allegations were made in 2009, psychiatrist Dr. Trudy Kennedy of the Monash Gender Dysphoria Clinic in Melbourne, Australia was forced to close her clinic for a time, while she dealt with numerous complaints and three lawsuits alleging negligence and faulty diagnosis.
Certainly the medical and ethical issues of prescribing intrusive treatments on vulnerable children requires more intense scrutiny than it has received to date.
While the Cunningham family believe their young son’s passion to find justice for himself is laudable, they ignore the potentially negative consequences of his public campaign. He is a child in his formative years who deserves to develop and mature away from the prying eyes of the media. If I was cynical I would say that it is his parents that seek the spotlight…another reality TV show?
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang